Long Time Coming: Rapsody Is Moving Beyond The Barricades
Rapsody has always spoken up for black women. How could she not? She’s watched the strength of the women who raised her, and seen the struggles her female-identifying peers go through on a daily basis. It’s only now, though, that she has decided to make this the fulcrum of her art, with her wonderful new album ‘Eve’ acting as a 16 piece symposium on black femininity.
“I’ve always done it in small ways,” she tells Clash. “And I just felt inspired. It felt right. It felt like the right time to do it. Coming off making an album about my grandmother, one about growth. I just hit a point in my career – especially with everything that’s been going on – where it’s stories that I wanted to tell about women. Everything lined up for it.”
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Each song is paired with an inspirational figure – whether that’s famous icons like ‘Oprah’ or ‘Serena’ or rather more personal influences on Rapsody’s life. It’s a record of real depth – each lyric feels immaculately thought through, while the production hits harder, deeper than on any of Rapsody’s previous records.
“I think for us as artists it’s our duty to educate as well as entertain,” she points out. “To pass on those stories to each other, with a message that we have control of our own narrative, and our own truth, and we’re not looking to anybody that does not look like us to tell what our truth is.”
“The best way you can do it is through music,” Rapsody continues. “It’s important to know where you came from, why the things that happen happen, and to keep them from happening again. Just to be honest.”
It’s a thread that runs through Africa-American history, from the griots they took on tortuous journeys on trans-Atlantic slaveships, through to the spirituals that drove the Underground Railroad. “We couldn’t necessarily write down our own history, so it was up to us to memorise it and tell it from person to person.”
“We had to do it through music, and this is no different,” she adds. “This is part of who we are, part of our culture, and part of our truth. That’s why it’s important to do both, to have that balance where make sure we tell stories that aren’t told, that need to be told. That we speak to each other and lift each other up through words. It’s part of our deeds, and part of who we are as people. We need to have control of our own history and our own narrative.”
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But Rapsody couldn’t do it herself. Part of what makes ‘Eve’ such an emphatic musical experience is the production, with its diverse array of samples – everyone from jazz great Herbie Hancock to a cheeky Phil Collins steal – absorbing at every diversion.
“We have a production team called the Soul Council,” she enthuses. “No matter what it is, we always get together and throw paint at the wall, and we allow music to be the biggest ego in the room. We tried some of everything. I would have an idea, and they’ll find a backdrop for me.”
“It’s just a really dope group effort. It’s different ideas, different ways that we approach songwriting. We really pushed the sound. I wanted to show people that I could rap over different tempos and different energies and different drums. We just never left anything on the table – whatever felt good, we did it. If it feels good then we rockin’ with it. If it doesn’t feel good then we’re not rockin’ with it. If it has a boom bap beat or if it has more of a trap edge, as long as it feels good that’s all that matters to us.”
A record that moves from Egyptian pharoahs to 21st century sports stars, ‘Eve’ has incredible breadth. It’s a daring achievement, one that even finds Rapsody going toe-to-toe with a vintage GZA beat on ‘Ibtijah’. “I just let it flow. I didn’t over think it. Whatever came to the pen is what I wrote,” she insists. “But y’know, I’m a black woman so that’s who is going to shine through in different ways. We just went to create and do a story and ended up making something that sounds dope.”
‘Eve’ comes at an incredible time for women of colour across North America – right wing repression may be moving against them, but Lizzo has notched up a number one, while Cardi B earned herself a Grammy. “I think it’s progress,” she says. “Everything is progress. It may not be as fast or as much as we want, but it’s going in the right direction.”
“Every little bit of inspiration or truth that we have in that direction is something that you applaud and you want to build on,” she points out. “You say: wow, we’ve reached this… but what else can we do? We applaud it, but we’re never content knowing that there’s always more than we can do, and in greater ways. That’s how I view everything. Any step towards progress is a step in the right direction, but it’s understanding that this isn’t the end of the line, or the end of the journey and we can continue to build on that. It’s definitely progress and I’m proud of it.”
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Right now Rapsody is looking to the future – 2019 ends with a flurry of North American live dates, but she’s already planning her next step, her next project. “I can’t wait to go on tour and do these songs and see how it resonates with people in the flesh,” she says, “but also I’m so inspired to go create something else. Just the response to this album, and talking to people online and getting different perspectives, and knowing that I recorded 40 songs with so many stories of being a black woman that I still didn’t get to tell or put out in the open... there’s so much more to say.”
“I’m kind of like 50/50 – I’m so excited to tour but at the same time I want to be able to go on the road, into the studio and tell more stories and create more art. I’m feeling both of those emotions at the same time.”
‘Eve’ feels like an incredibly timely album, but it’s themes could be equally relevant in 1989, or 1969. “My thing is to always tell the truth, and to reflect the times that we’re in,” Rapsody explains. “I wanted to tell the whole spectrum of what being a black woman was. We had so many different sides to it.”
“I guess, in a way, I had felt boxed in, and me as a woman I only rapped about certain things, or people only looked at me a certain way. Just to show that regardless of the kind of music that I make, that I like to have fun too.”
“I support other women, I don’t shun other women just because they may be different from me. That was the status. I was in that headspace at this moment, so that’s what I wanted to talk about. It will always be a time to talk about it in some way.”
Our time up, Clash bids adieu and lets Rapsody get on with her day, spreading the conversation piece by inspirational piece.
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'Eve' is out now.
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