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With a career that stems as far back as 2004, Rapsody is a hip hop stalwart. At the moment, we're at a stage where many are choosing sides between the old and the new and while her style harks back to the days of boom bap, her outlook is much more forward facing.
“It’s important to bridge that gap and to have the older artists mentor the younger ones, but still give them that freedom of creativity and respect what they do.”
Along her journey Rapsody has collaborated with Kendrick Lamar among others, she has released two albums and a host of mixtapes and most recently partnered with ‘Roc Nation’, which later led to a Grammy nomination in 2017.
Ab-Soul, Anderson .Paak, Statik Selektah, Talib Kweli are just a handful from the endless list of talented names she’s worked with along the way that have helped carve her own distinctive sound.
With all that being said, her career isn’t just a collection of collaborations and co-signs. Her style has always remained consistent in one of the most transitional periods any genre has seen. Hip hop has gone from boom bap to trap in the blink of an eye, but Rapsody is one of the few that has remained true to their original sound.
Even though some of her closest collaborators have ebbed and flowed from sound to sound, she emphasises the importance of the community remaining tight knit, even if the sound stretches further and further from the source.
The rap and hip hop that’s popular at the moment is a far cry from the sound of the genre when it first started. A lot of the artists leading the current movement definitely didn’t start out with the sound they release now, but slowly made the transition over, whereas you’ve stayed quite true to your roots the whole time.
I’ve never been one to change my sound because of what’s trendy, even though I do appreciate it. I appreciate how hip hop has grown and how it’s continuing to grow. My sound is a bit more traditional but that’s just what I like. That’s not to say I don’t like other types of hip hop, it’s just what suits me better.
Like you said, a lot of people tend to go with what’s trendy and to me that doesn’t make you stand out as an artist. I just like going left and sticking to what’s true to me. I still appreciate the new sound that the kids are creating, there’s room for everything.
When we were kids, our parents thought we didn’t appreciate hip hop as it was. You’ve got to let it grow but continue to teach these artists about where it came from. I’m still inspired by trap music.
Do you think it’s important not to create a divide between the two? At times it seems like there are fans of one and fans of the other, can both worlds co-exist?
That’s how we continue to keep hip hop alive. It has to continue to grow, to evolve into something else and move with the next generation. That’s what it was for, hip hop was about expressing yourself and expressing yourself in your own way, whatever way that was. Like I said, it was also about respecting the history. I look at it like any other genre. You can have rock where you have present day stuff that sounds way different to older things, but the older ones can tour and sell out and play at the same festivals. Artists appreciate what’s new but they also appreciate the legends.
We don’t really have that in hip hop because most of the legends are aged out. Their sound is looked at as ‘old’ whereas it’s really the foundation that we’re standing on.
It’s important to bridge that gap and to have the older artists mentor the younger ones, but still give them that freedom of creativity and respect what they do. You don’t have to listen to it everyday but you have to respect that they’re carrying the torch for hip hop.
"I didn't have to change my sound, go from label to label and listen to somebody tell me how to do my art. Having that control is really rewarding."
You’ve built your career up really steadily; signing to ‘Roc Nation’ and being nominated for a Grammy in the past few years. You’ve been around for a while now but you have one of the most steady platforms in the game, what’s that journey been like?
The journey has been challenging but it’s been rewarding at the same time. The challenge has been to stay focus and to stay the course for so long. This is something I’ve been working on for seven or eight years and we’re just seeing daylight now to be honest. This is just the beginning. Year after year, I’ve been working with great artists. It’s been challenging in that respect; to keep looking forward and not get sidetracked.
It’s rewarding first off because you appreciate it more when it happens and also I’ve taken my time and built up a solid fan base where I feel like I have a strong foundation. I have people that have seen my journey for so long and I’ve really built my brand; I’m not going to be here today and gone tomorrow. For some artists, as fast as it comes, it’s as fast as it goes.
I feel like I’ve got the stronger legs to stand on and that’s rewarding. I haven’t had to compromise; I didn’t have to change my sound, go from label to label and listen to somebody tell me how to do my art. Having that control is really rewarding. With ‘Roc Nation’, I couldn’t have a better situation because they allow me to be the captain of my ship.
It’s funny though, you see your friends and your partners that you grinded with from the start and you feel like, ‘man I’ve got a lot of catching up to do’, but it’s good because I can look at a Cole or a Kendrick or a K.R.I.T. and know that if they did it, then my time is coming.
I can ask them for advice. At least you have friends in the game that can help you move up on your climb.
What has it been like having a solid connection with the artists you’ve mentioned from the start, rather than just getting to know them because it was cool to do so?
I think it’s important to have a friendship or kinship with an artist that’s not just business. With Kendrick and Cole or Ab-Soul, I remember when they came up, what their grind was like. When we create together then, it’s not really business for me. It’s like: ‘Yo, I need your name or your look for this project’, it’s like I respect them as an artist, as a homie and I like making music with them. It makes it more fun.
When you see people that you care about do good, you don’t get caught up in anything else.
You’ve cited Lauryn Hill as one of your inspirations, was it important to have a female icon at the top of hip hop when you were getting into the game at first?
It was a really good time because it was inspirational for me; you had a woman in Lauryn, who at the time was arguably the best MC out there. That was across the board, all men respected her. It was at a time when she had so many other women around; it was Lauryn, Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and more. It was a good time for females in hip hop.
At the moment it seems like the bigger female hip hop artists are pitted against each other. Do you think that’s true and have you ever had any experience of that yourself?
Yeah, with fans and different blogs. Just being a woman in hip hop they’re comparing you to other women in the game or they automatically want to see Rapsody go at such and such. They want to see us battle. What is this idea that there can only be one and that we have to fight to death to get to the throne?
It’s the silliest thing to me and I grew up knowing and that it doesn’t have to be that way and that we can co-exist together the same way that men do.
You see a lot more of us women in hip hop fighting that narrative and championing each other. Whether it’s myself and Remy Ma or Little Simz, now I think we’re going through a change where it’s us, the women in hip hop, that are pushing the movement and saying we’re not going to fight each other just for your entertainment. We are artists, we’re here to make music and we know that we can appreciate each other’s music at the same time.
Early on I never paid it any attention. I never got caught up in the idea that I had to battle any woman. I want see all women do well because it helps the idea that we can all succeed. It helps that women that are coming up under us, that’s the focus now.
You seem to be a rapper’s rapper and you really got that recognition when you were nominated for your Grammy. Did it feel like you’d finally gotten your due after so many years of work?
It was definitely a moment, it felt good to be acknowledged at the highest level of music. As an artist, one that’s had a journey like I’ve had, it allows you to breathe a sigh of relief. It was great to get the nod, next time I want to win one!
It was definitely a point where I could stop and my team could stop for a minute and exhale. There was a point where we didn’t think we could make it to a partnership with ‘Roc Nation’ or be on ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, now we’re at the Grammys? Man we did it! All the sacrifice and hard work was worth it. It gives you more fire to continue on what you’re doing when you have people telling you you’re too lyrical and that you’re a rapper’s rapper.
Moving forward, how do you see your style fitting in with the current crop of artists?
It’s definitely inspired me to think outside the box and really get in and experiment. I’ve learned to play with new cadences, how to make my voice an instrument and how to be less cryptic. That’s what the new crop of artists are creating, I’ve learned from them. I can take some things and apply them to my brand but still keep my sound.