“My mama still messes up my name. She combines ‘Rapsody’ and ‘Rapdiddy’ (and) says ‘Rap-so-diddy’,” she tweets. Marlanna Evans never guessed her mom would one day be mispronouncing her rap name. Though the North Carolina MC fell in love with Hip Hop after watching MC Lyte’s cautionary “Poor Georgie” video, Rapsody did not decide to seriously pursue music until college. She followed her passion by deciding on North Carolina State, but when she arrived, the days when Hip Hop permeated throughout the university were gone. Instead of attending campus shows once headlined by A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan, a Country act was taking the stage at homecoming.
Discouraged by the lack of Hip Hop appreciation, she founded H2O: The Hip Hop Organization with her friend, Charlie Smarts. “It was his idea. We had a meeting about it and called some friends. You had to have a certain amount of members before you could start it,” she explains. After joining group Kooley High, she was inspired to share her solo music at club gatherings. Well-known and respected producer 9Th Wonder attended one of the meetings and realized she had strong potential after listening to her tracks. He encouraged her to study Jay-Z’s Black Album and A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory to improve her cadence and delivery.
After battling thyroid issues and struggling financially fresh out of college, Rapsody paid the bills by writing verses and worked part-time at Foot Locker where her music videos were shown. “I had a really flexible schedule. I could pretty much come in and leave whenever I wanted to. I probably should have been fired, but they really supported me.” The Snow Hill rapper pulled through adversity and recorded Return of the B-Girl in 2010.
Now critically acclaimed for her mixtapes, the first lady of 9th’s Jamla Records has toured with Mac Miller and worked with Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu and DJ Premier. Her rejection of hyper-sexualized and gangsta lyrics has set her apart from the few females in the game. With a strong work ethic and aspirations to have the longevity of a “female Jay-Z,” it’s no wonder why her latest work has received a wealth of praise (including an XL rating in XXL). Not only does she channel Ms. Hill and embrace Hip Hop as a culture on the album, but she takes it back to da art of storytellin’. The title, The Idea of Beautiful, came to her after 9th told her she helped people admire “the beauty of Hip Hop.” He also shot the cover while visiting South Africa with rapper Phonte and discovered the sound for the album after watching a Nomsa Mazwai video on TV.
Hoping to one day write children’s books and launch a non-profit organization for disadvantaged children, Rapsody adores the term “role model” while most other artists throw shade on it. She speaks with a constant smile on her face and sincerity in her voice. Her vibrant and humble spirit radiates as we discuss her college years, advice on love and why she believes another golden era is about to begin.
Andrea Aguilar: How would you describe yourself in high school?
Rapsody: (laughs) I was an outgoing, nice person that everybody liked. I talked to everybody…even the kids that most other people wouldn’t talk to, you know? Homecoming, Prom Queen, did sports, class president.
AA: You were Ms. Popular!
R: (laughs) Yeah, I guess so, but I was goofy. I just had fun.
AA: You were really into basketball. Do you still play? Who’s your team nowadays?
R: Nah, I don’t play as much as I used to. I’m so busy with music, but I definitely still watch it. I watch the NBA Finals. The Lakers is my team.
AA: Me too! We gotta squad this year!
R: Yes! We needed a point guard. We got Dwight. Have you ever seen them at Staples?
AA: Once, but it was just for a pre-season game. I need to remedy that immediately.
R: (laughs) I keep up with them all year. I need to watch Kobe play before he retires at the Staples Center.
AA: A must! You started a Hip Hop club at North Carolina State. How did you go about founding it?
R: We got people involved. It was an organization you could be in if you were a student or not. That’s how we made it. We just went and filed some paperwork so we could make it official and do stuff on campus property. We would probably meet, if I remember correctly, once a month. We had monthly events and did a lot of freestyle battles. Those would always be the craziest. They were free, and the room would be packed. The walls would be sweating it’d be so hot. (laughs) We put on free shows on Fridays right in the middle of the atrium where everybody was. We’d do stuff like that just to make it fun.
AA: When you decided to pursue music, how did you prepare for it? Did you read books, articles?
R: Not really. I might go out to Barnes & Noble and buy a book about the music industry, but I would never get through it because it was so boring. I’ve learned the most about being an artist by just going through stuff and trying it…It working or it not working. Especially working with 9th. Everything 9th has said…it never fails.
AA: You have a great mentor right there.
R: Right. He walk that walk. He kept me well prepared.
AA: How did your family respond to your choice to do Hip Hop?
R: Psh! Wow. (laughs) Because of where I’m from (Snow Hill, North Carolina), I can count on my hand how many stop lights there are…It’s not like being from New York where you know a lot of people make a living in the arts. I don’t know anybody. We had Petey Pablo, and we had Little Brother. That’s all we had to look up to in Hip Hop. When I first told (my family) that I was rapping, I was still in college. They were like, “Oh, okay. Cool. Just a little hobby thing you’re doing while you’re at school.” They were shocked at first ‘cause nobody looked at me like a rapper. When people meet me, I’m laid back and chill. You would think I’m kinda shy. I can be a quiet person sometimes, so you’d never get the rapper thing. When I was done with school, (my family) saw I wasn’t really actively looking for a job, so that’s when it became …They were very supportive, but they don’t understand music and how to get on the radio and how to get on the TV. Even though they thought my music was dope, they didn’t understand why it wasn’t on TV or radio. It’s hard to explain to them how the business works. I would get calls from my sister once a week and from my mom saying, “Why aren’t you looking for a job?” or “Why can’t you get a job and do music on the side?” It’s like, “If I’ma do this, I have to make it first. It can’t be a side hobby. I have to go hard. I have to go all the way.” It took them awhile to really get that. That’s pretty much how it was and now that they understand it, they’re all the way there. They see things happening. I’ve got interviews for magazines, and I had a video on 106 & Park. That means something to them. They’re really supportive now.
AA: I know it’s going to be hard for you to choose, but what song can you relate to the most on Lauryn’s Miseducation album?
R: It changes all the time. I’d have to say today is a “Nothing Even Matters” kinda day.
AA: With D’Angelo. Classic.
AA: You want to erase the overtly sexual/gangsta images and lyrics with women. I’m curious to what your thoughts are on Lupe’s “Bitch Bad.” Have you seen the video?
R: Yeah, I have seen it. I thought it was dope. It’s needed. He did it right. He said it in a non-angry way. You need somebody to speak up and say things like that to at least create a balance. You have someone over here saying, “Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.” At least balance it out by calling women something other than that. You know, I believe in freedom of speech, but at least give people the choice.
AA: Would you consider yourself a “conscious rapper?”
R: Everybody is a conscious rapper in a sense. What do I mean by that? Like, you’re conscious about what you’re talking about. The majority…I take that back. Not all of them…I don’t wanna say conscious to put me in a box, but I’m definitely conscious about what’s going on around me. I just choose to put it in my music. I don’t really like labels like “backpack rapper,” but I’m definitely conscious of what I say, what I put in music and how I say it.
AA: You are really passionate Hip Hop culture. What aspects of the culture do you think are most important to preserve?
R: Aw, man. One would be history. Knowing the history and where you came from, how it started and the people that opened doors for you. That’s important that you build off that, and you know why Hip Hop was created. Hip Hop has a bad rap. When you think of why it was created and the Zulu Nation, it was to help stop violence and the gang movement. Everything about that and how it evolved…I think that’s very important. The community aspect of it. Interacting and helping and the family part of it. Those are just a couple of the things I think are important parts of our culture.
AA: Most artists shy away from being a role model, but you embrace it. What advice do you have for young girls pertaining to love and relationships?
R: Definitely one would be to take your time. Don’t rush it. I just think of when I was in high school, and I was in a relationship. I had a boyfriend who cheated on me. I learned a lot about love way early on. (laughs) You’re just heartbroken and crying like, “Awww!” You don’t even know what you want at that age in a man, and you don’t even know who you are as a person, so definitely take your time and don’t get too serious too early. Be patient. Communication is very, very important on both ends. You gotta communicate with your partner. Find somebody that respects you and that you respect. If you’re gonna be with or marry somebody, make sure that person is your best friend.
AA: Besides music, what other forms of art are you passionate about?
R: I like plays. I haven’t gotten the chance to go to one in a long time. The last one I went to was “A Raisin in the Sun” with Phylicia Rashad. I like to draw. When I grew up, I used to draw all the time. I like all forms of art. Breakdancing. Just anything.
AA: What artists make you feel another golden era may be resurging?
R: All these new cats. All of ‘em. You know, from the TDE camp..Kendrick (Lamar), Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and (Schoolboy) Q. That’s that classic West Coast sound. Joey Bada$$ in Brooklyn. He really does it for New York. That’s that New York sound I haven’t heard in a long time. He definitely does it. Big Krit’s hot. Basically by himself, he represents the South. Atlanta, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas. That whole swoop. Mac Miller, too. The thing that makes me think we’re on another second coming of a golden era is…around that time, you had so many different artists from different places. That’s what it is now. There’s artists popping up everywhere, and they’re all different. They all tell their own story. Even in the golden era, you had a whole bunch of females on the mic. With Nicki (Minaj)’s success, she got people excited and questioning, “Where are all the ladies?” Now you have Azealia Banks and Angel Haze and you know, Jean (Grae)’s always been doing it. There’s so many popping up left and right. I might discover a new sister on the mic once a week. (laughs) Snow tha Product. I’m not familiar with everybody’s music, but I just try to keep an ear. Just watch and see who the new artists are. I’m a fan of music. I just like finding new music to listen to. All of that makes me think we’re on the verge to another one. And a lot of artists are doing it independent. They really don’t need that radio help. They really get to make the music they want to and all of that plays a role. With the economy and the times, they kind of go together.
Rapsody (Produced by 9th Wonder) - “Believe Me”