Rapsody Details Making Eve & Describes The Big Response To 1 Of 2019’s Best LPs
In late August, Rapsody released her Eve album. The North Carolina native’s third full-length raised the stakes on a critically-acclaimed discography with a profound concept. Across 16 songs, Rapsody celebrated Black women with namesake titles, open to varying interpretations and connections. Whether they were clear-cut tributes or loose homages, the message of respect was fluid. Featuring Queen Latifah, J. Cole, and J.I.D., and GZA, among others, the Jamla/Roc Nation album is among 2019’s best—a collection of moments built to last in an often ephemeral age.
In New York City earlier this month, Rapsody spoke with Ambrosia For Heads about Eve. She opened up about the intention and inspirations behind the album and detailed its powerful impact. From fans to the people the songs are named after, people are getting the message.
Ambrosia For Heads: As a writer, I sometimes consider the audience that I want to reach when I create something. Your Eve album takes music and Hip-Hop to a whole new space. It celebrates some of your heroes and women across the board. But it speaks to others too, and reaches them with information on how to do better, and perhaps be allies. Was there a specific person or audience you thought of when you made this album?
Rapsody: No. If anything, my specific audience was Black women. I wanted to re-affirm that I understand you, and I want to voice what I’m sure all of you feel, to the world. I wanted them to hear it and be like, “Somebody gets it,” and “somebody’s speaking for me,” and “somebody’s representing for me.” That was the most important thing to me—whoever was on the receiving end, whether it be a Black woman, a Black man, a white woman, a white man, so on—in Australia, Japan. I just wanted them to hear it and appreciate Black women and what they go through, and how they feel. Especially being on this Big K.R.I.T. tour, I’ve been so thankful to be able to talk and connect with people. Like, I was in Boston, and this white guy pulled me to the side and was like, “Thank you. Listening to your album, you educated me—I have a Black girlfriend—[Eve taught me] how to treat her better and [understand] what she goes through. I didn’t know, but you helped me understand that.” I was just like, “Thank you for listening and taking the time to even dive in and come into our world to even understand.” It’s things like that—seeing so many Black women come up and hug me and say thank you. That’s what I appreciate the most. Because it’s something for that village to celebrate, to heal from, to release—I just want them to feel it first. But the fact that everyone else understands it, that’s the beauty of it.
AFH: Kathy Iandoli just published a book, God Save The Queens, about women in Hip-Hop. You have a quote in there that really speaks to what you’re saying. You said, “There’s just something that women can do in music and telling stories that men just can’t.” You added that you learned that lesson from studying Lauryn Hill. Can you expound on that a little, because that’s exactly what you’re doing with Eve?
Rapsody: It’s just something about women. I don’t know if it’s because we’re mothers and we have to be protective of our children [and] the home, or the way that men are supposed to be protectors and providers, and at times, they’re not able to connect [or] tap-in emotionally just in the stigma of how men are supposed to be…but women are able to have this duality where we have to be strong, we have to be fighters—especially Black women, with our history and everything. But at the same time, we have to be motherly, and enduring, and compassionate. So we’re able to tap into both emotions, both sides. But at the same time, the way that we pay attention to detail is just different. It’s just something to being a woman, and especially the duties that we have to carry in this world between always being available, and healing, and protecting, it just all comes out to the music. I feel like we go through it all, and we’re able to express and expand and talk about so much because we emotionally tap-in in so many different ways.
For Lauryn to make [The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill] and have songs where talks about the guy’s perspective and the woman’s perspective, I always loved that about her. Yes, I’m a woman, but I see, and I understand all of it. I think that’s what’s beautiful—the fact that I can make a song called “The Man,” and I’m not a man. And everywhere I go, so many men talk about that song. They say, “Yo, it’s crazy how you as a woman can tap into how I feel and what I’m going through.” It’s just ’cause we’re built, emotionally, to get it—to express it in a way that if [men] expressed it, they may be called a punk. Just to be a voice for them, I think it’s just something that’s innate for women.
Rapsody: No. We were maybe 30% on the way.
AFH: But you knew the concept?
Rapsody: I knew the concept. I knew that song was gonna be on the album. I was just really early into it, and getting it ready. I let it go early because I wanted—and 9th [Wonder] wanted to put something out that would bring attention to the label and all the other dope artists. We got so many dope artists, but you know people a lot of times only want to listen to something with name recognition attached to it. So the fact that me and J. Cole have been trying to work together for a long time—we’re both from North Carolina, we’re both Roc Nation artists, probably I got badgered every day like that’s the #1 person people wanted to hear me work with. They wanted to see that happen. So when it happened, it was just “Let’s bring some energy to the rest of my team.”
AFH: North Carolina is having the best run that it’s ever had in Hip-Hop. You’re at the top of that—between you, Cole, YBN Cordae, Little Brother, DaBaby… what’s in the water?
Rapsody: It’s always been in the water! What makes us special, or what’s dope about North Carolina is all of our influences. People ask me, “What is the North Carolina sound?” I tell ’em, it’s a melting pot. Because of where we’re situated, in the middle of the East Coast, we’re not really Deep South, we’re not super Northern either, we’re dead center—and [Interstate] 95 runs right through us. So you have the New Yorkers comin’ down, whether they’re goin’ to college or they’re passin’ through for whatever financial reason, they brought the music that was happening in New York along with ’em. The same from the South. And we’re a car culture; we don’t have subways or nothing like that. So you have that lyricism aspect, you have that boom-bap, but you also have that car culture where the music that we listen to, you’ve gotta be able to ride to. Having all those things mixed up together [plus] our Soul influence and Jazz history, [we pulled together] for this dope, beautiful sound. That’s what makes us special.
AFH: Your albums are worlds unto themselves. However, that’s especially true of Laila’s Wisdom and Eve. They have different themes, they sound different, they have separate energies. What is that process like to adapt from one world into the other, especially so close together?
Rapsody: I’d say sonically. Concept-wise and what I talk about, whatever feels right, that’s what feels right. But for me, as I grow, I don’t want my albums to sound the same if they’re too close together. Like, when we did Laila’s Wisdom, I got with the team was like, “Alright, I don’t want this next album to sound like that. I want to go somewhere else. I want to challenge myself, and push myself, and grow. So if anything, that’s the thing. And through your travels, you might go around and around, and eventually, you might come back. But in the meantime, I do want to go on a journey. I always want to do something different and elevate.
AFH: Eve does sound very different. It comes in a year when 9th Wonder and The Soul Council, have worked with Smif-N-Wessun, they’ve worked with Murs—each releasing albums which you are on. Did you have any direction, as far as how they sounded?
Rapsody: I don’t think I knew how to describe what I wanted, but I knew I wanted it to be different. I knew I wanted to find a way to experiment with this newer sound—the Trap sound. But at the same time, I knew I didn’t want it to be exactly that. How can I create something for me, where I’m in two worlds, and I walk this line? I’ve never been into following trends. The beautiful thing was Eric G was my secret weapon in that. Eric G’s a producer on The Soul Council; he produced five or six of the songs on Eve—what I love about working with Eric is he’s like me; he’s always gonna go left. The first joint that he sent me that we kinda built around, as far as this different sound I’m lookin’ for, was “Oprah.” When he sent it, I was like, “This is it. This doesn’t sound like anything that’s out. But at the same time, it’s new, and it’s showing growth with me, and it’s a whole different energy, but it still touches my soul at the same time.” Because no matter what it sounds like, it’s gotta touch my soul. I gotta feel it in my bones. Once we had “Oprah,” we knew how we wanted to build from there. Sonically, we knew where we wanted to go. That allowed 9th to push his lane, musically. Because 9th has a brand of what his music is. But at the same time, he’s always trying to elevate that. Khrysis got to push his creative juices and take that “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock and flip it into “Whoopi” to make [something dope]. But for me, it really started with Eric G and “Oprah.” I’m back in the studio now; the first person I called was G. “Where we gonna go next?” We’re in the lab searchin’ now. That’s always the fun part of creating.
AFH: You mention “Watermelon Man.” This album is filled with not only samples, but lots of vocal riffs and homages to things—you sample with lyrics. You seem to have an ear for that. Do you ever see adding production or DJ’ing to the repertoire?
Rapsody: Negative. [Smiles] I’ve been kicked off the beat machines so many times and the turntables. I probably tried to DJ three times, and get the 9th Wonder class. I tried to get on the machines. I just know that’s not my forte at all. Even before I started rapping, I bought a beat machine from this music store that was goin’ out of business. I played it for a week and then gave it away. Technology and me, we don’t go hand-in-hand. But, how I am able to be at least a little part of that is sampling. I listen to music, and I’m just like, “Yo, can this be sampled? Can we do this part?” I can hear things in my head, even if I don’t know how to make it. But I can say that I’m learning how to produce more, and that’s different than beat-making. With this particular album, I recorded all of the songs except two myself. I engineered ’em, and I made them at the house. I was able to put my own drops in some places. “This is where I hear a bridge; this is where I hear a hook.” I send 9th the session for the final [mix]. “Alright, Yoda, touch it.” I’m in my Padawan Jedi bag. I’m just learning more about how to make records and how to hear in a producer way.
AFH: Hip-Hop at its best, can educate. I learned about who Yusef Hawkins was from a Big Daddy Kane lyric. There is a lot of information in Rap lyrics that is not in textbooks. In the concept of Eve, was part of your goal to make some of your listeners more aware of these women, for instance, an Ibtihaj Muhammad or Myrlie Evers-Williams?
Rapsody: Definitely. It was intentional, too—not only in naming these songs because I was inspired by [these women], but I wanted to continue their legacy. Like you didn’t know who Yusef was, I didn’t know who Nina Simone was growing up; I learned that through Lauryn Hill. Lauryn talked about how much Nina influenced her, and I’m such a big Lauryn fan, I wanted to know [more]. It’s the same as I knew who Big Daddy Kane was. But I wanted to know more because I knew Big Daddy Kane influenced JAY-Z. So in naming these songs, Nina Simone, Afeni Shakur, Maya Angelou—all these phenomenal women, I’m to, for another generation who may not have someone to pass that knowledge to, make somebody Google and find out why [I named these songs].
AFH: Have you heard back from any of the namesakes?
Rapsody: Yes, I have. I’ve heard from Whoopi Goldberg; her people reached out. She actually sent me a gift of chocolates with a note. I opened the note, and she said, “Thank you.” Just that, that little sentiment, meant so much to me. I felt that one. Tyra Banks, I met up with her during Fashion Week. They reached out. She wants to do something creatively; we’re trying to figure out what it is. Of course, Queen Latifah, she’s on [Eve too]; I’ve talked to her. The Afeni Shakur Estate told us how much they loved the music. Iman, she re-posted the song and put it on her stories. There are some women who’ve got songs that didn’t make the project. Like I got an email from Lauryn Hill about two weeks ago. Actually, I reached out to her because I wanted her to be on the project; I had a song called “Lauryn.” But sonically, it just didn’t fit as well as with her schedule to even try to get together to work creatively. But she reached out after she saw the BET performance. She was just like, “Beautiful. Thank you.” That was huge for me because I haven’t been influenced by someone as much as her. Ibtihaj Muhammad, they reached out after they saw the video. That was dope—not even just her but the Muslim community to say, “Yo, you represented us right.” Michelle [Obama] hasn’t reached out. But somebody sent me a screenshot that they were listening to the song in the house on the speakers. [Laughs]
AFH: So on “Nina,” you say, “I am Nina and Roberta / The one you love, but ain’t heard of.” As this album continues to permeate not just Hip-Hop culture, but mainstream culture, these women are receiving and responding to the gesture, do you find that statement to still be true—the “never heard of” part?
Rapsody: Yeah, definitely. I think people are always discovering me. At the end of the day, it’s about exposure—I get a lil’ bit more exposure as I grow and throughout the years. I’m thankful to have a dope team like Roc Nation and Jamla Records and the Sunshine Agency Group to just help get the music out, and the story out for people to listen to, but I don’t think the art of discovery ever ends. I think people’ll be discovering me forever. But there’s a lot of people who haven’t heard of me because they look to TV and radio to discover music, and I’m not there all the way yet. But it’s a marathon at the end of the day, and it just gives me more longevity.
AFH: Since Eve, you released a monster collaboration alongside Robert Glasper, “Expectations.” In the song, you talk about how you, Kendrick Lamar, Cole, and K.R.I.T. never begged for fame, you found success above it. Can you just elaborate on what the verse means in terms of the campaign you’re having in 2020 with Eve?
Rapsody: At the end of the day, it’s all about the art and the music that drives us. I never get in this—and I can probably say that for Kendrick, K.R.I.T., and Cole [given] the same way that we love the music. We wanted to leave something that was amazing to inspire people. None of us never had to chase the money or the fame. Because as long as the product is dope, all of that comes with it. So at the end of the day, 9th always told me, “People can try and try and try, but there’s only so long that you can deny greatness and dope music.” You gotta come see me and bow down at the end of the day. So it’s all about having that confidence to believe in yourself and the vision and the path of what you want to do, and never steer you from that path. And everything you want will automatically fall in line with it. You’ve gotta be in tune with yourself and walk the path and do what’s honest and feels right, and that’s not fake. You can look at my career—all the careers and see anybody else, from JAY-Z to anybody that has longevity that did that. They didn’t chase anything that was fake, or you’re gonna be chasing forever. At some point, you’re gonna burn out. So whatever you expected, this is what you’re gonna get. It’s God-given; you can’t stop that train.
At AFH TV, there are several video interviews with Rapsody discussing her art and career. We are currently offering free 7-day trials.
New music by Rapsody is currently on the official AFH Playlist.
Press photo provided by the Sunshine Agency.