Abcdr du Son : Even though Laila’s Wisdom is not your first album, it kind of feels like it plays as an introduction for a lot of people. Have you thought of this album this way, or did it just happen to be this way ?
Rapsody : Honestly, it just came out like this. I told myself : « I’m not gonna overthink it, or have these big expectations, like, I wanna reach a million people with this one with a radio hit ». 9th just told me : « tell your story, tell your truth, because there’s gonna be people on the other end that connect with you ». He also told me : « there’s no need for you to go and be a trendy rapper and go after the same three million people when you have 2000 people already that love you, and they’re all yours. You don’t need to share them and fight for them ». So it was just about making dope music. I thought about it growing up, it was always artists that were true to themselves, and that left a mark on me, that I can connect a memory to their music, that I never forgot. That’s what I wanted to do. Let’s just make so good music and see what happens.
A : That makes me think about about a line that you have on « You Should Know » that goes « Young Gu yellin’ I should rippity rap more ».
Rapsody [laughs] : Yeah ! I recorded like 80 songs for this project. And I went through this phase for a week or two when I was making a bunch of love songs. I can’t remember what was going on in my love life at that time, but I was making some love songs. And he was like : « they’re good songs, but they wanna hear you rap. You need to rap more ! » 9th added : « people love you for rapping, so rap ! » I said : real talk. Let’s go back to the basics [laughs].
A : What is the process behind the songs you create with 9th, Young Guru and the other guys at Jamla Records ?
R : It changes from day to day. Some days, we’ll be in the studio, having a conversation, and from this conversation 9th would be like : « that’s a concept ». Or I might text him something that just happened to me, and he’d be like « that’s a song ». I could be watching a movie, hearing one line, and it would be a whole idea. Sometimes I would freestyle on my phone, send it to 9th, and he would tell me : « keep this part, and finish writing it ». Some days, I might have writer’s block, so I just go pick a beat on the Internet, because I’m trying to catch an emotion. I go through all these beats 9th gave me, that are all flame, but I’m not finding the right emotion. So I go to the Internet, I find a beat, and I start writing. And 9th comes later and puts his own beat under it. So we just play with different things. We have a process in any and many things [smiles].
A : It makes me think that you’re not only a solo artist, but a sum of a rapper and a producer.
R : I think it’s naturally that. 9th and the Soul Council are the sound of Jamla, and that’s a foundation. Can we go out and work with other people ? Yes. But that’s always gonna be the core of what we do. You wanna hear Drake with 40. When you hear Kendrick Lamar, you wanna hear him with Sounwave. It’s the same with me and 9 th. Once you’re in a space with these people so much, and y’all create this chemestry where they know you and you know them without even speaking. And that’s what makes I think the best music.
« On Saturday we go to the club, but from Monday to Friday, we’re living real life. So what’s the soundtrack for that ? »
A : There’s a recurring theme in your songs : how our culture, our education, the society define how we look at ourselves, and how other people look at us. Like in « A Rollercoaster Called Love », you rap about the family and friend pressure for women to get marry and have kids when they pass 30.
R : I know I’m not the only black woman that deals with it, how she struggles about how she feels appearance wise. And where I’m from, every girl is like « I gotta get a job, get married, have kids by 30 ». That’s the thing, and that’s not just. And so I think it’s up to me to be the voice of the voiceless. I’ve been given a gift and an opportunity to have a platform with this microphone. What are you gonna do with it ? You have to tell your story but also speak for those who don’t have this opportunity. Any story I tell, I know somebody in the other end that’s gonna be connecting and appreciate it. That’s what I’ve seen with this album : « girl, you’ve told my life, you’ve told my story, you’ve read my mind ». That’s what music is about : you wanna be able to put out a song that people can connect with. We can’t party all day… On Saturday we go to the club, but from Monday to Friday, we’re living real life. So what’s the soundtrack for that ? What’s the soundtrack for my work day, for my break up with my boyfriend ?
A : Funnily enough, 9th and other guys of the Soul Council have sampled on some of your tracks female singers like Aretha Franklin, Tweet or Solange Knowles, who sang about these topics as well. Is it pure accident ?
R : I think it goes back to when I’m looking for a certain energy or emotion. With the Solange joint, I love the song so much, and I’m thinking like « this is inspiring me to tell another story ». So let’s just sample it and turn it into something new ! With « Young, Gifted and Black », 9th was at a party, and he played it. I felt that that song is me, and thought « I need that for the album ». We did six intros for the album, and I was like : « let’s just try « Young gifted and black » ». 9th said : « I’m gonna send it to Nottz so he can flip it », and it was perfect. Once you hear a song that captures you emotionally, sometimes you just got to take it and recycle it ! [laughs] And make it your own.
A : I read that you went to college in North Carolina. What did you study ?
R : Accounting… I wanted to play basket ball and to do music. But I’m 5’3 », very small… and music was something that I didn’t believe in at that age, that I could pursue as a real career. It just felt like it was a dream and couldn’t happen. But I was good at maths, and from a small country town… So why not become an accountant ? And… I hated it. So bad. Because I’m such a creative person… and there’s nothing creative in accounting. That’s my accounting story [smiles]. Then I met 9th Wonder… You look back on life, and you’re just like « man, God is funny ». Like, is this really a design ? Was it supposed to be this way ? Because at one point, I got to NC State, and went to meet the head coach of the women’s basketball team, who said « come to my office next morning, let’s talk about it ». And this what I wanted to play for ! But I didn’t go, and I don’t know why. But for whatever reason, I was supposed to take a different path. And there was a time when I hated accounting so much, I was gonna transfer to New York to got for music business… and I didn’t do that either. I was just supposed to take this path… God’s funny, that’s all I know [laughs].
A : What is funny too, is that QG, who is on this tous with you, had pretty much the same destiny, playing basketball and starting music pretty late as well.
R : Yeah ! He played in UNC, and he won a ring in 2005. He’s at tryouts for the Lakers, and he hurts his knee. That’s the same day that 9th calls him to the studio. Which is crazy ! Who writes this ?
A : Do you think that, as much for you as for Q, you had to live these life experiences, to rap about them ? You could have started as teenagers like a lot of other rappers, but it turned out you went through other things before beginning a career.
R : It may be. When Jay did Reasonnable Doubt, he said « I’ve been working on this album for 28 years ». Maybe that was me with The Idea of Beautiful : I’ve been working on it… [thinks] I can’t even do the maths right now [laughs]… since forever ! You live these experiences to make that your first album. I look at it like that too.
« Growing up, I couldn’t name any MC from North Carolina. »
A : You’re coming for this small town in North Carolina, Snowhill. Besides act like Petey Pablo, J. Cole or Little Brother, it seems like there’s never been a scene, a movement over there. How do you look at that ?
R : I agree, definitely. Specially coming up, I was like « where is the scene ? » But there’s so many talented artists. People don’t think it, but in every corner there’s a phenomenal MC that’s just this close to have an out of town opportunity and go. You have this crabs in a barrel mentality, and it hurts the culture. Even for us, I watch 9th trying to get back and bring, and teach, and that’s never good enough for people. It’s always a « I need it now, what can you do for me ? » And I think, once we humble ourselves, and see that’s something that doesn’t come overnight, we got to work at it, we’re going into the right direction. Growing up, I couldn’t name any MC for NC, but now, it’s dope that the kids have myself to look up to, J. Cole, 9th Wonder, Petey Pablo, Wells Fargo, Lute, that J. Cole just signed… All these artists are doing it. Let’s start a movement and support each other. J. Cole moved back in North Carolina, I still live in NC… It’s just dope for me to go out, meet these artists and have this conversation.
A : Since you mentioned that you’re still living in NC, I was wondering : do you still have the Honda Accord ?
R : No, I don’t ! [smiles] What happened to that ? [thinks] I took it back home, it didn’t work anymore, and then my dad sold it, for like 700$ to my aunt [laughs]. I think it’s dead now though ! I did a Tidal interview where you have to ride around and have a car listen, and I was like « man I wish I had the old Honda cause I could tell the story ». When I was starting music and going to the studio, I was dead broke, and this car used to give me a headache. The summer in North Carolina is extremely hot and humid… I remember one day, it was so hot, my AC wasn’t working, and it would run hot, I could only drive three miles, and had to stop to put water in it. I asked my friend « could you go inside that Mc Donald’s to ask for some water to put in the car ? », and he came back and sait « the lady inside asked if I wanted food, cause I looked homeless ! » [laughs] That’s what that car did to me, but it did take me where I needed to go. That old Honda was so important in my career. I wouldn’t be sitting here without that car. Honda Accord Music forever !