Photo: Jose Gongora
Rapsody Honors Black Women's Past, Present And Future On 'EVE'
Oprah, Maya, Serena, Michelle. These are just some of the black women, recognized by their first names alone in entertainment, sports, arts, politics and beyond, Rapsody recognizes on her third studio album, EVE. Over the course of 16 tracks, the GRAMMY-nominated rapper from North Carolina wants to show not only the strength and resilience black women hold, but that "black women come in a spectrum."
"I wanted to have a conversation," Rapsody tells the Recording Academy about speaking to black women through the album. "I wanted to write my letters to them to show that or remind us that we are beautiful, we are strong, that we are human."
EVE, the follow-up to 2017's Laila's Wisdom, which paid tribute to her grandmother, continues Rapsody's trajectory as one of hip-hop's most recognized and respected female voices. The Recording Academy spoke with the rapper about her album (out now via Roc Nation in partnership with Def Jam Recordings) about how black women are seen in society, how "IBTIHAJ" came about and more.
EVE is not the first time you've paid tribute to women in the form of an album. Laila's Wisdom was named after your grandmother. Who are you paying tribute to on this album?
Leila's Wisdom was for me, and I wanted to make something that was more broad that all women could gravitate to and see themselves. I wanted to make something that showed that we're not monoliths, that black women come in a spectrum, that we have different flavors and styles and energy and it all should be celebrated and loved, and to show that even I am a reflection of so many different women. I'm inspired by so many different women I know, so many other black women. I learned motherly love from Phylicia Rashad, outside of my own mother and aunt.
I learned the power of words from Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou. It's examples like that. So I wanted to make a project that creatively told that story in this way. I probably recorded maybe 40 songs coming forth from this idea about 40 different women and I just would wake up every day and think of a different woman. And it was so much fun and so easy because I respect so many and I follow so many. We narrowed it down to the 16 that we have and that was based on sonics; how we wanted the album to sound, what songs sounded good together, but also for a wide range story. So that's kind of how we came to the project that we have now.
I mean, there's so many badass black women out there. How did you narrow it down to 16?
[Laughs.] It was so hard, believe me. I thought about doing a double disc. I thought about doing part one, part two, but I said in the world that we live in people can't consume that much music right now. They don't even have the attention span to. So once we found two songs that we really wanted to build around sound-wise, because when we make albums we make it off what sonically sounds good together, and that also doesn't repeat the same concepts that I did within the album, so I think we built around "OPRAH" and "SOJOURNER" and "AALIYAH." Those were the first three songs that we created that we knew we were going to keep for the album. And we built around what sounded good with those three songs.
That's kind of how we dwindled it down. And we might have two songs that told two different stories, but musically they sounded the same so we just had to pick which one we thought was the best one. But it was very difficult, though. But I think what we ended up with is variety. If you see music in colors, it's very colorful and a bunch of different colors. It shows the world of black women that I wanted to showcase. You're going to get the rowdy chick. You're going to get the introspective one. You're going to get the loving one. You're going to have songs about beauty. You're going to have songs that are political. So it just covered all the stories and energies that I wanted to showcase.
You named the album EVE. How come?
I wanted a title that represented black women. There's no one name that can tell the story of all these different women so I wanted to start with the first woman ever created, the mother of all living things, and that's Eve from the Bible. So that's why I chose Eve. God created man. He took a rib from him and blew life into a lung and He created the first woman and named her Eve. That is a reflection of who we are and where we come from and the beginning of women, giving birth to the world, nurturing the world, feeding the world through our bodies. So that's why I chose "EVE."
Did you have an audience in mind when creating the album?
Yeah. Specifically, directly first I wanted to talk to black women. I wanted to have a conversation. I wanted to write my letters to them to show that or remind us that we are beautiful, we are strong, that we are human. It's okay to feel weak at times because we do carry so much and we have to go through so much. We have to fight so much, but we still persevere. So I wanted to talk to black women and black little girls, first and foremost. But then I wanted to talk to men to remind them why we should be loved, respected and protected, to remind them of their daughters, remind them of their sisters, their mothers, the women that are around them and to show them that at the core of who we are, you are this because of us.
Every man is raised by a strong woman. That's why I named the last song "AFENIA" but we kept it, we put the sample of 2Pac in it. We revere 2Pac and we love him for the man that he is, but he is who he is because he was raised by a strong black woman. And so those are the first two people I wanted to talk to. But I feel like no matter what race you are, what age group you are, what part of the world you are, this album will still resonate with you and you'll be inspired or feel something from it in some shape, form or fashion.
Do you feel like men have a role in uplifting black women?
I do. I think we have a role to each other. Women have a role to respect and love and uplift man and men should do the same for women. The men are the head of the household. I'm from the South, it's just one thing I believe. But it's for the man to protect the woman and to have her back and to love her and to be kind to her and to be patient and to step up for her in a time of need. Again, we deal with so much, having to bring life into this world, having to be the backbone when your man come home, especially black men from a long day of work and having to deal with the world, and how the world views black me, and how the black men is always on edge because of just everything that they have to deal with.
And it reminds me of a conversation that Nikki Giovanni had with James Baldwin. That section of where you hear Nikki expressing [something along the lines of,] "Well, you lie to the world all day. Why can't you lie to me?" The black man's saying, "Because I have to put on a front, because I have to hold everything in so long, you're the person that I could come to and let it all out and be myself." And it's just a powerful conversation, and I think it's important, that I want to make music that reflects both sides of that story. And at the end of the day we kind of have to be there for each other.
Do you feel the men have a role in uplifting women in the music industry?
Oh yeah, I definitely do. Especially as a female in hip-hop and coming up in this climate and we see how for me, our talent is looked at as less than because we're women, just the images that are portrayed and pushed to the forefront. So I think it's up to the men. It's a responsibility to have my back. And that's something men have been doing for me for my whole career. I was signed by 9th Wonder and Young Guru who believed in me, who felt like they didn't have to change my image and make me something that I wasn't just to fit up with what was trending or what was hot. Kendrick Lamar, he's been a supporter from day one. I'm the only feature on his second album, To Pimp A Butterfly, which is one of the most anticipated albums ever made.
Big K.R.I.T. has always been a supporter. He just recently hit me up to go on tour with him. Men have been supporting me my whole career. Jay-Z signed me. I'm the first female to be signed to Roc Nation and a lot of times men have stepped up for me more than women have at times. So it just shows when men step up and they're part of the conversation and they're part of the fight that we go through just to earn respect, it helps. In the same way, I would love to see the NBA players step up for the WNBA players when you talk about pay equality. It takes a village, not just gender. It takes everyone to create change and we should have that support.
I was inspired to do it. One, from a Nicole Bus record called "You" where she actually used a old Wu-Tang sample the same way I did so I wanted something that felt like that for my album. And for whatever reason, myself and Nicole couldn't work, but 9th just went through a sample bank of a bunch of Wu Tang samples and he was like, "I'm going to do 'Liquid Swords,' just because how dope a song it was and what it meant for the time." And he just felt like that energy fit well with the album.They made the beat. It was crazy. I wrote to it and before we did anything, we had to reach out to GZA to ask for his blessing as a code of conduct because we are the culture and to also ask him to be on it because it just made sense.
It's probably his most popular song, so he agreed that we could even do the song and use the sample and that he would give us a verse. And while we were waiting on his verse we got a call, just trying to work out logistics and everything, getting GZA's verse recorded for the project. There was a person that was with D'Angelo, spoke about how D'Angelo was a fan of both myself and 9th and he thought that D'Angelo would really love the record.
So he wanted to play it for him and we told him we would love for him to. And he did. And D'Angelo connected with it so many other people because what that song meant when it came out for a lot of people, it connected a lot of people to a memory and the history that D'Angelo has with GZA and back then, the first time they did a song together, "Cold World," that's how much he loves Wu Tang. So for him the song inspired him in a way that he wanted to be a part of it and it just happened that naturally, just that organic and it came out to be a banger.
Malcolm X once said, "The most disrespected person in America is a black woman." Do you believe that still to be true today?
Yes, I do. That's one of the reasons I wanted to make this project.There's so much going on in the world: your gender, your race, your religion, so many factors. And black women are sometimes always at the bottom. Because we're women, we're looked at as less than because we're black, we're not respected, and then you have in your household we are the most disrespected, and sadly that's still true today. When I watch videos, black women having to fight for themselves and defend themselves and men are standing around in circles and just, it just never made sense to me.
They have to be the head of the household a lot of times and take up the slack and be the man or the woman. It's just a way harder fight than we expect, even in our image. There are a lot of times where our images are portrayed or taken by other people and they're looked at as being more beautiful when everyone else does. We used to get called ugly and talked about because we were thicker in our thighs and we had plumper, more beautiful lips. And the way we wore our hair, it was called "ghetto." But when other people do it that don't look like us in other races, it's called high fashion. And that's a disrespect. The way Serena Williams is treated sometimes in the tennis world, that's a disrespect that wouldn't necessarily happen if she wasn't a black woman. I definitely want to touch on that, and that's part of the reason I made the project.
What is the most empowering thing about being a black woman today for you?
For me the most empowering thing is our strength and our perseverance. No matter how much you disrespect us and how much you throw at us, we always find a way to thrive again. And that's embedded in our DNA because we've been doing it so long. Even in the political climate and time that we're in, a lot of black women are stepping up and saying we want change and we have to be that change, and I'm down for the cause. It's a powerful time that I love and appreciate. I always seen black women step up no matter how tired we get, no matter how much we continue to have to carry, no matter how many walls and doors get closed in our face, we don't give up. And that's powerful. And that's one thing that makes me proud to be a black woman and that I can stand on, something I can see when I was a little girl in my house with my mom and my aunt, to even in the world today that we live in.