Category Archives: Music

Rapsody On Coexisting In Rap’s Power Gap

In music and the culture it reflects, 2017 was predictably unpredictable: idols fell, empires shook, consensus was scarce. This conversation is one of five with artists, makers and thinkers whose work captured something unique about a chaotic year, and hinted at bigger revelations around the bend.

On the morning I call Rapsody, two weeks before her album Laila’s Wisdom is to be nominated for a best rap album Grammy, she’s still in bed after a late night putting in work at the recording studio in Raleigh, N.C. “I usually get a little tea and honey to start my day,” she says. It doesn’t strike me as the makings of a typical power breakfast. Then again, Rapsody has become quite adept at challenging how power is perceived in 2017.

With Laila’s Wisdom — her sophomore album and first since partnering with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, named for a grandmother who insisted on getting her flowers while she was alive to smell them — Rapsody conveys a dimensionality that’s rare in a genre where flat characters abound. She rhymes tough but tender, philosophical and flirtatious, vulnerable yet aggressive, both in and out of love, while remaining lyrical at every turn. “Power,” the lead single featuring Kendrick Lamar, is propelled by a grinding bass line, over which Rapsody deconstructs the conceit of power from a feminine perspective: “The power of the dussy make a grown man cry / The day I came up out my momma I saw a grown man cry.”
It’s a fitting metaphor for a year in which women have made considerable headway in hip-hop, even as abuses of authority by powerful men in entertainment are exposed almost daily. The music industry gender gap remains wide, and the litmus test for signing, marketing and promoting female rappers still often bends to a scale of desirability — or lumps them in a category unto themselves, away from the center of the culture. Three days after the release of Laila’s Wisdom, Cardi B’s powerhouse anthem “Bodak Yellow” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100; online, fans expressed fear that Cardi’s outsize success might overshadow Rapsody’s long-awaited breakthrough. Rapsody herself, however, wasn’t worried: “You had Cardi reaching No. 1 — that was a moment that should be celebrated. I also have this album that’s critically acclaimed and people love it. We can celebrate these two together at the same time, for totally different reasons,” she says. “It happens with men all the time.”During our conversation, Rapsody is effusive about the men who have stood in her corner. She was the only woman in the hip-hop collective Kooley High when acclaimed producer and fellow North Carolina native 9th Wonder deemed her worthy of solo success. Today she’s the flagship artist of his Jamla record label, where she counts director of operations (and Jay-Z’s long-time engineer) Young Guru among her mentors. Kendrick Lamar featured her on his own landmark album, To Pimp a Butterfly. And, she says, men are the majority of her fanbase by a longshot. In an industry full of paradoxes around gendered performance — including the persistent fallacy that there’s only room for one woman at a time in rap’s stratosphere — what’s most striking about Rapsody’s contribution to hip-hop this year is her determination to coexist without compromise.