Despite the high, low, or just plain bizarre events that set the narrative of the past solar return, in music the year was marked by artists that have truly mastered their battles. By facing their demons and exposing them bare for everybody to see, or by sharing invaluable tales from the front lines of repressed minorities aching for change, these musicians collectively reminded us what we all have in common: our humanity.
Marlanna ‘Rapsody' Evans and her second album ‘Laila’s Wisdom’, is the perfect example of this. The record sees the North Carolina MC nominated for a pair of GRAMMY Awards this year, her first as lead artist following a contribution to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ which was nominated for ‘Album Of The Year’ back in 2015.
Now she’s up against Kendrick in the ‘Best Rap Album’ and ‘Best Rap Song’ categories, as well as Jay-Z whose Roc Nation imprint she’s signed to. "As artists that's what I think that we should do, I think it is our job to be a voice for the voiceless,” she expresses, as we settle in for a conversation. “My music is based on life and what's happening around me. I think that's why it resonates with people, because it’s honest."
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Born in the early 80s in a small town in North Carolina, Evans would spend her formative years taking inspiration from the generations of of female MCs before her. From the moment she saw MC Lyte's video for ‘Poor Georgie' she decided that rapping was something she wanted to do, and she’d formerly begin her career in 2006 ago while she was at North Carolina State University making songs with members of an on-campus hip-hop society.
The tracks would catch the ears of veteran producer 9th Wonder, who would become a catalyst for the formation of Kooley High, the collective she’d continue to release music with until 2011 when she began to dedicate her focus towards a solo career.
That year she’d release ‘Thank H.E.R Now’, her second solo mixtape and a statement of intent for what was to come. Working with 9th Wonder and his Soul Council production crew, Rapsody would set her artistic mantra: ‘Culture over everything'. During those twelve months, she’d also expand her horizons with an impressive list of collaborations including Talib Kweli, Childish Gambino, Mac Miller, Erykah Badu, and Kendrick Lamar.
While many focus on preaching, Rapsody provides you with the tools for you to think for yourself. Rhyme after rhyme, she'll entice you into her stream-of-consciousness, welcoming you to listen to her passionate and educated opinion, and she does it with such humour and grace that might be difficult to pass on
. The contribution she makes is an important one, offering her insight during a time where she believes it’s more necessary than ever for people to listen to each others’ perspectives. "Women being leaders in the culture again, that's needed,” she says. “We make music that men cannot tap into. We are emotional. We are caretakers, protectors. In these times, you need us. Everybody is co-existing together, but doing their styles. That's how I think you get the best music, that's why I'm excited about the times we're living in. Not just for women, but for music in general.”
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Many first experienced Rapsody’s perspective when she was recruited by Kendrick Lamar to write and deliver a verse on colourism - discrimination based on skin colour - for ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’ from his 2015 album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. Given the title and subject matter she penned a candid piece about learning self-love after believing her skin tone to be too dark as a twelve-year-old. The message is one that she hopes to pass on to her listeners: "We are defined by what society tells is beautiful,” she explains. “Beauty comes in all shape, colour and fashion. For the kids or those that are close enough to you, you never want them to feel that way."
A year later she’d ink a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, finally releasing her most complete body of work, and major label debut album, ‘Laila’s Wisdom’ last September. Named after her late grandmother, the 14-track album is an autobiographical masterpiece that revolves around a network of interlocking narratives firmly grounded in the current social-political American landscape. Rapsody’s wordplay alongside the carefully curated musical elements and appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes and BJ the Chicago Kid, amongst others, punctuate and emphasise the stories being told, making the whole album come alive in your ears.
After all of her success so far, Rapsody is fully in-tune with her mission: to lead by example, without a trace of arrogance, encouraging you to develop the art of being yourself in a poignantly raw way. “I don't think we know just how much power we have as musicians,” she says, half thinking out loud, as our conversation draws to its conclusion.
“You never know what people are going through and how music gives them relief. It’s moments like that that stick with me, keep me grounded and let me know that I have a purpose. Whether 10 million people know you or a thousand. It doesn't matter.”
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Words: Catarina Ramalho
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