If there is one thing that the first lady of Jamla Records is sure of, it’s her image. Thus, you won't see Rapsody face-down, butt-up in a video or album cover any time soon. The 26-year-old is unapologetic and unwavering in her decision to not sell sex or base her music around aesthetics and physical assets and says it's looking into Black girls’ faces and understanding that she owes it to them not to be “basic.” Her latest single, “Hard to Choose” is jam packed with frustration, affirmations, and hard critiques of hip hop culture’s lack of appreciation for Black women and specifically, her music. On the track, the 9th Wonder-protege makes sharp statements about being pro-Black and not caring if hipsters relate to her lyrics,while admitting that it hurts to see Black folks consistently in the minority at her shows.
“When you think about the female artist today, you’re supposed to be sexy. You’re not supposed to rap about messages or current events. It’s always supposed to be about your body or what you can do sexually for a man. It’s really disheartening for that idea to be put out, especially when you have young girls that look up to that. It affects how they think and how they perceive what a female is supposed to look like and how they’re supposed to speak,” she tells EBONY.
“9th and I have always talked about this from day one. Before anything got rolling, I remember he and a friend of his sat down and told me that the first thing that you have to do is define your line. What line are you not willing to cross? What are you not willing to compromise yourself for? It was always the music. I didn’t want to sell myself short and put sex or my image above the music. Because the music is the most important thing.”
In 2009, as the Kooley High-alum embarked upon her solo career, Rapsody was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. She had chronic headaches, her weight began to fluctuate and there was a change in her eyes. Nevertheless, she continued to rock shows, but it affected her confidence. “I struggled a lot with my appearance because it made my appearance change. My eyes bulged out. It took me years for them to go down and they haven’t gone down all the way to what they normally were,” she admitted.
“I would be at shows rapping and I would get the pictures back and my eyes would just be popping out. And I’m like, ‘Aww I look so ugly.’ My face structure changed a little bit. My face looked a little bit more swollen. I’m having trouble keeping my weight down. I’ve always been used to being 120/125. My metabolism is slow because I have a hyperthyroid now. I have to watch what I eat and I have to work out a lot. That’s been a struggle. It affected my self esteem, appearance wise. When I made my first album, The Idea of Beautiful, that had a little bit to do with it. You have to look at what makes you beautiful.”
Rapsody doesn’t often discuss the autoimmune disease that rapper, singer and producer Missy Elliott also has, but she feels that she should. “I don’t talk about it much at all. It took me about 2 or 3 years to really get all the way right with it,” she said. “I had to have three different injections of radio active iodine. There’s only like 5-10% of people that have to have that many doses.”
During our chat, the “Thank H.E.R. Now” rapper expressed her grievances with people hopping on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge bandwagon just because it was trendy. She feels that people can donate to whatever the charity they choose, but should at least do their research on which diseases directly affect their community the most. She also addressed it in her recent, “I’m a Beast (Hoover Street Freestyle),” where she talked about other social issues like the killing of Mike Brown, the militarization of police in Ferguson and Ray Rice’s issues with domestic violence. Rapsody has no problem candidly talking about issues in her music or online with her fans. She actually enjoys using social issues to ignite conversations with people from different backgrounds and walks of life.
While Christianity, Islam and the Five Percent Nation (NGE) have an obvious influence hip hop culture, Rapsody says that her Jehovah’s Witness upbringing has greatly shaped both her music music and outlook. “Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness gave me a different perspective of the world. Being a Jehovah’s Witness, we didn’t celebrate Christmas or other holidays. Just learning the history behind it and why we don’t,” she explained. “Jesus,to us,wasn’t born on December 25th or Easter and a bunny. Just ideas like that. It’s just looking at things differently. I can apply that to the world or current issues. Whether it’s how you look at Ferguson or whatever. It just gave me a different perspective on things, whether it’s politics or music business.”
In addition to having co-signs from rap veterans such as MC Lyte and Nas, Rapsody has had the wonderful opportunity to tour, collaborate with and have mentorship from other artists like Pharoahe Monch, Rah Digga, Raekwon, the Lady of Rage and Jean Grae. The genuine support and advice from her hip hop veteran mentors and friends helps keep her grounded and always focusing on the music. “The music was always going to come first because that’s what carries you and what keeps you around for twenty years,” she says.
“You might be pretty now and you might have big boobs and that might do it for you now, but what are you going to do when you’re fifty or when you’re wrinkled? It always has to be about the music.”
Rapsody's Beauty and the Beast EP will be available via her website on October 7th.
Glennisha Morgan is a multimedia journalist, writer, photographer and filmmaker. Follow her on Twitter @GlennishaMorgan or at www.GlennishaMorgan.com.