After a brainstorm session with her confidant, close collaborator and Jamla Records label boss 9th Wonder, rapper Rapsody named her latest mixtape Crown, symbolic of her "full coming moment," she says.
Within the past year, the fire-spitter has secured a deal with Jay Z's Roc Nation and RSVP'd to an invitation from President Barack Obama to perform for Jazz Day, the star-studded White House jazz concert. She then rolled out her latest offering Crown, loaded with familiar references (Beyonce, Solange and Public Enemy samples can be heard on the 10-track set) and Twitter-friendly tracks like "#Goals," as well as deeper cuts like the Moonchild-assisted "Fire."
On the week of Crown's Nov. 16 release, Rapsody stopped by Billboard HQ to discuss the project's meaning, linking with featured guests Anderson .Paak and Ab-Soul, as well as meeting Hov, her rap hero. The North Carolina native also reflects on the 2016 election results and the biggest gem she's learned from 9th Wonder.
What does the title Crown mean to you?
We're all born into this world with a crown, but it's like babies with weak necks. We have to learn from all of our experiences, successes, failures, wisdom. We gotta gain that wisdom, just kind of live and learn to love ourselves and know who we are and shine in our own light. Once you get all of that, you're strong enough to hold it up. That's what it means to me but everybody's crown is different. Everybody's makeup is different but that doesn't make anyone better than the next person so it's kind of about shining in your own light.
You talk about relationships but also have uplifting numbers on Crown. What life experiences are you currently going through that made this project?
Relationship-wise, I'm single.[Laughs.] But I've always been a tomboy, and I've always had a lot of guy friends. These last three or four years, I met this group of girls, and they're like my sisters. We're best friends, so I have somebody I can talk to about girl things that me and the guys don't talk about. We talk about a lot of relationship stuff, so that comes out in the music -- like whatever anybody's going through, or things we used to go through.
Other than that, just life in general. I'm just in a very good place. I'm very good as far as what's going on socially. I feel like I wanna be a voice that talks about that. We might not have a lot of mainstream artists putting the message out, so I'm just very open and aware, just free right now. Whatever touches me, I'm gonna talk about it, whether it's socially, funny, sad or relationship-wise.
Was there a song that was particularly hard to write?
Nothing was hard to write. Probably the one that had the most emotion was "Fire" just 'cause of everything that's been going on. I rewrote the first verse, and the last song where the beat changes, that's pretty new, but the song and the hook I did around the Baltimore Riots. We'd be doing songs, then something happens and you want to put it out there for the message. But we'll be like, the sad thing is you could hold on to it, because something else is gonna happen.
Everything else was honest. When it's honest to me, it's not hard to write especially when I'm in this space like I'm not afraid to tell my story.
Being from North Carolina, what is the climate like there and how have you coped with the results of the election?
That first day after he won, that was a hard day. It looked hard -- you walked out and it was cloudy and rainy. It was just a tough day to know that this is reality, and it really happened, but I wasn't surprised. I was surprised, but I wasn't surprised -- because I do live in North Carolina, and there's a lot of KKK out in the South. We woke up that day and it was just like, I already knew. I was like, "Y'all know the Klan's gon' be riding today, it's a victory, they got a redo of the Civil War."
I don't think Donald Trump is a racist, I think that he really played on how much racism is in America. But the dangerous thing is, he gives hatred power and that's dangerous for the regular person that's trying to live -- whether you're black, gay, transgender or Muslim. I kept my niece [with me] that morning too. She's usually bubbly and fun but [on the morning after the election] she came in and didn't say nothing. I said, "What's wrong?" She said "nothing," and I thought about it. I said, "What's wrong? Is it Trump?" She said, "Yeah." I said, "Are you scared?" and she's like, "I don't like that he's president." That's when it really hit me, because you can't protect them.
How old is your niece?
She's seven and has an older brother. He's nine and was like, "I don't like Donald Trump. He's not gonna win," so they're very aware at their age.
With Common releasing Black America Again and Solange doing A Seat at the Table, among others, it seems artists are really coming together on the music front. Do you feel like the country's current circumstances have given artists a larger platform?
I think music really tells the times, and I feel like the change started around when D'Angelo's Black Messiah came out and Kendrick [Lamar] followed with To Pimp A Butterfly. Now, you have Black America Again and how free Alicia Keys is on her Here album. It's just a lot that's been going on socially, and that's what artists are supposed to do. It happened with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.
I think that's just the climate of music, because of everything that's happening in the world. We don't have a choice but to speak about it. You can only ignore it for so long, because it affects all of us. So I'm excited on an artistic level. Everybody's doing their thing in their own way, and voicing their opinions and story.
Beyond the social issues, there's a line that you say in one of your songs where you rap, "I'm misunderstood yet you love 'Tiimmy Turner'." What is your take on so-called "mumble rap"?
If you like it, you like it. I guess the line is, people are so in love with fame, and they feel like that's what's hot now, and if you're not doing it then you're not dope. I just like people being creative, but I want to have balance, that's always been my thing. I like people to have different styles and a different wave.
Desiigner did the "Tiimmy Turner" freestyle and one of my friends was like, "Oh that's whack," and I was like, "Nah, that melody is pretty dope. If you put the right beat to it, it go." I think there's a time and place for everything. We're not always supposed to have to think, but we don't have to party and turn up every day [either]. So to me, it's all about balance.
You collaborated with Anderson .Paak on "OooWee." Describe your chemistry working with him.
We did four or five songs like "Without You" and "OooWee" in one night, but it's good. I reached out to him first just to connect. I think it was before [Dr. Dre's project] Compton dropped. I always have an ear to the streets because I'm a fan of music, so I'm always looking for new artists. [.Paak] had a tour stop in North Carolina, so we went to the show, got on the bus, chilled and just talked -- it was just real natural.
I'm real big on energy and his energy was good. He came to the studio and I think [producer/engineer] Khrysis was playing beats so we just zoned out. It was just like one big jam session. He is one of my favorite people to work with ever.
Was it the same for Ab-Soul when you worked with him on "2 AM"?
We never worked together in the studio, but just kicking it with him is good because that's my brother. We get along so well. The first time I met him, we just kicked it. I gravitate to people that have similar energies with me, and [TDE is] my favorite group in the industry -- like, they're really family. Me and Kendrick have worked in the studio and same thing; it's just easy because I think we all have a love and respect for the culture. If you could be an artist and the music has the biggest ego in the room, the rest is easy.
Welcome to JamRoc. #Jamla #Rocnation
A photo posted by R A P S O D Y (@rapsody) on Jul 16, 2016 at 1:53pm PDT
Earlier this year, you inked a deal with Roc Nation. How did that come about and what was it like meeting Jay?
I didn't meet him until probably like two months after we signed, but I had met him four times before that. We finished the paper work in July. [Roc Nation A&R] Spanish Ran originally reached out two weeks after the Grammys, so it had been in the works. We committed February and finished in July, and it was just so hard to keep a secret. I was ready to sign the papers because I really wanted it to happen. We just waited for the right moment because we had some meetings but nothing ever felt right.
I've been telling everybody I've always wanted to be a part of the Roc, outside of Jay Z being such an inspiration and a hero to me. I felt like he got it because of his story. How they started Roc-A-Fella is not too far removed from how we started Jamla, and Guru's relationship with them. 9th has always known [Roc Nation president] Chaka [Pilgrim] and spoke highly of her before I met her. I met her and fell in love with her. Everybody's cool. Just coming in and still being new, it really feels like a family.
What was it like meeting Jay after the signing?
I was in the Roc office and I just thanked him for bringing me on. He introduced me to Yo Gotti that day and was like, "Yo, she mean." I was like, "Oh, shit." He's real laid back. People say "Never meet your heroes," but [Jay] doesn't apply to that. He stood up to everything I thought he would be, so it's been dope.
What are your next moves?
To be honest, the album is, for the most part, done. We did the EP after the album was done, so it'll be out next year. But I never stop recording until we have to turn it in. I want to try and knock something else off to see how much better I can make a song. I've just been playing with things [like singing and changing up my voice], and that's probably been the biggest difference in my creative process. But other than that, everything's the same.
What's been the biggest life lesson you've learned from 9th?
Man, he drops jewels every day. Probably work ethic and patience is the biggest thing. He's said many times in my career to just be patient, and [let] things naturally happen. He still works like he's broke, sleeping on a mattress on a floor, and I've really taken that and put it into my music. I still sleep at the studio, more than at the house. Every project, I bring bags and just sleep on the couch in the studio, because [inspiration] hits me at crazy hours like three in the morning.
You have a song called "#Goals" on the project. What are some things you'd like to cross off your to-do list before 2017 arrives?
I'm riding the wave right now. If anything, I just definitely want to get on the road and tour -- that's a goal. I'm just seeing what the universe throws back at me.