The first time I heard Rapsody was over her 9th Wonder assisted single, “Believe Me” from her 2012, debut album, The Idea of Beautiful. 9th Wonder is one of my favorite producers in Hip-Hop, so I was paying attention. Rapsody has since released several outstanding projects. Her 2019 album Eve was not just another album, it is a conceptual masterpiece. At its core, Eve is an album about black femininity. Each song takes its name from a woman with such stature or charisma, she can be evoked by first name alone: Aaliyah, Oprah, Maya, and Michelle make the list. In total, Rapsody’s Eve features 19 tracks, each named for a strong black woman, including today’s Apocalyptic Playlist track, Nina.
Ropsody is an artist of the highest caliber, a fierce MC, and a self-identified Womanist. I first discovered Womanism when I was in seminary through the writings of Stacey Floyd-Thomas. While my initial exposure to Womanist theory and philosophy was limited to a subset of Christian Womanists, I also discovered Alice Walker, was exposed to a deeper reading of Maya Angelou and slowly began to see how “progressive” causes like feminism often get framed in explicitly and sometimes exclusively white terms. This is where I started to understand that the notion of “colorblindness” however well-intentioned, fell short of addressing racism at best and at its worst white-washed and erased the experiences of non-white people.
Ropsody’s “Nina” is based around a sample of Simone’s rendition of the Billie Holiday song, Strange Fruit. The song painfully and poetically comments on lynchings by likening it to strange fruit on the trees:
Southern trees bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Rapsody has so, so many dope lines in this song. Her name should be on the table every time people talk about the “greatest rappers alive.” After the initial sample she is off and running: “Emit light, rap, or Emmett Till I drew a line without showing my body, that’s a skill.” The task is daunting: “emit light” in a racist society, in a music industry where the bodies of women are sometimes talked about more than what they bring to the table artistically. Rapsody is up for that task. And damn if she doesn’t do it with style and the skill of a top tier MC. The whole anime/Angela/apologies/Namaste/marmalade/promenade rhyme scheme is the kind of near-rhyme technique I aspire to in a lot of my own spoken word. When assonance is done right, especially in Hip-Hop it just sounds dope.
But what she’s actually saying in those few densely packed lines is amazing: Rapsody is the real thing. A lot of rappers, a lot of people in general are fake, they’re “anime.” In fact She’s as fine as Anna Mae (Tina Turner) and won’t crack, calling to mind Angela Bassett’s portrayal of Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It. She knows her worth: “When you greet me it’s, Namaste.” And she “spreads love” in all inclusive Womanist fashion: “the Brooklyn way or like marmalade, no matter if you street street or more like the promenade.”
We live in a world where career politicians talk about the importance of the black community and the necessity of having a strong coalition of black supporters every election cycle and then go back to business as normal: appeasing big banks, Wall Street and super pac donors, and lobbyists. I can’t help but wonder how people of color and women of all colors must feel when campaign strategists debate the what combination of gender and ethnicity could potentially win an election. I want to tread very carefully here, as I am aware of the irony (and potentially nefarious effects) when white people try to explain black art or men try to speak on behalf of women. I would rather listen than speak. In this case, allow Rapsody to speak – not for me – but to me about who she is:
I’m from the back woods where Nina would
Sing about the life we should lead
A new dawn, another deed, I try to do some good
I felt more damned than Mississippi was
They deny Nina in Philadelphia
And still we persevere like all the 400 years of our own blood, Africa
Old panthers looking back like who gonna come up after us?
Outside the movies, I make sure before it move you
It moved me, now bow down to a Queen
Indeed, Rapsody is a queen! Look around! We are surrounded by royalty. Many don’t know their own worth. Other’s have grossly exaggerated sense of their self-worth and lord it over others. Rapsody shows me how to both love and critique myself by painting a picture of a black woman loving herself in the midst of opposition. If you get a chance to watch the interview above in full, pay close attention to how her “Hip-Hop Feminism” (interviewer, Dr. Yaba Blay’s term) or better her Womanism (Rapsody’s term) inherently includes men. Her thoughts on how femininity is often presented in Hip-Hop are enlightening and her brief comments on Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Nelly might not be what you expect. Enjoy the song. I hope you’re enjoying the playlist. Until tomorrow, Namaste.