“Humility’s a weakness, I was told different
Quietest in the room is the baddest one like Durant
It’s hard to choose Carolina ova Atlanta
Chicago, L.A., especially in Johannesburg
Yeah, cause it’s been love since beginnin’
Home away from home, versus homes we get no spins in”
Rapsody – “Hard to Choose” Beauty and the Beast
We love lyricists. We follow their words closely and admire how they weave rhymes into beats with amazing dexterity. For many lyricists the challenge is to bring words to life. We celebrate them for how life is represented in their words. We respect them for the honesty and truth in their lyrics. I think that’s why so many folks are coming to love Rapsody. Day by day, more and more music lovers and Hip Hop heads are singing her praises. But the journey hasn’t always been sweet. She has had to grind to get that love and work to build her career to where it is. This quote from her song “Hard to Choose” speaks to some of that. In it she contrasts her experiences here in the US with her experiences in Johannesburg. These are the lyrics that came to my mind as I prepared for my conversation with one of North Carolina’s finest wordsmiths about her trip back to South Africa.
If you don’t know (and you should), Rapsody is an emcee signed to Grammy Award winning producer 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records imprint. This talented artist from Snow Hill, NC who first burst on the scene as a member of the rap group Kooley High has been capturing attention and creating space in the game since she joined forces with 9th Wonder. She has dropped a slew of dope projects on Jamla and has worked with some of the finest in the game. She has received praise from DJ Premier, Nas, MC Lyte, Jay Z, and more. She got to drop her own edition of the Gangsta Grillz series with DJ Drama. She has toured all over the world. She has appeared on MTV and BET. This Universal Zulu Nation representative has been serving notice that she is a force to be reckoned with. Yet, with all the heat in her catalog, her latest project, “Beauty and the Beast” may be her finest offering to date. This is the project she was going back to South Africa to share.
This is Rapsody’s second trip to South Africa. Her first trip brought fans the cover for her debut studio album, “The Idea of Beautiful,” songs with South African recording artists Nomsa Mazwai, and the video for “Kind of Love.” Rapsody was just starting to come into her own as an artist and culture bearer. This time she was going back as a veteran with a stronghold on her place in the game, a new project, and a growing fan base.
I was excited to have this conversation. I’ve known Rap for a while and I’ve seen the hard work, dedication, and growth. She is truly an artist who studies her craft and aspires to be the best she can be. She takes her gift seriously. Opportunities like this are the kind an artist like Rapsody relishes. She truly understands how important a trip like this can be. I didn’t want to waste any time when we got to talk. I wanted to jump right in.
You were just in South Africa and I know that was a crazy trip. Let’s talk about what the trip meant to you and how it connects to what you got going on? Before we get into that, where specifically in South Africa did you travel to?
We flew into Johannesburg and had shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
What were some of the other things you got to do besides performing?
Well, the first day in Johannesburg was a lot of press. The first interview was 6am. We had 4-5 of them and a release party. We did an in-store in Cape Town. No site seeing the first 3 days, just press and show. We also had a meet and greet in Cape Town. I got to meet a lot of people. On last day they went to Soweto to kick it. The little girls from Idea of Beautiful cover live there. We went to see them. We shot “Godzilla.” We also went to South African barbecue. When you are there you really get a sense of community and solidarity.
How did the shows go? How were the responses and the feelings?
It was incredible. It’s one of my favorite places to perform. The energy and love is crazy. Everybody just enjoys the show and the entertainment of it. Cape Town probably had 500 people at the show. Everyone was rocking the lyrics. The Johannesburg show had about 2000 people. It was insane. It’s crazy when you travel 15 hours across the water to a whole other continent and get that kind of love. The crowd looks like you. You don’t always get that in America. It’s not like you don’t appreciate the love here and everyone who likes your music because it is for everyone. It’s just that there is something special about seeing a crowd full of black people, especially as a black woman. The shows were high energy and there was a lotta love. It’s an overwhelming feeling.
Being that it was your second time there, what was the feeling of going over with this new record to present?
I was excited. One, to just go back. Two, to get to perform the new music and see how our fan base has grown there. You get to see how the music has traveled. It lived up to my excitement. It’s hard to put into words. You really have to go and be a part of it to feel that energy you get from it.
So while you were there did you get a chance to talk or interact to any artists from there?
I met some artists. I was really looking forward to meeting Nomsa Mazwai. She was featured on 3 songs on Idea of Beautiful. We had never met. We had just talked via twitter DM and email, never on phone or face to face. Now, 2 years later and we got to perform “the drums” live. She will forever be a friend. There is this artist Reason who has a big following in SA that opened up both shows. He is really dope. I had a group of 4 young girls who came up and said I was an influence. I got to give them advice and listen to them sing. I got their CD. That’s I do it to inspire people.
Ok. Well, now that you are back and given some of the things we are dealing with nationally here, what can you take from your trip to Africa that is a lesson for this moment in the black community?
One thing I took away from the trip is just how the media likes to play on fear. We didn’t hear anything about Ebola or Isis or these stereotypes that are often played in America about black people. Radio stations talked about love. Like, you could call in on Sunday and dedicate a love song to someone. They talked about “ObamaCare” and how great a president that we have while he is getting thrown rocks at here. You learn the truth about it all. How much they know about their history and where they come from. You see the unity and solidarity. You see that we need to know about our history and who we are. We don’t need to get caught up in what media feeds us. Turn the TV off and find your own truth. Once you leave there and come back home your whole perspective changes. You see what’s important and what’s not. You log on to Facebook and see all this crazy stuff on your timeline and ask yourself why am I on this? Who cares about who Chris Brown’s girlfriend Karrueche Tran is cheating with? What does that have to do with us? It takes up so much of our time, these little small things we get pulled into. It shouldn’t hold that much weight in your life. Your whole focus changes.
Right! Ok, tell me which jams rocked the hardest during your performances? Which songs were they going crazy over?
They showed love on a lot of them. “The Man” was a great performance. “Believe Me,” “The Drums,” and “Kinda Love.” I shot the video for that over there. That is my biggest song over there. They showed love for everything, which was crazy dope.
You came back and recently did a short run with Common (and Jay Electronica). How would you compare this recent run with the run in South Africa?
At the shows in South Africa the majority of the folks who came to show were Rapsody fans. They knew the music. On the Common and Jay Electronica show I was being introduced to new crowds. They don’t get as hype because they’re listening to you. They are paying attention to what you say. They are taking it all in. The love was the same on both though. The fans were fans of lyrics so that was cool.
Now tell me, what were the jams they most responded to on the Common tour?
“Hard to Choose” was a favorite one on this tour. Maybe it’s because of the truth and the honesty in it. I’d say, “Believe Me” and “Thank you Very Much.”
So when you go back to South Africa is there something that you want to make sure you do or add to the next trip?
Every time I go back I want to bring more people with me. Everybody should go to Africa, especially every black person. I want to bring more of my label mates so they can experience what I experienced. I want to continue to keep up with these kids. There are 10 kids in Soweto that I met in 2012 that I want to continue to keep up with. I got their shoe sizes and I’m going to send them some shoes.
Ok, so if you had to describe the SA trip in 3 words what would they be?
Fulfilling, humbling, and beautiful.
If you had to identify one lesson that the SA trip taught you what would it be?
It definitely taught me focus. That what I was doing was right for me. That the path we took and the direction we took is right for me. It was more confirmation that what you do as far as inspiring people is what you should be doing. You don’t have to change it.
Wow. That’s dope. Now I can’t end this interview without asking you about the new album. That’s what you went over to South Africa to showcase. What do you think about this latest project? How do you feel about the work you’ve done on it?
I can honestly say that I’m happy. I feel this is my best project in terms of growth. Even being able to experiment a little bit with sound, this is my favorite project. I’m extremely happy with it. I like the different sound that it has, different feeling and emotion. Still, I don’t stray too far away from me. I feel complete with this project. I really found out who I am as an artist. I reached that point I’ve been working so hard to get at. This is the most complete and free I’ve felt on any project. No worries. Just Freedom.
Dasan Ahanu is a public speaker, organizer, workshop facilitator, poet, spoken word performer, songwriter, writer, and emcee born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a proud member of the Black Jedi Chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation and loyal Hip Hop head. He is currently a resident artist at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC and an Assistant Professor at Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, NC. He swings a mean pen and represents the SOUTH.