msnbc is celebrating black history by profiling game-changing black musicians and film directors throughout February.
Rapsody, 27, is a rapper from Snow Hill, North Carolina. She recently chatted with msnbc about the Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks feud, being a woman in hip-hop, and inspiring the next generation of black girls.
Describe who you are and what you do in one breath.
I want to inspire little girls, especially little black girls.
Who are your creative inspirations?
Michael Jackson musically, but also inspired by Phylicia Rashād and Cicely Tyson, one of my favorite actresses. And Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou. Then you have MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Lauryn Hill, Common, and Talib Kweli … and then 9th wonder is one of my biggest ones.
What’s your earliest childhood memory with music?
I don’t know if this is a southern thing, every Saturday morning my mom would get up and make us clean up … While we cleaned up, we’d always play music. Her favorite artists were Tina Turner and Patti LaBelle. That’s what we’d be jamming to while we were cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, or mopping the floor.
What flavor does your artistry bring that you don’t really see out there in others?
I bring humility and honesty. What I loved about Lauryn [Hill] was how honest she was, outside of just her being crazy talented. Especially being a woman doing hip-hop … usually a lot of guys say “I can’t relate to a woman that raps.” I don’t necessarily think that’s true. A lot of guys listened to Lauryn Hill and to be honest, before she did the “Miseducation” [album], the majority of her fans were guys. The thing with me, the majority of my fans are men.
What does it take to be a woman rapper of hip-hop?
It’s confidence and a lot of patience. You have to be secure with yourself and you have to be confident in what you do and never second guess it, because there’s always someone out there that can relate to you and somebody that you’re speaking for. You don’t always have to fit this mold of what people think women in hip-hop are supposed to sound like and look like. You don’t have to do that. The artists that stay around forever are the ones who don’t put themselves in a box.
On the topic of women MCs, where do you stand on the Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks feud on who owns hip-hop?
To be honest in general with the history of that [the appropriation of hip-hop], that’s been going on a long time … in jazz, beebop, rock ‘n’ roll, and blues. If you go to iTunes, the top jazz artists are all white. You don’t see Miles Davis, it’s all white. It happens in hip-hop too, but at the same time there are white artists like your Eminems and your Beastie Boys that do it because they love the culture too, and they contributed a lot.
There’s no point in me going and ragging on Iggy … that doesn’t do anything. That doesn’t solve any problems, you know? It’s when you get out at the Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin things and you get out and actively march and let your voice be heard. You have to put that into action to really make the change … I choose to put my energy into the people that really love this culture … and that’s how you fight it.
Are you gunning for anyone to win at the Grammys?
I like Childish Gambino a lot. Schoolboy Q. The Grammys as far as hip-hop goes, they don’t necessarily know a lot about our culture.
If not a Grammy, what is your greatest form of validation as an artist?
It’s when I can travel 16 hours to South Africa and a six year old little girl comes up to me and she says I want to be like you when I grow up … That’s what fills me with joy to inspire the next generation. That’s more powerful to me than any Grammy.
Most underrated artists right now?
Big K.R.I.T. is one of the best. His storytelling. His emotion and passion he puts in his music, Big K.R.I.T. is phenomenal. Little Brother in general, especially Phonte, as a lyricist, is one of the best to ever do it … I wish the world knew their music and their talent.
If you had to choose two songs to play on repeat … forever (only one can be yours).
Lauryn Hill’s “Tell him” / [Rapsody]- “Hard to Choose”
What project are you most proud of?
“Beauty and the Beast,” it’s my shortest project. It’s one of the more powerful ones. To this day, the best ones I’ve done and the most honest. I’m the most confident and free.
Who’s “Beauty” and who’s the “Beast”?
“Beauty” is [me] Marlanna Evans and the beast is Rapsody. Bringing those two worlds together and making a statement as a woman I can rap as well as any man.
If you had a chance to talk to President Obama, what would you say?
I would thank him for everything he tries to do and the things he’s accomplished.
If you had to rewrite history …
That’s tough – if I can change anything about history it’d be slavery. It’s crazy like you want to take those things away because you know even in 2015 you see the affect still going … But at the same time, us as a people, like how strong we are, and how learning to make something out of nothing, you have these things like hip-hop culture that came out of that. I wouldn’t change anything but at the same time you never want anyone to have to go through that. Rewriting history there might not be hip-hop.
What are your memories of Black History Month as a child in school? What do you make of it today?
When I was in school we talked about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Medgar Evars. We watched Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. Today, you have people in Texas trying to rewrite history, taking slavery out. That’s a big problem nowadays. That’s why these kids are coming out and they don’t know who Louis Farrakhan is or they don’t know the history of the word “ni–er”… because they are not being taught this in school. And if they don’t have parents to teach this on the side … if you don’t know where you came from and you don’t know where you’re going, you’re bound to repeat something again.
For more profiles, check out: Michael Uzowuru: Validation from Kanye is bigger than a Grammy