Rapsody's latest album, "Laila's Wisdom," features Kendrick Lamar
She says Trump's comments on race energized activism in hip-hop
Hip-hop had been tackling racism, police brutality and criminal justice reform in America decades before they became cornerstones of modern presidential campaigns, and Rapsody is humanizing these hot-button issues by giving them faces and names.
The North Carolina rapper, whose latest album “Laila’s Wisdom,” is out Friday, said that while socially conscious hip-hop often falls below the mainstream radar it has been amplified and is making its way to new ears during President Donald Trump’s administration.
“(Trump) really took the sheep off the wolf, or he removed the curtain, and it’s like this really is America. It’s 2017 and we still have people coming out with torches and with hate in their heart for the color of somebody’s skin or someone else’s religion,” Rapsody told CNN’s #GetPolitical series, referencing last month’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “And that’s what (Trump) has shown … that (racism) exists, and it’s still a thing and it’s being passed down in that sector from one generation to the next.”
Rapsody, whose full name is Marlanna Evans, has been making politically conscious music for years and was invited to the White House in 2015 by former President Barack Obama to discuss criminal justice reform.
She was the only rap guest feature on Kendrick Lamar’s iconic 2013 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and she teamed up with Lamar again on the new track “Power.” “Laila’s Wisdom” includes other politically infused songs like “Ridin’,” “Jesus Coming,” and “Nobody,” featuring Anderson Paak, Black Thought and Moonchild.
During the 2016 election you said that you don’t think Trump is a racist, but he is emboldening racists. Following his response to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he appeared to suggest a moral equivalency between white supremacists and those who opposed them, have your feelings changed?
Rapsody: In the beginning of Trump’s campaign, I really thought he was playing on the ugly underbelly of racism in America and you know, understanding that it was a really big thing and he can really play off of it and get these people’s support, though he may or may not agree with them.
But seeing what happened at Charlottesville, it made me think like if you can even play on that and support it, then inside you are a racist, without a doubt. I can’t see anybody not being a racist but supporting racism and that being OK, so you know, my comments earlier, I definitely take that back and I feel differently about Trump as a human.
You’ve been addressing social issues for years. What’s it like seeing other musicians speak out in the Trump era?
Rapsody: Seeing all the political inspired songs by my fellow peers in the industry -— whether it’s hip-hop or another genre, I think it’s a beautiful thing. One of my favorite quotes from Nina Simone is it’s the artist’s job to reflect the times. We’re here to speak for the people again, to give a voice to the voiceless, to report, to tell what’s going on in our neighborhoods and how we’re affected by it.
What inspired “Laila’s Wisdom”?
Rapsody: I named it after my maternal grandmother. When I would come see her, all the time she would always have this quote and it would be ‘You came to give grandmother her flowers,’ and it was basically about giving people your time and love … while they’re here and (you can) still smell them. I want to take this platform that I have and this talent and this gift and use it to give back in some way – to give these flowers to whoever is on the other end receiving it.
America seems to have a love-hate relationship with hip-hop. What do you think fuels this dynamic?
Rapsody: I definitely would say America has a love-hate relationship with hip-hop. You love it when it allows you to live a fantasy, when it allows you to play a role of a life that you’re not used to for entertainment, but at the same time, when it comes to things like misogyny and gun violence, we’re a lot of times painted as a scapegoat. A lot of times hip-hop is just telling stories of what is happening in America.
Misogyny is not a hip-hop thing; it’s an American thing and we see that at the highest level with some of the comments of the current President. Gun violence isn’t a hip-hop thing, it’s an American thing. Hip-hop didn’t bring guns into those neighborhoods. Somebody had to bring those in and it wasn’t hip-hop, but hip-hop is gonna tell the story about it.
As a female rapper, how do you feel when hip-hop is accused of promoting misogyny?
Rapsody: You hear things about misogyny and ‘hip-hop hates women’ and what they do to women – they want us to be naked … I looked at my analytics and 77% of my fanbase are men and I’m not naked, you know, and I don’t talk about a lot of sexual things but 77% of men support me.
That’s what hip-hop is. That’s what I know the culture as, but that story is not always told to the mainstream and masses and you know, people fear things that are powerful. Hip-hop is very powerful … nothing is more powerful than the people and hip-hop is a culture for the people.
Colin Kaepernick became one of the most controversial figures in sports after his national anthem protest last year, but he is getting lots of support from the hip-hop community. Do you support him?
Rapsody: It really shows the mettle of a person when they can put their fame and their career and their money aside to do what’s right at the end of the day and a lot comes with that when you put yourself on that pedestal and you become the face of that you get a lot of stones thrown at you …
I support Colin Kaepernick 110% and I think when it’s said and done and we look back at his legacy and what he means to history, we’ll love and regard him in the same way we did Muhammad Ali.
At times artists and celebrities pay a price for getting political. Some believe Kaepernick would still have a job had he not protested during the national anthem. To you, is it worth the risk?
Rapsody: At the end of the day, I’m always about telling the truth and doing what’s honest and doing what feels right to you because at the end of the day you always have to wake up look yourself in the mirror and be proud and be confident and love yourself.