For Rapsody, the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” isn’t just some old-world adage, it’s a living, breathing testimony to the lineage of Black women at the heart of who she is and everything she does.
So palpable are the words of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”, so resonating are the lyrics and political framework of Nina Simone, and so paramount is her mother’s model for sisterhood that she made songs about them and turned it into her newest studio project, aptly titled after who is widely believed to be the first woman of civilization, Eve.
The first woman MC to be signed to Roc Nation and the recipient of a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Rap Album for Laila’s Wisdom (2017), Rapsody – née Marlanna Evans – returns with a tender ode to the women that made her, from Lauryn Hill to Phylicia Rashad.
Ahead of the release of Eve, a timely effort in a climate that sees the collective rise of Black women in socio-political spheres, as well as in the arts and entertainment, but continues to police their bodies, rob them of their agencies and ostracize them when they speak out against injustice, Rap sits with BET to talk all things #blackgirlmagic.
Eve arrives this Friday, Aug. 23.
BET: What is your definition of tribe?
Rapsody: My definition of tribe is—that’s your circle, your family, your support system. The people that are going to celebrate you and push you, protect you. Whenever I look at tribe, I look at it like it’s a circle. Everybody is connected in the circle. It’s a place where you give and receive.
BET: What concepts of home do you explore on this album?
Rapsody: Home for me is somewhat where I was introduced to all these people. It’s not to be cliché but where the heart is. When I think about Maya Angelou, I remember being in my room reading my first Maya Angelou poem. We all heard of “And Still I Rise” or watching the Tyler Perry film where she has a monumental speech within that. Or watching videos with my dad or brother and “Keep Your Head Up” by Tupac comes on. Or “Dear Mama” and you look at Afeni [Shakur] and you think the power of black women.
In “Keep Your Head Up” what he was saying about protecting and respecting the Black woman. For me, that’s how this album represents home because each one of these women I was introduced to at home. Even with Nina—I didn’t know who Nina Simone was but I learned who Nina Simone was through Lauryn Hill. So, I’m in my room listening to Lauryn sing and watching the interview the next day and she’s talking about Nina Simone. And I get to figure out who that is and what her music sounds like.
That’s how it represents home to me, all these songs take me to a moment of me growing up in Snow Hill—a different place, a different time, a different age. But being influenced and inspired by these women in different ways. When you look back you see all the steps and see how you became the person that you are and why you look at the world the way you do, because you were able to look at it through the lens of so many other dope women. Just expand who you are through these people.
BET: What would you say is the power of Black women?
Rapsody: I think you can date it back just knowing the history of being the backbone of the nation. Having to work and not raise only your family, but other people’s family and kids too—feed them from your own bosom. To think about that part of black gold, what the Black woman means in the home.
One of my favorite interviews that I’ve been on recently was the one between Nicki Giovanni and James Baldwin. And just the interaction they had about Black women and the Black man. Men needing to come home and be able to feel like they are the head of the household. Being able to not have to fake it at home and how Black women had to take that sometimes. Because the world is so hard on Black men.
Also, the flip side, how does that feel to have to always play that role. That requires a different type of strength. About single mothers raising children all on their own. Just our strength to overcome and carry. At the end of the day, we can’t afford to buckle because we are the mother of all living things.
BET: Who are some of the women you kept in mind while recording this album?
Rapsody: If I would of made this a double, triple disk, I would have. I’m just going to start with the ones that didn’t make it or that did make, but who were at the top of my list. Some of my biggest influencers were Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Phylicia Rashad, Cicely Tyson, Lauryn Hill. Those were like—I got to do songs like that.
But I also have songs titled “Maxine Water”. I got one titled after Spinderella. Even films, I’m inspired by films. Keisha from Belly and what her character represented. To be the Bonnie and Clyde and to hold it down. I know a lot of Black women like Keisha.
I just wanted to represent all aspects of black women and all roles that we play. Maya Angelou, one of my favorite poets, I have a song I wished really could have made it called “Assata Shakur” because her story is so powerful and a lot of the younger kids and some of our older generation don’t even know who she is. Those are some of the women that I think that come to mind.
BET: If you could have dinner with any historical Black female figure who would it be?
Rapsody: Cicely Tyson, because she’s in her 90s and she has so much wisdom. She’s seen so much and she’s one of my favorite people. When I thought about how I wanted to be viewed as a Black woman, I looked at either her or Phylicia Rashad because they were classy, witty, but knew not to take any mess either. They knew how to be all those things but enough of each one. When it was time to be hard, they knew exactly enough to give but not lose the class with it.
BET: Tell me about your relationship with your mother.
Rapsody: Growing up, my mom had no filter. She always told me things how they were—and it would be blunt. My mom is super blunt. She was always giving me advice, whether I wanted to hear something or not. But, that’s my best friend. Biggest supporter. She always pushed me. She always taught us to be smarter than she was. My mom has a high school degree. She worked at a factory (she just retired), putting gold around plates. Even still today I watch her trying to learn.
She would take us to the library to read. She pushed us to be better. No matter what we wanted to do she was my biggest supporter. I saw her work so hard. Looking back, I don’t know how she did it with four kids. You wake up, doing three kids heads, taking them to school, coming home to cook and clean up. I would just be like, “Why are you mad all the time?” and you figure it out.
Just to see how much she sacrificed and how hard she worked, it’s showing me how strong you have to be. And not only from her, but I learned a lot about sisterhood from her and how she interacted with her sisters, my aunts. They’re very close. I never saw them argue with each other. When they have a disagreement, they always call up each other and apologize. I learned a lot about how to be a strong woman, but also how to be a sister to other women in the world. Those are some of the biggest lessons I appreciate. And they always taught us about God and spirituality, which is important. Our relationship is a good one.
She’s funny. When I finished this album, I let her listen to it and she took notes about all the things I needed to change and tell Guru to do. [Laughs] I like to let her feel involved.
BET: Why Eve?
Rapsody: At first we were going to call the album Alien and it was because to be different, to be out of this world. But also because Black women are alienated. Queen Latifa was the one who inspired me to change it. She looked at me and was like, “Alien? I think we can come up with something better.” So I was like dang, what am I going to name it… and I don’t know what inspired it but it’s just like the first woman. The first woman should represent all women. And it's not far-fetched for that woman to be a Black woman. So let’s call it Eve.
Check out the latest episode of Imagine Room below, guest starring none other than Rapsody.