Critically-acclaimed rapper Rapsody‘s latest album, Laila’s Wisdom, has been out for about a month and Soundigest got the chance to speak with the legendary emcee herself about the album, hip hop, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, and so much more.

Laila’s Wisdom was inspired by a piece of advice Rapsody’s grandmother gave her, and she says it was the perfect way to give back to listeners and do her part for hip hop culture. She’s been named one of the top female artists to know by TIME Magazine and USA Today, one of the 20 Greatest Female Rappers Of All Time by XXL, and has even been praised by Dr. Dre as his favorite female rapper.

Here, Rapsody reflects on other inspirations for the album, the highlights of working with Kendrick and Busta Rhymes, and she also reveals insight on an upcoming tour!

Congratulations on your new album!

Thank you, it’s exciting!

How long did you work on this album?

We worked on it for almost two years. We started in March 2015, like right around the time  [To Pimp A] Butterfly came out, and I think I recorded out until like May or June [2017].

Why did it take two years to put out, and did To Pimp a Butterfly have an influence since you were featured on the album and you started yours right after?

There was definitely some inspiration there. I’m inspired by the music, for one. That’s one of my favorite albums I think ever made, so it definitely inspired me to be more creative and think out of the box. It just took two years because I took my time with it. I wanted to go in and try a lot of different things. We had the bulk of it done I would say in a year. I just got in everyday, I got beats from different people, and I just tried things ‘till it stuck. It came to this point where we had all these songs and, you know, some of them sounded the same, so we chopped it down and then we had to go back and see what was missing. And then we started the mixing phase. We put some love into it!

Tell me about your grandmother and the advice she gave you that inspired this album.

I think when we have grandparents we look at them as the root of the family tree. A lot of who we are as a people starts with the people that came before us. Things that they’ve learned in their life that they’ve passed down to their children, that my parents passed down to me—my parents and my grandmother really set the tone about how to live as good people, how to respect people, how to love. You get the respect that you give, and those are things that I grew up on.

In particular, there was this quote that she told all my family: ‘Give me my flowers while I can still smell them.’ So you know, with the music, I just wanted to take that and apply it to the music. How can I do my part for the culture, how can I tell my story that’s gonna inspire or uplift the next person in some way. Because that’s the music that I love, it gave me something back, whether it was Lauryn Hill or Jay-Z, Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Kendrick Lamar, it didn’t matter, there was something that I got from that music that helped me in some way—or made me a better person. So this was me taking her quote into a musical thing, where I’m giving flowers to whoever was at the receiving end of it. They take it in and receive it, and apply it to themselves.

What are some challenges you’ve faced as a woman in the music industry and in the hip hop genre?

I think the biggest thing is just the fight for respect. And that’s just outside of music and hip hop. That’s just an American thing. We separate it by so much, and women, especially black women, have that double standard, so we just have to always fight harder for the respect. I think that’s what Americans do, and it’s trickled down into the music business and into hip hop. So the hardest thing for me was fighting for the respect that the guys got. That was the biggest thing, I think, for me as an artist tackling being a female in hip hop. But we always said the music would eventually make its way, because you can’t deny good music. So just being patient and sticking with it.

You talk about a lot of social issues in your album: gun violence, innocent people in prison, racism, war— what are the most important social issues to you right now?

To be totally honest, like, to me, they’re all important in some fashion. It’s hard for me to pick out one and say this is the big one we need to focus on. Now, they all need attention in some shape, form, and fashion. At the end of the day, if I could say what probably hits home for me the most, it would be police brutality. But also what’s going on with immigration… I have friends that are immigrants. The prison reform, that’s another big one, because I have a lot of friends and I have family that are affected by the criminal justice system and how it’s a business at the end of the day, and how there are so many innocent people and people that commit petty crimes that get more time than people that murder. Those are some things, because they hit a little closer to home, because I know people that are affected by them. But I care about all topics, they’re all important, just as people.

Do you think popular hip hop has lost some of its messages? Do you think you’re unique in rapping about current issues?

I don’t think it’s a hip hop thing, I think it’s a media thing. It’s not us. It’s not the artists; artists have always spoken on what’s going on. It’s the media and what messages they decide they want to put to the masses and get behind. I don’t think I’m unique in that way, I’m just doing my part like what hip hop is good on, what is our job. And at the end of the day, media says we don’t want these messages on our TV and radio, we want to tell a different story. And some artists are just gonna eat, you know? But that’s not to say that they can’t also do that and give back.

Let’s take Lil Wayne, for example. Lil Wayne makes amazing, fun records, but he’s one of the biggest artists I know that gives back to his community, but you don’t see those stories told. So a lot of times, you might think Lil Wayne might not care, but he does—you just don’t hear about it. So I don’t think it’s us. I think we have to change media and bring some balance back because you can have records that are fun and party records, but you can also have records with a message. So for me, it’s about bringing balance back.

You’ve been named one of the best female rappers and also Dr. Dre’s favorite female rapper, how does that feel?

Yeah, that’s a bar. That’s a gold star on your career. Dr. Dre? He’s a legend. He’s one of the biggest legends in hip hop, the king of California, so to have somebody like that give that recognition… he had Snoop [Dogg], he had Tupac, he’s worked with everybody. He’s been through it all. So to go through all the music and say, “You’re one of my favorites,” that’s something that I’m honored and humbled by. I hold dear, for sure. It’s just more confirmation to keep doing what you’re doing and keep being who you are, because you’ve been doing it for this long and you haven’t had to compromise. Dr. Dre loves it, so don’t change, no matter what! That’s what feels good [laughing].

What was it like working with Kendrick and Busta Rhymes? 

It’s always fun. The funnest [sic] thing about working with Kendrick is waiting for the verse because it’s like, ‘Ok what is he gonna do? What did he do with this track?’ Because he’s known for killing his features, he’s just a phenomenal artist. So that’s probably the most fun thing. It’s like Christmas for me. Like, ‘Ok, what ya gonna send me bruh?’ We don’t necessarily get to talk everyday or hang out all the time, like, I can go years without physically seeing him, but I don’t know if it’s because we’re similar in some ways, but we just have a really dope energy and chemistry together. Whenever we make music together it comes out to be really good, so that’s always fun.

And with Busta, during the making of this album, this is probably the most [time] I’ve ever spent with Busta. He listened to the album probably five times before it ever came out. He’s probably one of my favorite people to be around because he’s so loving and humble, and in probably four or five talks he’s about to have me in tears because he’s giving the best advice, like, “You’re a queen, you don’t understand we need you,” so he gave me a lot of love and he continued to keep my confidence where it was. He just put the idea like, ‘don’t change, just keep being you.’ And we joked a lot, he’s one of the funniest people ever, so having him on board for this project and even just the process of mixing it– having him around, like, that’s probably one of the best memories I have of making this record. I wish I could tell all the stories [laughing] but, you know, Busta, he’s amazing.

“Sassy” has kind of a different sound to your other songs. Was it hard finding that radio-type sound, as opposed to your usual lyricism? 

During my career, what was challenging was trying to find that balance. You find the middle where it’s easy for people to sing along to, but you don’t lose your lyricism. So finding that balance through the years was a little bit of a challenge, but I’ve got it now. And that was probably one of the easiest to write, and I think it came from me watching interviews and listening to stories on how maybe Migos or Rae Sremmurd and them record. I hear stories that sometimes they get in the booth and freestyle, and that’s not to say that it’s easy. I think there’s a certain science behind it. There’s a science to lyricism and being lyrical that I’m really good at. Versus, there’s a science to making these simplistic records that I’m not so great at. You know, I would just get in the booth and try things, like, let me get in the booth and try to freestyle the hook and see what it feels like. And it just worked for “Sassy.” So “Sassy” was really fun for me to make; it just kind of worked.

Are you going on tour any time soon?

Definitely. We’re rallying the tour now, so hopefully we’ll have an announcement sometime. We’re gonna try to hit as many spots as we can. We’ll hit a few places, of course.

That’ll be exciting! Anything you’d like to say to your fans?

To everybody reading Soundigest, thank you for listening to the music. I think, as an artist, all we want is your ear. I appreciate it, hope you liked it, stay sassy, stay beautiful and all those good things!

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Written by Victoria Moorwood

Victoria Moorwood is a music journalist located in San Diego. Her favorite genres are hip hop and rap, but she appreciates all music and the way it brings people together. She also blogs about travel and lifestyle, hosts a news radio show, and enjoys surfing in her free time. Follow Victoria on Twitter @vic_land

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