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Contrary to some recently publicized opinions, women have not only always been represented in rap music, but they have also often been its backbone, adding much-needed detail to its ever-growing tapestry of narratives about the Black experience. While the current moment seemingly belongs to the “hot girls,” in truth, the “hot girl summer” narrative, although enjoyable, only tells a part of the story. That’s where Rapsody steps in with her latest project, Eve. On her new album, the North Carolina MC uses historical figures to paint a fuller fleshed-out picture of an often misrepresented demographic in hip-hop.
While rap music goes through trends like any other subset of pop culture, it has been unfortunately subject to even more narrow perceptions of women than usual, with female rappers shunted to the margins of history, barred from Top 5 debates, and generally demeaned by both rap fans and the wider population. Look no further for proof than the words of respected rap impresario Jermaine Dupri, who recently intimated that women in rap have utilized a limited worldview and suggested that they should get segregated into a new, separate genre that he regrettably dubbed “strap” — a portmanteau of “stripper” and “rap.”
Leaving aside the fact that JD clearly forgets that he headlines a VH1 show designed to promote and cultivate young rappers — two recent winners of which, Deetranada and Mulatto, were young women who don’t use sex appeal as a hook for their smart, polished rhymes — Dupri’s comments highlight a huge blindspot in how female rappers are accepted in the culture. There’s a false dichotomy that anyone can point out; too many listeners believe in separating women into one of two competing, polar opposite categories: One in which sex appeal is the primary hook and the other in which lyricism is.
Both categories seem mostly based on how rappers present themselves rather than how well they rap or even the content of their raps. The so-called “stripper rappers” Jermaine Dupri and others were quick to discard have also spoken on topics like domestic violence, independence, and the drug game, a favorite of male rappers that somehow gets overlooked when addressed by women. The “intelligent” or respectable rappers — i.e., the ones who “cover-up” their bodies for male approval — are only discussed or brought up in opposition to these other, supposedly less desirable women.
Rapsody is one of those names that most often gets used to beat down rappers like Megan Thee Stallion or City Girls because she mostly opts for clothing that doesn’t show as much skin. However, that point-of-view always undercuts how truly dynamic and versatile her rhymes are because she is so much more than just the “lyrical” rapper who raps about how well she raps. Furthermore, it misrepresents Rapsody’s mission: Rather than simply providing an alternative to “stripper rap” or acting as an avatar for respectable, dressed-up female rappers, she wishes to represent and uplift all women, regardless of their presentation, and act as the vanguard of a generation of emcees who can dress however they want while receiving respect for their skills without arbitrary standards of respectability.
In that mission, she takes inspiration from influential figures from throughout history, few of whom were ever “well-behaved,” as the saying goes. “I was inspired by an interview I had done,” she told Uproxx of the inspiration for Eve‘s concept. “Just talking about how Nina Simone and Roberta Flack, I come from directly from their lineage, and the idea just popped in my head why don’t you take that and do a song about it and show that black women aren’t a monolith… I am an extension of Nina Simone and Roberta Flack because the lyrics and the soul and one of my favorite Nina’s quotes is it’s an artist’s duty to tell the truth.”
That truth includes moments like “Aaliyah,” where Rapsody praises Baby Girl’s unconventional beauty, making room for tomboys to be considered gorgeous. It includes “Oprah,” a get-money anthem where guest rapper Leikeli47 (who also forgoes skimpy outfits, taking the even more extreme measure of covering her face with a mask, like MF Doom) boasts that observers will “hate what I f*ckin’ make / Just to pop out and I don’t even show my face.” It includes praise for “Nina,” yes, but also for the fictional “Cleo” from Set It Off, who rebelled in an ultimate way, as well as Cleo’s actor, Queen Latifah, who guests “Hatshepsut,” named for the second historically-confirmed female pharaoh of Egypt, proving that women can wield power as gracefully as men.
Throughout Eve, Rapsody honors Black women who have been poets (“Maya”), athletes (“Serena,” “Ibtihaj”), leaders (“Sojourner,” “Michelle”), and beauties (“Tyra,” “Iman”). With her words, she expands on the narrative tapestry to includes a spectrum of female roles and the power within women to inhabit each, many, or none. She stands up to guest rapper JID’s age-old rapper invocation of the term “bitch” by evoking Queen Latifah’s famed challenge “Who you calling a bitch?,” symbolically shunning men’s designations in favor of self-determination. Women can be queens, they can be rebels, they can be pioneers, they can be mothers. And, as Rapsody proves time and time again, they can be one of the best rappers of a generation, and not just when men decide it to be so.
Eve is out now via Jamla Records, LLC. Get it here.