Tuesday’s (Nov. 3) election will mark Rapsody’s third time voting, and it gives the 37-year-old rapper an extra edge to draw in Black and Brown kids who are just starting to exercise their democratic rights.
“This year, I think we all have been enlightened, and we’ve been educated even more on the process and politics and how we fit in it,” she tells Billboard in an exclusive interview. “And when we talk about our communities, the Black and Brown community, the poor community, that was the birthplace of where hip-hop originated, where we had to make something out of nothing. And out of that came hip-hop.”
MCs spitting rhymes about police brutality, gentrification and 99 problems plaguing America have fashioned hip-hop to be the most political genre, where bars and ballot measures both speak to issues that matter to the people most. And Rapsody’s regal status as Lyricist of the Year at the 2020 BET Hip Hop Awards this past Tuesday qualifies her to speak on them.
She dropped the single “12 Problems” on Sept. 17, a haunting requiem that flips her Roc Nation boss Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” and rewinds through the history of violence against Black artists and activists. But in the official music video, which she’s debuting on Billboard below, something joyful greets viewers and peeks behind her.
A young Black ballerina prances in front of “Don’t Let Go,” a vertical shot of two hands grasping each other like their lives depend on it, to the delicate tune of Ambré and Buddy’s “Revolution.” The photographer, Yvette Glasco from Atlanta, is one of six emerging artists selected in Sprite’s “Create Your Future” campaign, which gives their artwork capturing why they believe voting is important a major platform. Rapsody as well as 2 Chainz and Yara Shahidi are celebrity partners of the voter education program. “My reason for voting is to dismantle systems that oppress the black mind, body and soul,” Glasco writes.
But the two other photos included in Glasco’s “A Fighting Chance” photo series, “The Same Dance” and “Faceless,” appear as backdrops for the Eve rapper in her six-minute black-and-white visual directed by Patrick Lincoln. The first captures two intertwined dancers “carrying the weight of being Black and the pressure to contort ourselves to fit into a society that wasn’t built for us to win,” according to the photo description, while the latter projects a faceless Black man representing the misconception that all Black men are the same because of their skin color.
Rapsody tells Billboard how those three pieces moved her and why she wants to move her fans to the polls this Tuesday.
You selected one of six creators’ pieces from the “Create Your Future” initiative for your “12 Problems” music video. What inspired you to pick Glasco’s “A Fighting Chance” series and give it a much larger platform within the song’s visual?
I just thought the pictures are so powerful. You have these two hands grasping each other. And some people will see that, and everybody will think something different. I know when I saw it, it made me think about community and how much we have to stick together. And it’s kind of like each one, teach one, each one hold each other up, each one call the next person.
And I thought with “12 Problems,”… I was inspired, like, I follow Jerry Lorenzo, who does the Fear of God company. And he does these really dope photographs when you have like a big whiteboard and you have somebody standing in front of it. And I was like, “It’d be dope if we took these images and blew them up, like 6 feet by 5 feet or whatever. And we just put them in the middle of the video and we had like children dancing in front of them.”
Rappers from Tyler, the Creator to Snoop Dogg announced this will be their first time voting ever. Why do you think it’s important for the hip-hop community to speak up about voting for their young listeners?
The music has always been a way for us to speak to each other, to educate each other, to inspire each other, to enlighten each other, to corral each other together. Hip-hop has always been a voice of the people…. So it has to be me, it has to be Snoop, it has to be Anderson .Paak, it has to be Reason, 9th Wonder, whoever to connect with our audience, because we speak our language, we know how to talk to our people in a way that they get it, that they feel heard, they feel seen, and they feel like, “Yo, I understand you, and you understand my issues. And this ain’t no just fluff and puff and bluff.”
As it shows the path of the culture, we directly speak for the people. We are the cool, we’ve always created the cool, we’re always going to be the cool, and we have to make it cool, along our dances, the way we dress, to also be educated and understand our power. We are multifaceted that we show up in many different places. And these polls is going to be one of them.
What other visuals cropping up during these last few months of preparing for this election and the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement have been inspiring you?
CRWNMAG, which is a newer magazine, they center around Black culture and beauty of it, and they focus a lot on the beauty of women. And protecting Black women is a big issue nowadays, and everything that they post always inspires me. It’s inspired me on how I look at myself, how I look at the sisters, the sisterhood, the beauty of it.
CRWNMAG has been like a big inspiration. Blue the Great, who’s an artist in California, in LA. His pieces have been super powerful just in his style and how he tells his story and creates. Even in wardrobe, I love Pyer Moss, I love Fear of God. Fear of God just recently put out a hoodie with Kamala’s [Harris] older pictures.
Watch the “12 Problems” music video below.