"I'm Floating": Rapsody Talks "To Pimp A Butterfly" & Her Quietly Huge 2015

We talked to Rapsody about a 2015 that included meeting Dr. Dre and dropping the only rap feature on TPAB.
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We talked to Rapsody about a 2015 that included meeting Dr. Dre and dropping the only rap feature on TPAB.

"Oh yeah. I did Jimmy Fallon with Talib. Who forgets that shit?! I do! That's crazy. That's primetime TV, millions of viewers. Nobody just gets on Jimmy Fallon... and backed by The Roots. Man, my year was awesome!"

"Awesome" doesn't do it justice. 

For you and me it might sound absolutely insane to just forget about being on national TV (hell just attending Jimmy Fallon would be a year highlight for me). But in a year filled with firsts, in a year filled with remarkable achievements, a year in which she didn't drop a project but made incredible strides, I think we can forgive Jamla’s own Rapsody for forgetting a moment or two.  After all, it can be hard to remember everything, especially when your year starts with a life changing call.

"It started off with the call from Kendrick, that was I think January 11th and it snowballed from there."

It might sound dramatic to call one verse on one song life changing, but it’s the truth. Sure the acclaim, the Twitter followers, the extra attention helps, and as Rapsody said, “Just being on To Pimp A Butterfly opened up a whole lot of doors just for my year to go the way it did.” But in talking with her I got the sense that more than anything her stellar work on “Complexion” changed how she thought, how she operated and moved through the murky swamps of the music industry.

Jamla is one of the most successful indie labels around and is led by one of the best minds in hip-hop. 9th Wonder knows the business side of the music like a Willie Hutch flip, so naturally Rapsody’s year is planned in advance and executed with precision. Every move is calculated. Has to be, right? Wrong.

"Opening the year up with being on To Pimp A Butterfly was huge and that happened organically and from me trying to do the best I can. That really opened my eyes, like you don't have to chase things anymore, just do what you do and it will happen how it happens.

This whole year has been an example of that, everything has just been falling into place.

I used to make goals for the next year, but this year I've been letting everything naturally happen. I didn't make any lists, I just said to myself if you work hard and put yourself in the right place things will happen for you and that's what happened this year.

I haven't been worried about goals and lists. I've found myself in a real comfortable place this year."

That attitude is reflected in the origin of her collab with Big K.R.I.T., “Guillotine Flow.” For the record, it’s one of the most underrated collabs of the year. I could listen to these two go back and forth forever. 

Naturally, since I love the record, I assumed it has some mysterious, crazy origin story. After all K.R.I.T. is major label and Rapsody is indie. How does that work? Is there something special that has to happen for that collab to work? Maybe, but sometimes when the stars are aligning, when shit’s just flowing, it's as simple as two friends making a dope song.

"K.R.I.T. came through for a show in Raleigh and we went to see him. We in the back goofing and clowning, him and 9th always roast each other, and he asked to do this song. So that's how that happened."

Perhaps the ultimate example of Rapsody’s new found chillenlightnement (a word I totally just made up) is a chance encounter with the one and only Dr. Dre. You would think meeting someone like Dre, one of the most respected, renowned figures in hip-hop, comes with great planning, but for 2015 Rapsody, the Rapsody who lets things happen as they happen, it just kind of happened.

"I  met Dr. Dre in October. Which was nuts. I went out to L.A. to work, because a lot of people I rock with, Terrace Martin, TDE are out there. My girl, Wyann Vaughn invited me to the studio. I didn't even know Dre was going to be there.

So I walk in the room and it's her and some people. There's this door on the right and a door on the left, and they open at the same time. In walks DJ Premier, who I know, (I call him Uncle Prem) and Dre at the same time. It was funny I was like  I'm closest to Premier so I gotta speak , but at the same time I'm in Dre's studio so, it's like who do I speak to first? I gave Premier a hug and then went up to Dre and introduced myself.

I actually had my camera guy there and Dre sees him and asks "is that camera on?" I'm like "yeah but we can turn it off if you want." Before I can even finish he says "come here!" and does a drop right there.

"We were chillin there for a while, and he goes, 'I have this space open, does anybody want to rap?' and everybody in the studio points to me. What am I going to say?  No? So I did and he came in and gave me ideas, tips on what to fix. It was great to be in the studio with him and have him hear me rap. I don't even care if he uses that for nothing at all, it was dope."

Take it back to January, or maybe March rather, when To Pimp A Butterfly drops. We see a guest verse as a big chance for an artist to capitalize on the buzz. When I saw the love Raposdy was getting for her verse, I expected her to drop something. I mean, with the way the world jumps from thing to thing, that buzz only lasts so long. As a fan of her work, I felt that pressure and I’d have to imagine she felt it too.

"It definitely crosses your mind, especially if it's your first time in it and you don't know how to navigate how it's gonna go.  You wonder how long it's gonna last, you don't want your window to close.

I think what helped me was I had so much happen to keep my momentum going, it wasn't just Kendrick's buzz. That was still going but I had Indie 500, I had Jimmy Fallon, I had the Dre drop. I had things to ride on the whole year which allowed me to stay in the studio, be creative and not feel rushed."

Trips to L.A., songs with K.R.I.T., Jimmy Fallon, all of that on top of trying to record an album. Even for a rapper in a zen like state it must get kind of crazy. How does Rapsody balance it? How does she find the time to do it all?

"If I'm not doing a show or out of town I'm in the studio every day. It's been like that since 2008. I’m a studio rat. I still sleep at the studio. When it's project time, I bring clothes here, I shower here, I sleep on the couch because I just like to work, wake up and write and record right then. I don't want to lose that energy."

Now, I know I was supposed to focus on 2015, but I had to ask about the upcoming album. As a journalist it's my job, but more importantly as a fan I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival. So I asked.

"I'm almost done with the album. It was supposed to be out December 4, but I decided to take my time with it. Going through that process, the process of working on the album, that's been amazing. One feature I can say is on there is Anderson .Paak, and I was so happy to work with him. He's one of my favorite people to work with. Easily."

Oh shit. Anderson .Paak? Rapsody?! Two of my favorite artists together?! I can’t wait. I begged, pleaded and tried to bribe for more info, but Rapsody remained tight lipped (can’t say I blame her). She didn't give me any more information about the album, but she gave me one more tid-bit about her mindstate, which tells me, this album might just be something special.

"I'm in the most free space I could ever be in. I've never been high, but this is what it would feel like. I'm just floating."

As fans and critics we tend to over-analyze, try to fit artists into these larger narratives that may not actually describe them at all. Talking to Rapsody made me realize that while from the outside it may look like some grand plan is at play, in truth many artists are just putting one foot in front of the next, doing their best in each moment with no more real understanding of what will come next than any of us have. Rapsody floated her way to a feature on one of the most anticipated albums of the decade, she floated her way into Dr. Dre’s studio, and floated her way to a GRAMMY nomination.

Without getting too ahead of myself (you know one step at a time and all that), I can’t help but be excited as to where she’ll float to in 2016.

[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is College Dropout but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth. Image via Instagram.]