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#BackChannel: Rapsody Talks ‘Laila’s Wisdom’ And The NFL Greenlights ‘Take A Knee’ Protests

photo of Rapsody
Marlanna Evans, aka Rapsody, discusses her new album, 'Laila's Wisdom'

In her new album “Laila’s Wisdom,” North Carolina rapper Rapsodydelivers messages about community, confidence and creative control. The Snow Hill native grew up with a big family and says the album’s title is dedicated to her grandmother and her teachings, which is also something Rapsody channels in her music. 

Meanwhile the NFL says for now it will not penalize players for kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. However NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that he believesall players should stand for the anthem.

Host Frank Stasio talks about “Laila’s Wisdom” and politics on the football field with Natalie Bullock Brown, professor of film and broadcast media at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, and Mark Anthony Neal, chair of the department of African and African American studies at Duke University in Durham. They are also joined by rapper Rapsody to discuss the process behind her new album.

Interview Highlights:

Rapsody on her mission and approach with “Laila’s Wisdom”:

Laila was my maternal grandmother … It was one thing she taught us all is to give flowers while we’re still present. I thought about it, you know, that was what I was raised on, and one aspect of that is: how can I give back to the music? How can I give my flowers? How can I teach self-confidence and self-love and give the wisdom that I learned to whoever is on the receiving end … And just appreciating people while they’re here whether we’re talking about our family members, friends, teachers or even artists that we don't appreciate until they’re gone, and they can’t know how much they were loved and respected … Also because I am talking about why I am the woman that I am and why I’m so confident and strong and why I work the way I do. It’s because what my grandmother taught my mom and my aunts and what they taught me. I was definitely raised in a village, so I am the person that I am today in a large part because of my grandmother and what she instilled in all the women around me.

Rapsody on her song “Sassy” and its melodic structure:

That’s a fun record. It’s something I think that fans who’ve been listening to me since day one were a little bit shocked like, “Oh, she stepped out of the box!” But one thing I have been working on a lot is melody. It’s something that 9th [9th Wonder] has been teaching me about. I remember around “She Got Game” which was around 2013 I asked for advice from everybody, and me and Kendrick were having a conversation, and he was telling me about that it was all about that melody. So with [Sassy] the beat was different, and it was something people had never really heard me on. I just got in the booth one day, and I just freestyled it and just found a melody that I thought worked, and it just turned out to be a really dope and fun record.

Natalie Bullock Brown on “Sassy”:

This song to me is all about “Black Girl Magic” and just really celebrating how amazing black women are. But it's almost political because in our culture because of the way black women tend to be devalued and disrespected … So to have somebody like Rapsodyreppin’ for us is really powerful. She’s calling out all the things that make us who we are and make us magical.

Mark Anthony Neal on the level of storytelling present in hip-hop today:

What I’ve always thought was interesting when you look at working-class musical cultures – so there is a way in which country music has functioned for a working-class white community – hip-hop the same thing for black and Latino communities. And what I always admired about country music is that it told a range of stories. Like if I can’t get gas from my car today I am going to write a song about it. And [there] seemed to be a period of time where hip-hop was limited in the kinds of stories it was allowed to tell. Now because the platforms are so different and there is more independence in the industry, folks can tell a wider range of stories that moreso reflect a full humanity of the folks who make hip-hop and the folks who are listening to hip-hop.

On the suspension of ESPN anchor Jemele Hill after she violated the network’s social media policy:

Neal: Particularly in sports journalism we expect opinions to be siloed. So if you’re going to be a woman who’s going to be a sports journalist, we only want you to talk about sports, and quite frankly, we only want you to talk about women in sports. When you begin to have a broader opinion that’s a problem, and then to bring politics in that. And then as a black woman bringing politics into that, this was a particular smackdown … We always talk about the ESPN piece. What we forget is that ESPN is owned by Disney. And Disney has a larger brand that it’s also concerned about when Jemele Hill becomes, in part, the face of ESPN. She then impacts on how Disney is being impacted. So when I talked to someone at the network, they’re like, “This call in particular probably came from Disney as opposed to ESPN.”

Brown: I’m thinking about the princesses and how Jemele, as beautiful as she is, she does not fit that image … She is not the other sort of “eye candy” that is on ESPN. There is a lot of substance to Jemele. Clearly we see that through her willingness and sacrifice to be outspoken. And I think the response to her, besides this sort of brand concern, also speaks to this racial undercurrent. She essentially is the angry black woman. She’s the “sapphire” in this scenario, and again she needs to be contained. She cannot be saying all these things and causing mayhem and all these boycotts. That is unacceptable. So there’s always this racial tinge that has to be addressed as well.

Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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