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Rapsody: Backstage at SXSW

Rapsody: Backstage at SXSW

As a pioneering, Grammy-nominated female rapper in hip hop, Rapsody continues to grow her legacy through thought-provoking lyrics and a trailblazing mentality (she was the only female rapper in the Best Rap Album category at this year’s Grammys). We hung out with Rapsody at the SXSW screening of her Netflix documentary series Rapture to talk about advice for new artists, Queen Latifah as early inspiration, and starting out with just a microphone in her closet.

Is this your first SXSW?

Rapsody: This is my third SXSW - my first one was in 2010. I was here last year too. I’m playing four shows & squeezing in some press, too.

What is it like going from back-to-back showcases?

R: This year is a big difference in comparison to my experience last year. It’s been fun, networking and seeing other artists. It’s not so overwhelming now because I’ve been touring, and I’m used to travelling from city to city. But you still have to treat every show like you’re in a new town - as if the audience hasn’t seen the show before. I’m trying to connect with the crowd - inspire them, change their life. I have to give it all I’ve got, every show.

Any tips for staying sane on the road?

R: Candy! That keeps me pumped up. I just feed off the energy. I like to leave it all on the stage. I might also take a thirty-minute nap in between shows, if I can.

From an artist’s perspective, what do you get out of the experience of playing a festival like SXSW?

R: You have the opportunity to reach so many different people in one space – seeing different showcases and meeting other artists. Especially for newer artists - it’s a breeding ground for networking and building your core. We’re all working towards the same goal, we can all grow together. It’s good to have that circle. I remember the first time I came here - I was just coming up, Kendrick [Lamar] was coming up – we were building ourselves together. In the music business, I find that talent relationships are probably your biggest ally. Producers, engineers - people in the business. You want to keep those relationships when you drop projects – I remember networking early on with Hip Hop DX & DJ Booth. It’s as simple as, “I met you at SXSW. Here’s my new project, would love for you to hear it.” You treat this like any other business. Take advantage of all opportunities - pass out your music, brand yourself, talk to other artists, go to panels. Take what you learn and apply every day towards working on your goal. But also, have fun. Walk the streets, stop in to a local bar for a drink. Work hard, but play hard, too.

One of the most important skills as a new artist is networking. When did you start learning about the importance of connecting with others in the industry?

R: As an artist, I think the first time I realized the importance of relationships was at a music festival - I interviewed with who I thought was a random guy, I didn’t know him by name. Afterwards, I found out that he was actually a senior vice-president at BET – that relationship led to my first appearance on 106 & Park. No matter who you meet, you have to treat everybody with the same respect and energy. DJ Booth was also a major supporter of us early on. You grow a connection like that, and suddenly you have an interview with Pepsi.

You have become a role model for female musicians in the industry – who are some of your earliest role models who inspired you to push boundaries?

R: Early on, it was MC Lyte & Queen Latifah. Queen Latifah was a major figure in Flavor Unit – a hip hop group in the ‘90s. She was often the boss of other men during that time, and she later would be part of bringing Outkast to the world. I remember how powerful and confident she was - I thought, I can do that. That gave me strength. Also Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Jean Gray – but on the business side, Jay-Z. He always gave us the blueprint to follow through his music (no pun intended). Outside of music, Phylicia Rashad and Cicily Tyson, too – but even beyond celebrities, it was also my friends who inspired me, from a group called Cooley High. I didn’t know where to start, and they taught me so much about the game. “Go buy you a starter mic. Get in the closet. Now you’ve got your own studio, you can make your own music.” That’s the beautiful thing about technology today. You don’t have to have a million-dollar studio to make music. You can make your own right in your bedroom.

Rapsody at SXSW

Social media is a major tool for artists to keep in touch with their fans while on the road, writing new songs, etc. How have you creatively utilized social media to grow your audience?

R: Nowadays, especially with social media, people like to know us artists on a more personal level. When you’re not doing music, what do you do? Are you goofy, like me? People like to see your journey. They like to go through the day with you. But there’s a balance to it, too. I don’t like to show everything. I feel like you have to keep some things mysterious for your own sanity. For example, I’m a big sneaker head. When I buy sneakers, I post them on Instagram, and other sneaker heads are like “Aww, rad - you’re killing me!” It’s a great way to market yourself for free. Use the free tools that you have available.

How about the food here in Austin – any recommendations?

R: I’ve been to SXSW three times, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to the same place twice. You have to go to the food trucks at least once, that’s a given. Yesterday, we also ate at this amazing barbecue place called Stiles Switch. I think we’ll eat there every year now. Taco trucks and Stiles - you heard it here first.

What’s next for you?

R: I’m part of a series on Netflix with Mass Appeal called Rapture, featuring nine other artists. You get a peek into the recording process, and see the artists from a different perspective. Myself, 2 Chainz, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Dave East, G-Eazy, Just Blaze, Logic, Nas and T.I. I had fun doing it. They went back to my hometown and showed footage of my early days as a female in hip-hop. You’ll see me when I was just trying to figure it out - running around with my head cut off, looking for answers. Remember, new artists: we used to be you at one point in time.

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