Rapsody Wants To Shift (Black) Culture With “Afeni”

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The term "misogynoir" was first coined by queer Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey to describe the dual oppression that Black women face because of the intersection of our race and gender. It manifests in many ways, from interpersonal microaggressions (i.e. casual comments about your hairstyle in the workplace) to institutional macro-level inequities such as the lack of inclusivity in the beauty industry, the wage gap, and police brutality. On top of misogynoir, Black women are also subjected to vicious acts of discrimination by way of colorism, classism, fatphobia, and more by non-Black people — and more painfully, even by men and women in our own communities.
Talented lyricist Rapsody (real name Marlanna Evans) has seen, heard, and personally experienced enough anti-Blackness and sexism to last a lifetime. From her childhood in a small town of North Carolina to now as an artist in the music industry, the rapper can recall many moments where she was on the receiving end of mistreatment because of her identity as a Black woman. But even though the experience of misogynoir was painful, it also taught her the necessity of celebrating Black femininity.
Rapsody does just that on her third studio album Eve, and artfully so. The album, which was released back in summer 2019, is unapologetically dedicated to the Black female experience. Each of the project's 16 songs is named after powerful women who have left an indelible impact on Black culture; "Maya" pays tribute to the late and great civil rights activist and poet who taught us why the caged bird sings, and "Serena" is a hype homage to the unbelievable hustle of the mother, wife, entrepreneur, and 23-time Grand Slam winner.
With "Afeni," which features the velvety and gospel-influenced stylings of PJ Morton, Rapsody flexes her pen to directly address the perpetrators of misogynoir within the Black community. Named after the mother of Tupac Shakur, Eve's final track samples the rapper's classic 1993 ode to Black women "Keep Ya Head Up." Just like the West coast icon did in the original, Rapsody sends a thoughtful callout to the Black ears listening. "To protect our lives/you gon' take it to the limit?/Rib of my rib/do you still feel us in ya?" she raps with conviction, each lyric a poetic battlecry for solidarity.
Today, on what would be Afeni Skakur's 73rd birthday, Rapsody releases the heartfelt world premiere of the music video for "Afeni." The rapper intentionally cast a dark-skinned Black woman to star in the visuals — an artistic middle finger to the colorist media that too often denigrates women of darker hue — her words painting a beautifully raw picture of struggle, resilience, and unity.
Refinery29 talked to Rapsody to explore her inspirations for Eve and "Afeni," as well as the stamp that she hopes to leave on the culture for years to come.
Refinery29: What inspired you to sample Tupac for "Afeni," and where were you at mentally when you were writing the song?
Rapsody: "It's a concept that I've wanted to do for years because 'Keep Ya Head Up' is one of my favorite songs. I remember how much that video and that song meant to me as a young girl. To see somebody in hip hop with such a strong voice like Tupac make a record that was specifically talking to Black women, and to talk to us the way he did...and then for him to talk to the brothers like, 'What are we doing? We have to protect our women more. We have to be the men that we were meant to be.' He was the man he was because of who his mother was and how she raised him."
"[Tupac's] message resonated with me even at such a young age, and it played a part in who I am now as a woman — records like like 'U.N.I.T.Y' by Queen Latifah also, but records like Tupac's really did something to me. So when I came up with the concept for the album, I hit up my producers and said that I needed this specific piece of the song for the hook."
"I knew who Tupac was. Hearing his voice and hearing those lyrics, people might not resonate with me off gate all the time, but when you hear that, you'll resonate with that. So it was a way for me to pick up where Tupac left off and speak to our Black men from the perspective of a Black woman."
The young woman cast in the music video for "Afeni" is gorgeous. How did casting for the video play into the storyline?
"I'm really involved in everything that I do because I want to be intentional about how my message is sent out to the world. For me, I was intentional about picking a chocolate woman. Not to say that there's no love for our sisters of lighter complexion, but for this story in particular, I wanted to feature a chocolate woman and humanize us."
"Thinking about what Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor are going through, and what I myself have gone through, it's important for me to put women that look like us in the spotlight and in places where you don't normally see us represented. Because representation matters, and I want people to see this video and really connect with it."
Walk me through your process of choosing the names of the Black female icons on Eve's tracklist. There have been so many influential Black women throughout history — that must have been hard.
"It was so fun because it allowed me to connect with so many different women and be really creative. I thought, 'Oh, I love Phylicia Rashad,' so there could be a song called 'Phylicia' that would talk about motherhood. Or one about Assata Shakur talking abut the movement and being a revolutionary...the process was just so dope."
"I did end up picking about 40 women, but then I got to the point where I was like, 'man, how am I going to choose?' There were some women that when I started working on the project, I had to have them be represented. Like, I wanted a Lauryn Hill song from the beginning. I wanted an Assata Shakur record, a Cicely Tyson record, a record for FloJo."
"I originally wanted to make a part A and a part B, but I ended up just deciding to put out the best music. Regardless of who I picked, each woman would get the message through because they're all powerful. I had to think about what would make for the best possible album and think about what worked sonically, so we built around 'Oprah,' 'Ibtihaj,' and 'Serena'."
If you could sit down with any of the women that you did choose to honor on the album, who would you choose?
"That is so tough, but I think I can narrow it down. It would be between Nina Simone and Maya Angelou...probably Maya. I have an affinity for older Black women because the matriarchs of our community have so much wisdom. They're so strong and have so much motherly love, and I feel like I would gain so much wisdom and understanding from a conversation with someone like Maya. I'd ask her for advice and tips for survival in this life. Also, I'd ask about the moment that sparked her pen and made her write."
Your mantra is "Culture over everything." What impact do you want your work to have on the culture?
"My main purpose is inspiration and representation. I remember when I was coming up, the way that the women in hip hop were coming together was so beautiful. Lauryn Hill, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott, MC Lyte, Charli Baltimore — that was such a powerful time."
"I want to be an artist who calls back to that and can show a new generation of women that we are enough as we are. That we don't have to fall in line because showing up as yourself is enough. I want to be for the next generation what Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah were to me and add to what they built by opening more doors."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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