Rapsody Documents Her Path Towards Healing And Self-Discovery With ‘Please Don’t Cry’

Photo Credit: Jhalin Knowles

It’s been almost five years since Rapsody delivered her last full-length project, and the growth that’s happened in the time between has been critical to her both as an artist, as well as a woman. Eve debuted just a few months prior to a global pandemic, with audiences worldwide bearing witness to the talent and creativity of the iconic lyricist. On Please Don’t Cry, she strips down to her truest self, showing a level of vulnerability like never before.

The North Carolina emcee’s fourth studio release documents her journey towards healing, giving listeners a firsthand account of the path to self-discovery. Rapsody’s previous singles, “Asteroids,” “Stand Tall,” and “3:AM,” not only built anticipation for album, but it also served as therapeutic in the sense of being able to delve into who Marlanna Evans is, in one of her most intentional and emotionally transparent records to date.

“My music is my place of peace,” Rapsody explains. “It’s a place where I can say whatever I want to say to heal, to think through things, to make statements, to ask questions, to self-evaluate, and to have fun. Through it, I get to capture the world that I live in, the world that I see, the things I think about. I get to capture myself, my growth, how I continue to evolve. It’s my safe space, and the love of my life at this moment and forever.”

Throughout her decades-long career, Rapsody has crafted a near-flawless body of work. Critical acclaim, multiple Grammy nominations, and the respect and reverence of her peers served as a testament of just how amazing her artistry is. But with Please Don’t Cry, the rapper learned to embrace her imperfections, because it’s the flaws that build character, and provided the experiences that allowed her to create one of the greatest stories ever told.

“The beauty of this album that I’m so excited to share, is for people to get to know me better, for them to be inspired, and for us to see ourselves in each other,” the Laila’s Wisdom rapper says. “I also can feel that it’s a different type of energy that I’m attracting around this release that I’ve never felt with any other project. You create your time, and I really feel like this time is mine.”

ESSENCE: One of the first songs you recorded for Please Don’t Cry was the beautiful track “Stand Tall.” What does that song mean to you?

Rapsody: It is just really showing my humanness, honestly. I think, as a person who’s in the public eye more than other people, it’s just to show that we’re no different. I just pick up a microphone, and I write words, and I perform for a living. But we’re all human, we’re all imperfect, we’re all going through things. I’m no different than anybody else. Those are the things that I focus on, versus the empty things sometimes that we can get tied up on, on social media. So it’s just me, to whoever’s on the other end receiving the music, that things come our way. As far as celebrities, people forget that you’re human sometimes, and that’s just what it is for me.

That’s interesting because on the outside looking in, you seem like a celebrity that doesn’t act like a celebrity—you’re very down to earth. So, it’s fascinating that you have those experiences as well.

Well, with the internet especially, you have people that are really tapped into you if they appreciate your art, if it inspires them, and they have a different type of care, versus everybody that is tapped in and isn’t necessarily a listener. People will just see a picture of you, and just go with whatever they want to go with. Because I feel like the people that listen to my music, they know me to at least a certain degree where, like you say, they can see the human that’s in me.

As amazing as “Stand Tall” is audibly, it also includes a video with you and Sanaa Lathan. You two are having a powerful discussion about some really, really raw topics. I wanted to ask you, what led you to embark on this journey toward a new level of vulnerability?

I wanted to grow, not just as an artist, but as a person. I think anybody that is inspired to take that journey, something always sparks it. For me, I had gotten out of a relationship and I was healing through that. I think in healing through a broken heart, you learn a lot more about yourself in your healing journey, and you have to go a lot deeper than, “I ended a relationship.” It’s so much more of, “Okay, you ended this relationship. Why is it that you feel you have something that is left or sore?”  I’m looking for, “What did that relationship serve that you can’t heal that for yourself?”

So, it really just started me on this journey of healing and growing, really getting to know myself again. The relationship was one change, but I was going through a number of changes outside of that. So all of those things just made me unplug, really sit in the quiet, ask myself some questions, and I had to get to know who I was again, and heal some parts of me. This whole album is me documenting that four year journey of what that looked like for me.

You said that you had to find out who you were again–is there anything unforeseen or surprising that you found out about yourself during the path of healing and self-discovery?

A few things. This happened during the pandemic, but I realized how lonely I felt. When you’re out in the world, and you’re traveling, and you’re doing shows, and you’re always in the studio, and you’re always around people, you’re just constantly in the midst of everything. But when it’s quiet, for me, I had to look at, one, how alone I felt, two, that I wasn’t the most confident person. I didn’t have the most love for myself that I could have.

In the healing journey, you realize you might be physically alone, but you’re never alone in those times. That’s when you develop a stronger relationship with God. Then about my confidence, I had to remind myself that, “You’re living in a matrix fantasy illusion.” Once you unplug from it, once you stop looking at yourself trying to fit in that box and live in your own reality, you understand that you don’t really need to measure yourself, or success, or your value, or your validation to any of those things. So, I built my confidence up because I affirmed myself.

Self-love too, loving the way I looked, my parents, loving the person that I was, that I’m not mad that I’m humble. Some people have told me throughout my life, I could be too humble. But that’s just the way I operate, and that’s who I am, operating in kindness. In a creative space, creating from all the spaces that I want to create from, and not being confident, and not having the most self-love, being entrapped in all the noise, sometimes you can’t hear yourself as much, and you hear everything outside of you. Sometimes you feel you have to create what would please that audience versus it being really from a place of your most authentic power, where you are listening to your own voice and nothing outside of that.

Earlier you spoke about loneliness, which is a really scary feeling at times. Speaking of that, a few months ago you said that your friend Sanaa Lathan was one of the biggest reasons that you were able to finish the album. Why do you think sisterhood is so important amongst Black women? And, how has sisterhood helped you along this process?

I grew up one of five, and I have three older sisters, but they were 4, 7, and 10 years older than me. Everybody around my age that I played with and grew up with were boys. So growing up, I just had this really cool relationship with all the guys. I was a tomboy, but I was the homegirl, and that’s where I felt comfortable. They liked sports, and I can talk about sports. That was just my comfort zone.

But as I grew in life and I had different experiences, and I started to find my lifelong friends, and connecting with women in that way who are my lifelong friends, a lot of them are my closest ones, I understood how important it was to have women in my life because we see each other in a different way. We understand each other in a different way. We speak the same language. They have been my therapists. I have been able to be their therapist. Sometimes they know you better than you know yourself. Women have this thing of nurture, and care, and attention to detail, and a certain type of intuition. It’s just the divine feminine within us. Having a sister, I think we’re taken care of in a different way than with guys. Not that guys are not important in our life, but women for those reasons are important.

Oftentimes, it’s hard for people to open up, and you’re doing that on a larger scale than many others. Why do you think it’s so difficult for people to be vulnerable, and to show these intimate sides of themselves?

I would speculate that judgment is one, maybe a big one. Along with judgment comes fear. For me, I never wanted to disappoint the people I loved because of the family that I grew up in, and how important respect was. I felt like you have to keep that good girl brand about you in the family. But I never wanted to disappoint my family, even though I’m learning that everybody disappoints everybody because we’re just imperfect humans. We’re not going to always do things in a way that makes everyone around us happy. But we experience things to learn from them, wrong or right. Or we do things that just make us happy, no matter who agrees with it.

When you look out at the larger world of things, especially in this era where, unlike previous generations, we live in an era of social media and everybody can be tapped in if they choose to be, and everybody has a place to leave an opinion and a thought, and take a deep take. Sometimes you don’t want to give that much because you don’t want to be judged, you don’t want the energy. You want to protect your energy, you want to protect your peace.

So those are all reasons, some very specific to me on why it was harder to be vulnerable, and allow myself to be seen. But that was because I didn’t have the proper tools, the tools that I have now, where I’m able to observe people, whatever the energy is, and not have to take it on as mine. So once I had those proper tools, then it was easy to allow myself to just be, because nobody else can. They can’t really shift how you feel. You get to create the energy and the experience of your day, of your life.

I was elated when I began seeing the #RapIsBack hashtags appear across socials. Speak to your excitement about releasing this new album, and why was May 17 the date that you landed on?

The biggest reason was—the album was done. I spent four and a half years working on it. I said everything that I could possibly say, a lot you’ll hear on the album. There’s a lot still left in the vault. But for the story I wanted to tell, it was complete for this season. That was all the reason that I needed. Again, it wasn’t about anything outside of that. It was like, the music is done. Then the business side is the business side with Roc Nation. I’m so grateful to be under such an amazing, supportive label. We figure out how to give it to the world. But it was time because I had grown, and I had something to say, and I had something to share that I thought would inspire and help other people, and that was really my only reason. Things line up as they do. You hear the term, “everybody has their time.”

I can say, even outside of that, because I think of the growth that I’ve done, and the clarity that I have, and the peace that I have, you attract things when you are that clear. When you’re that ready, and you’re that prepared, and you’ve grown, and you have a certain relationship with God, you attract things. And I feel like that’s the season that I’m in, all the work that I did.

You’re one of those artists that really take your craft seriously. You’re a student of the game and you can tell that you love the culture. With Hip-Hop, there’s lyricists, there’s drill, trap, and women are having immense success right now. Wealso had a huge moment with the battle between Kendrick and Drake. So I wanted to ask, how do you feel about the space that Hip-Hop is in currently?

I think it’s in a beautiful space, and I’m answering that question as Hip-Hop culture and not the mainstream business of Hip-Hop. The culture is beautiful, it’s probably the most beautiful it’s ever been because we do have such diversity, and the topics, and the artists, men and women, all over the world. You see the influence that Hip-Hop has, not just in the United States, not just New York, and LA, and New Orleans, Chicago, and Atlanta, the big cities, but its impact on Africa, these other continents, its impact on Asia, the world in general. Because of the internet, you get to see it in real time. The competition part of Hip-Hop has always been in the fabric of what Hip-Hop is.

So for our generation to have our own version of what a Jay and Nas beef looks like, or Ice Cube and Common, every rap generation has had one of those moments where you have the biggest of your era going head-to-head, and we’re having ours with Kendrick and Drake. It’s all just really exciting for the culture. So I think it’s really dope, and I love to see it. I’m excited to see it continue to grow. Even just not in music, Hip-Hop is now in universities and college campuses being taught in the same way that you teach about Hamilton or any other creative work. So just to see how it’s used so much, and how it’s grown and expanded, and made space for so many to exist, and the women on the business side that are bosses, hip hop is beautiful right now.

Names and titles are extremely important in my opinion. It’s supposed to incorporate everything that you’re trying to say in just a few words. Please Don’t Cry, what went into the decision for that to be the album’s title?

Man, while I was healing from my relationship, in the early stages of my healing… We’re writers. I’m a writer, you’re a writer. But, I don’t know if you experience this, but sometimes I don’t even have the words for how I feel. For me, I really leaned on Pinterest. I would go to Pinterest, and I would just search poems, and I would read poems, and I’d read inspirational quotes all day. They would speak to all the ranges of emotion that I was feeling, sadness, anger, bitterness, resentment, heartbreak. I was just pinning a bunch of words that I didn’t even have the words to articulate for myself.

I came across this one particular quote and it said, “No, please don’t cry, you won’t always feel this broken.” When I saw the, “Please don’t cry,” it spoke to me. I was like, “Damn, that’s it,” for multiple reasons. I love the quote for the space that I was in, and as hard as I was hurting, I had to let myself know, “You’ll get on the other side of how you feel right now, you just in the fire of it.”

But that was just the surface. My friends helped me too. They had to put up a mirror for me. They were like, “Yo Rap, this next project, you have to show people that you’re human, that you feel anger, that you feel sadness, that you’ve been in love, that you’ve been heartbroken, that you like to laugh, because you’re so guarded.” That’s, again, the beauty of friendship and village. They put the mirror up for you. I had to look back, and I was like, “Man, I have been really guarded.”

We’ve spoken in this interview, because of the world that we live in, I was protecting my peace. So emotionally, I was like, “I don’t like to show people my cards, and the emotion within me.” But, why not? Because we’re all human and we all feel. So many artists have given me permission, even though I didn’t listen at that time. I understand it now. I listened to Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged so much, and I hear it in a different way then I did when it first came out, because I have experienced things, I have new eyes, I have new awareness, new clarity. Man, that album helped give me permission to make this one. The album I’m making, I hope gives people permission too to allow themselves to be human, to feel all their emotions.

It’s called Please Don’t Cry, but the whole album is why you should cry. Cry because your heart is broken, it’s okay. But, also cry because you’re laughing at something that’s so funny with your friends, the tears are rolling and you can’t even talk. When I get mad, I cry when I’m mad because if I don’t, I’m going to say something that I’m probably going to regret once I calm down. So, that’s how I keep myself from going over the edge. You’re either going to get cussed out or you’re going to get some tears, so I’m going to stick with it. This is what being a human is about, and this is just a part of living and experiencing things.

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