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Benjamin Esakof

Rapsody Speaks On Her Inspiring ‘Crown’ Mixtape & Love For Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’

Rapsody rippped up the stage, and talked about her first musical project in two years.

Rapsody didn’t let the dismal and chilly weather slow her down amplified energy, as she proceeded to tear up the Broccoli Stage at the DMV’s fifth annual Broccoli City Music Festival.

Hot off the November release of her mixtape Crown, the Jamla Records/ Roc Nation rapper, who combatted the at-times piercing rain drops by wearing a stylishly puffy iridescent jacket, performed cuts like “Oohwee,” “Crown” and “Gonna Miss You,” with her backing band The Storm Troopers and DJ 9th Wonder. A special appearance by R&B/Soul artist Heather Victoria got the crowd hype, and Rapsody got personal by bringing a fan named Moses on stage to rap and two-step to “Take it Slow” with him.

“This is hip-hop, we make it happen, rain or shine,” she laughed.

Much like in her mixtape, the native North Carolinian also aimed to inspire the audience. She made sure to tell the female fans in the crowd that they can do “anything a man can do... if not, ten times better,” and her thought-provoking lyrics brought attention to some of the current social issues we face today.

The artist spoke to VIBE after her fire set to discuss her reaction to the positive feedback from her 2016 mixtape, the importance of artists to speak on certain topics as well as some of her thoughts on her collaborator Kendrick Lamar’s latest LP, DAMN.


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VIBE: What has been your reaction to the positive feedback to Crown?
Rapsody: Oh man. It's been fulfilling because before that, I hadn't put out a project in two years, so we put that out just to see where we were, but also to show how much I've grown. We didn't have a crazy big push, we had the Crown campaign to see how everyone could attach themselves to it and relate to it, and they loved it. It was really fulfilling, and I was excited. It's so dope that people were inspired, especially with the Crown theme. I've had parents sending me IG videos and pictures and texts of their kids singing to it. My friend hit me one day and was like "my daughter got out of school, and she was like 'daddy, I had my crown on today.'" That was the whole purpose, to inspire and for people to know their self-worth. It's hard to put that into words, when you inspire somebody like that.

Your song "Fire" from Crown got a lot of people talking as well. What's the importance of artists speaking about certain politically-driven issues, especially with the climate we're living in today?
That's what artists are supposed to do, tell the time. Nina Simone has said many times that it's an artist's duty to tell what's going on and tell the time. Whether those times are good or bad, it's up to us to report. It goes back to negro spirituals and slavery. That's how we communicated with each other, the master didn't know we were planning to run tonight. You get into the music, and you hear that we have to keep everybody aware of what's going on. Also, to give them [listeners] a way to release those emotions, to have something to listen to that they can relate to and get that feeling out. That's why it's important. For the good times and the bad times, the hard times, we're here to tell what's going on and we're being truthful about what's going on, because we can't always depend on media and television to do it. We can only tell our story. That's our job.

Are you working on new material, or you're still riding high off of Crown?
I'm working on my sophomore album! It'll be out this year.
Can’t wait to hear it. What's your favorite thing about performing?

I think no matter whether it's a festival or a room with 100 people, it all feels the same. Just connecting with the people through music. It's really fun performing with the band because you can take that music and take it a little bit further. You spend all that time in the studio perfecting it, getting it right, then you get to be on stage, perform it live, look at the people and see them interact, mouthing the words and clapping. Even new fans who haven't heard of me, you can see their impression, like "wow!" That's really dope to have that one-on-one experience, even when I brought the guy on stage [Moses]. That's what I love!

I love when artists do that.
It's great to have those moments. We might inspire them to do something, it's really dope!

You were featured on Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly ["Complexion (A Zulu Love)"], so what are some of your thoughts on DAMN.?
DAMN. [Laughs] Amazing. I always expect whatever album was last, the next one to be totally different, you never know in what way it's gonna be different. I like how [Kendrick] is able to experiment and still stay himself. The concept of DAMN. about talking about God and the fear of God is amazing. The songs are really dope, and that's the beauty of Kendrick. He can be super lyrical, but he also knows how to make jams, songs, and you know, he's really having fun. He's at the top of his game. He is one of the greatest rappers of all-time. I'm always excited to see him and TDE winning. They're our homies! Any chance I get to cheer for him is amazing. He sold 610,000 in the first week, going platinum already. I've been bumpin' it nonstop.

What are some of your favorite cuts?
"DUCKWORTH." is one of my favorites. What 9th [Wonder] did with those beats and the switches was bar none, and the story itself, the story is crazy!

Having it end that way? Perfect.
It was! Any one thing could have gone different, and the whole feature could have changed. "FEAR." is another one of my favorites. All of us had parents that were like "I'll beat yo' a**," so it was relatable and dope. Then the third verse, where he talks about how he deals with fame, I think all of us artists at some point have felt that and could relate. "DNA." is like on a sunny day in summer, sunroof open and getting hype, then when that beat switches? It's nuts. "LOVE." is a favorite, "YAH." is on another wave. The melody in it? That's my nighttime riding joint, I'll sit in the car and play it five times in a row and drive to it. The whole thing is amazing.

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VIBE/ Nick Rice

18 Best Latinx Albums Of 2018

A number of artists from the scope of latinidad contributed to making 2018 another rich year in music. If hip-hop is the world's most consumed genre, latin pop, reggaeton, latin trap, flamenco and more of the subgenres of Latinx music rested in between.

This includes J Balvin being one of the most streamed artists on Spotify, Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy scoring stellar Grammy nominations, the rising appeal of Harlem rapper Melii, the return of Wisin Y Yandel and Bad Bunny sprinkling the gift that is Latin trap on your getting ready playlists.

But there were also artists who took big risks like Kali Uchis' coy yet forward voice in R&B, Jessie Reyez's dynamic voice and collaborations with the likes of Eminem and many more.

Check out our favorite albums from the best and brightest Latinx artists of the year below.

READ MORE: 25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

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Nick Rice

25 Best Hip-Hop and R&B Music Videos Of 2018

Hip-hop has taken full advantage of visual platforms like YouTube. Keeping the same energy as the days of Rap City: Tha Basement and Direct Effect, music videos are back and bigger than ever.

Hip-hop’s landscape has changed radically since the golden age of music videos. Artists from all different walks of life are roaming the field, constantly raising the bar for music videos. From the trippy aesthetics of new generation rappers like Trippie Redd and Smokepurrp, hilarious efforts of Blac Youngsta and the regal aesthetics from Beyonce and Jay-Z, 2018 has been filled with amazing music videos.

VIBE took a look at these visuals and assembled a collection of the finest hip-hop and R&B music videos of the year. The videos below display the meaningful connection that a director created with an artist that enables the two to capture the emotion and feelings the artist laid down on wax. In no specific order, take a look at the 25 best hip-hop and R&B music videos of 2018.

READ MORE: 25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

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Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.

LUCY PEARL

When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.

SOLO SAADIQ

As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

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