(photos by Broccoli)
(special s/o to Black by Popular Demand for the artist looks https://www.hgcapparel.com/collections/all)
The night leading up to Rapsody’s performance at El Club was a crescendo of a testament to the integrity of her message. The atmosphere was characteristic of conscious rap shows, reminiscent of the genre’s heyday; a thoughtful and collected vibe inhabited the venue, if only for a night, in acknowledgement of the exceptional presence it was graced with. The crowd was attentive and engaged from start to finish, a gesture that was rewarded by the artists on many occasions. Several of the openers mentioned that this was their first tour, and all of them expressed sincere gratitude and appreciation for the experiences they’d had and the friends they’d made on the “Wisdom is Power” tour, including, of course, the woman that made it all possible.
First up was GQ, Bay-area native and fellow Jamla artist, who also made an appearance during the headlining set. After the show, I briefly caught up with him to get his thoughts on joining the tour, to which he replied: “For me it’s just really a true blessing, to be able to do what I love to do, with people that also love what they do…I’m just learning a lot and having a lot of fun, not only performing but seeing how the music is touching people…It’s just a good feeling man, so I’m enjoying every bit of it.”
Next was Don Flamingo, New Orleans native and Roc Nation signee, whose set was a living tribute to the musical history of his city and how it intersects with the Hip-Hop that has emerged from there. He opened his set with an a cappella, a bold decision that was reaffirmed with each song that followed.
And last but not least was a spirited performance by Deante Hitchcock, which was fueled at least in part by the Hennessy cake that his auntie blessed him with before the show. I caught up with Tyrah McDuffy before the show (because obviously, that cake was a statement), and her brief message was simply, “That’s my baby, he been my baby all his life. I just want to say that I’m so very proud of him, and my message to him would be to keep working hard, and of course, ‘Be Humble’.”
At last, it was time for the main event.
Rapsody’s command of the stage was evident before she even stepped foot on it. As the lights dimmed in anticipation of her arrival, “Ready or Not” by the Fugees bumping through the speakers, the crowd’s chatter became hushed before giving way to emphatic cheers as she met their eyes, black hoodie drawn over her head, going straight from backstage to front and center with the assertive opening track to Laila’s Wisdom.
Rapsody’s message and values are pervasively evident in her lyrics. She presents them in a variety of ways, like the more matter-of-fact tone she takes in “Gonna Miss You” when she casually mentions, “Dress for success in the platinum gold tux / In the White House singing ‘We Gon’ Be Alright” / all night with the POTUS.” Examples like this contrast with more somber recognitions of the difficulty of being honorable in the current musical and political landscapes, with lines such as “Loved ones gon’ ride wit ya, don’t turn ya back on me / The truth hurt, I know it do, but please don’t lie to me / Good or bad I’m here for ya, that’s what you call family / The world’s going crazy it’s easy to lose your sanity,” from “Ridin'” (which she performed with the help of GQ).
With each subsequent song, the back and forth between performer and crowd became more mutually-embracing. Rapsody brought fans on stage several times to join her, and every time she gracefully mediated between facilitating unforgettable moments for her supporters and maintaining a tempered control of her set. Every serendipitous guest appearance seemed almost rehearsed, making the interactions openly genuine without sacrificing the poignant nature of the performance as a whole.
With this intimacy came a less-gaurded artist, which gave Rapsody the chance be more free with her choices on stage. After asking the crowd what up-and-coming Detroit artists she should be checking out (they had plenty to suggest), she openly wondered if there was someone missing from that list; someone important to the musical and cultural essence of Detroit, before queuing DJ Face to drop T’Baby’s “It’s So Cold in the D,” to the crowd’s delight.
In more serious moments, she periodically paused the music to drop notes of wisdom, reiterating “Culture over everything. I do this for you not me; for us.” She also frequently connected her hard-earned confidence in herself with the larger struggles of women. “I got an agenda for my women,” she asserted, “I want every one of you to know that you can do everything and anything you want to do in this world,” following with, “I’m not a female rapper, I’m a motherfuckin’ beast!”
These exchanges came to a climax at the end of her set, after she finished what was announced as her last song. Despite having never taken requests at any other stop on the tour, Rapsody asked the crowd what song they wanted to hear for an encore (“Godzilla” was the winner), and then proceeded to do it a second time before closing her remarkable performance with a powerful rendition of “Knock On My Door.”
After the show, Rapsody stayed after and met with every single person that waited to see her. The fact that she was able to muster the strength to have heartfelt interactions with so many people after delivering such a strong and demanding set says more about her than my words can.
She even was kind enough to answer a question of mine, which I nervously read from my notebook after recovering from the surprise and gratitude I felt in that moment.
“What do you hope that your late grandmother, Laila, would think of this project? What would she hope it would mean to you and your fans?” I asked.
“Damn,” she responded, and after taking a moment to think she offered these words:
“If anything, I would hope that she would be happy and proud.
I was trying to give to the rest of the world what she raised me and my family on, and that was just to love people and love each other, and to appreciate people not for what they can give you or what they can do for you, but just because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
She always taught me that “giving flowers” was not about what you can physically give somebody, it’s about your time, your love, and your energy, and just being good to people at the end of the day.
That’s what my family was raised on, so continuing that and just spreading that to the next person. I just want her to be proud.”