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Rapsody Peels Back the Curtain on Her Newest Album, Please Don’t Cry

The personal, introspective LP releases on May 17
Rapsody (Credit: Patso Dimitrov)
Rapsody (Credit: Patso Dimitrov)

It’s been nearly five years since Rapsody’s third album, Eve, a 16-track love letter to some of the powerful Black women she admires. Through her musings on such women as Aaliyah, Afeni Shakur, Sojourner Truth, and Serena Williams, we got to know the American rapper through the back door. But with her upcoming album, Please Don’t Cry, she lets us in through the front. More personal and introspective than her previous works, Please Don’t Cry introduces us to Marlanna Evans, her given name before, she became Rapsody.

Songs like “Diary of a Mad Bitch” and “DND (It’s Not Personal)” peel back the curtain on a Rapsody some of her fans might not be familiar with, one who is unapologetic about taking time for self-care and saying no. But it took a while for her to get here. Admittedly a recovering “people pleaser,” Rapsody spent years trying to live up to the expectations of others, but with Please Don’t Cry, she’s able to expertly articulate how (and why) that period of her life has come to an end through her wordplay wizardry. 

From her home state of North Carolina, where she had just attended J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival, Rapsody talked about her songwriting process on the forthcoming set and what it meant to have women like former Cosby Show actress Phylicia Rashad and Erykah Badu contribute to the project. She also opened up about a few of the challenges she encountered while making the album and how she was ultimately able to overcome them. 

Please Don’t Cry will arrive via We Each Other/Jamla/Roc Nation on May 17. The lead single, “Asteroids,” is out now. 

On Eve, we got to know you in a sense through who you admire and look up to, but this record is full on you. What took you to that place where you were ready to dive deep?

Rapsody: I think the growth that I wanted, needed, and had to do required me to take that space to just lean into it and walk into it and sit into it. There was a number of things—going through relationships and a breakup and really having to sit with myself. I got to really learn who I am without needing people.

Once you start the healing journey, I think you naturally become so comfortable in who you are that you don’t fear letting people see how human you are. But I just think it’s a natural part of the process when you go through a healing and an ascension, and you raise your consciousness and you unplug from the world, the matrix, all the illusions and false standards. I felt I wanted people to see me. And plus as an artist, I wanted to have a better connection with my fans.

Was it a challenge? 

It was hard. It was scary. It’s easy when you choose to go down the path and you’re sitting in your house by yourself in front of a mic and it’s just you and you can say all those things. No matter how scared you are, nobody’s heard [these songs] yet. But when you make the conscious decision, like, “OK, I’m going to make this an album,” even before you put it out in the world, you let the people closest to you hear it. They are the ones who first get to see exactly just how human you are. And you find out you’ve gone through similar things in your life, or you’re just understanding and can relate. But having that support made the process easier for me. That’s what helped me along the way. I had to do it for myself first to actually say some of the things that I said out loud. And then it was like piece by piece. I let a friend hear it. And then I let another friend, and then I let a family member, and then I let somebody in the industry that I work with and create with hear it. And what I found out was everybody goes through things and they’re human, and that this project was necessary.

Two of my close friends were like, “You have to show people you’re not perfect. You have to tell them what makes you mad, what makes you sad, what your days look like, what does your love life look like. Now it’s time to let people see you.” And I love a challenge. 

(Credit: Gretsky)

There’s a song where you’re talking about going into a bad cell phone reception area….

…and being perfectly OK with it. I had to really learn how to do that. Me and my family, we never took vacations. We would do things to relax and play, but we never took vacations. So my whole career, I had to sacrifice by just working hard. It wasn’t until 2021, [when] I had just gotten out of a relationship. They loved to take vacations all the time. And so I took my first one and went to this island, and I was just like, “This is what it feels like to be still.” And it was like, man…to unplug from everybody, I had to learn to say no. At the time, I was really a people pleaser, but I had to learn through my healing that I did that because I thought that’s how you receive love—by giving to people. Once you’re in the act of like, “Yo, it’s OK to just chill and relax, and it’s OK to say no,” it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, but I don’t even have it to give to you right now. And learning to have boundaries too—it’s such an important word—but in a healthy way. That might seem selfish, but if you don’t take care of you, you’re not gonna be able to take care of anybody else.

I like to use the analogy of the oxygen mask on a plane. You have to put yours on first before you put it on somebody else.

It’s so true. You have to stop and love on you. I can relate to that. I have friends that struggle with addiction or whatever, and it was showing up. It was just like, “I’m just tired, and this is it, like, I can’t enable you anymore because now we’re on a hamster wheel.” As much as it hurts me to do it, I can’t save you. I can’t always be up there because you make a bad decision and clean it up for you. You got to live with that and sit with it, and it’s the hardest thing to do, but I felt like I could exhale. Even this past weekend at Dreamville Fest, I was like, “Man, it really felt good to just have friends over to hang out or go to a club. I remember growing up, I used to always love to go out. Then I started giving everything to music and I forgot to give to myself in those little ways. I do like to have fun.

But I go back and listen to my music sometimes, and I’m just like, “What am I really saying?” I’ve learned that you don’t have to dig so deep to find it. I really wanted to be more profound this time around. I don’t know if I executed it, but it wasn’t the focus of, like, “How can I say the most interesting thing in the most dope way?” It was just like, “How profound can I be?” Just because I am who I am, the lyricism and metaphors are going to come out within it. But I approached it like, “What do I want to share about myself? What spotlight do I want to share?” It wasn’t about trying to check any box necessarily. I just want to be honest. When I write, before it would be like a fleshed-out beat for the most part, and normally it would have a sample in it, and the sample would say something, and it would kind of guide me to where I wanted to go. This time around—and it started when I was in Dallas, Texas, working with S1—I said, “S1, I want to create in a different way this time. You don’t even have to give me a whole beat. I want to create off emotion or a story.” So we did it a few different ways. Pinterest helped me out a lot. It’s my favorite app. I would go and just look for words that could say things in a profound way that I couldn’t do in my complex way. And I’d print them off and find pictures and colors and different things. We had a whole wall.

Almost like a vision board?

A vision board, yeah. I actually got this idea working with Alicia Keys. It was my very first writing session I’d ever done. And it was myself, Alicia, and Raphael Saddiq. I went to her studio in L.A., walked in, and she just had all these pictures pinned on the wall. I was waiting for her, and when she came in, she saw me looking at one and was like, “Oh, you like the pictures?” I was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “I put these up. What do you see when you look at this picture?” And we just started having that conversation, and that inspired me so much. So I did it for myself with this one, and I would pick a picture. He was like, “What you want to do today?” I said, “This is a picture of how I feel today.” And it could be a dog, like a Doberman, like “rawrrrrr.”

(Credit: Jhalin Knowles)

Is that where “Diary of a Mad Bitch” came from?

Yes, exactly. You see where I’m going. That picture created the subject for that particular song, but the beat came from another picture I found. It was like hands and honey dripping off of it, right? And the honey was just coming off the nail. I asked S1 what it sounds like, and he said it sounds like drums, but they slow. He put them in reverse to make it sound like they’re dragging and pulling, and it just became this whole way that we created. Other days, it wouldn’t be pictures. Instead, he would just play a piano. The first line is always the most important to me. Some people like to do hooks first.

I do verses first because hooks are my weaker point. But my first line is always the most important. I could spend days trying to figure out a first line or it could come quick, or I could piece it together. The inspiration, I just pull from all facets of life, and that’s just how we created it this time. 

I want to talk about some of the features. Why was it important to have Phylicia Rashad on it?

I’ve always been a huge fan. When we talk about people that inspire me, she’s one of those women. Since I was young, I always looked at her and loved her intelligence, regalness and class. She is what a queen looks like to me. I always loved the characters she played. When you listen to her interviews, she is just so profound. And of course, with age, wisdom and experience comes this clarity. 

We were almost done wrapping the album, and I was in Austin. This time I was working with Black Odyssey, and Black said, “Rap, how you going to tie it together?” But I didn’t know yet. I was thinking about it, went home and watched The Matrix and the other two after it. And the Oracle really spoke to me, and I thought about the path that I was on.

And so I was like, “Somebody has to be the Oracle.” I wanted to play with that. When my manager and I  were speaking about it, my first thought was to get Phylicia for it. She did her due diligence and found who she needed to find to get in contact. It was just that easy. My mouth was on the floor.

(Credit: Patso Dimitrov)

Speaking of mouths on the floor, you’ve had at least one interaction with Lauryn Hill, one of your idols. What was that moment like for you to be able to meet her for the first time?

The latest Instagram photo wasn’t the first time I met her in person. It was maybe the third or fourth time, but it was the first time I got time to really have a conversation. We had sent messages back and forth, talked a little bit. The first time I met her was at a Black Girls Rock show. There were just so many people waiting for her to come out of the dressing room. She came out, and one of the staff was like, “Rap, you go first.” I’m really present, so I felt the energy. So my thing was like, “I’m not gonna take up a lot of time. There’s a lot of people breathing down my neck. I feel it.” So I just asked for advice, and she gave me the best advice. I want to say this was like 2012, 2013.

When was the Instagram photo from?

That picture came from me opening up at Barclays for her and the Fugees tour. The story behind that is crazy. I always knew I wanted to go to the show because I’m a big Lauryn fan. I was on a plane from Atlanta to New York, going to the show. I get a text halfway through my flight like, “Rap, you want to open up for Lauryn?” I’m supposed to land about three o’clock. Soundcheck is normally early, during the day. So I’m landing, I don’t have my in-ears, any performance outfit, or time to stop and shop. But I’m just like, “Whatever, I’m opening up.” I land. One of my good friends lives right by Barclays, so I went up to his spot. I got makeup, but I’m trying to find a DJ. I called Nyla Symone, and she’s landing from Europe. She’s never DJ’ed for me, so I’m getting my songs, sending them to her, and getting my makeup done. They got me a 6:30 soundcheck, which was perfect. I go to soundcheck, and Nyla is supposed to be on the way. I get in there, Lauryn’s still sound checking, so I already know no soundcheck for me, but Nyla gets caught in traffic, and we’re supposed to go on at 8, and they pulled up at 8:15. It was just a crazy day, but it didn’t matter. I was just so happy to be there. This is one of my biggest idols that I’m getting to open up for. It just felt good. It felt welcoming. 

You mentioned it a minute ago, but what was the advice she gave you the first time you met her?

She said, “Always seek knowledge.” As simple as it sounds, it’s one of the first things I always try to go back to, right? It’s like a compass, so it keeps me on my straight and narrow. And she also told me to touch every part of my show, to be hands-on.

You landed a digital cover of Bazaar recently. What is young Marlanna thinking of all this?

I have to take a moment sometimes because I can be so in it that I forget for a second. I need to really sit and think about how far we’ve come and the things that I am doing that I always dreamed of since I was a little girl. Even though I’ve been doing it this long, there’s still so many things that I get to experience and pat myself on the back for, for not stopping. I think that’s the beautiful part—that I get to see myself grow.