North Carolina hip-hop found a flag-waving group in the now-defunct Little Brother, whose members continue to push the scene forward in new and interesting ways. Phonte splits his time between his solo career and making forward-thinking R&B/soul with Nicolay as The Foreign ExchangeRapper Big Pooh continues to build his solo discography with mixtapes and LPs, and 9th Wonder has damn near started a movement.

One of the artists at the forefront of 9th’s team is Rapsody, who has seen universal acclaim for her full-length debut. The Idea of Beautiful, which dropped August 28, is an impressive, fully developed statement from the Wilson, N.C. native. Across its 16 tracks, shes weaves together thoughtful, studied rhymes on a slew of topics, from her own personal relationships (“Good Good Love”), to socio-political issues (“The Drum”), to autobiographical bravado (“Roundtable Discussion”).

Perhaps most engaging is how Rapsody switches from one subject to the next with ease and cohesion, thanks in part to the production handled by 9th and his talented team of beatsmiths, The Soul Council. They crafted a vibrant, boom-bap-indebted canvas for Rapsody, who paints her lyrical pieces with a meticulous flow and fleshed-out concepts.

Speaking of concepts, she went into recording The Idea of Beautiful with the mindset of crafting an album in same vein as an imagined new solo rap release from Lauryn Hill. Rapsody talked about why Hill was such an important influence, where North Carolina hip-hop is headed, her future plans, and, of course, her new album.

Interview by Andrew Martin (@Andrew_J_Martin)

How does it feel to see so many glowing reviews of The Idea Of Beautiful?
It's an indescribable feeling. Before the record released, everyone would ask me how I was feeling. I always said, "I'm crazy excited AND nervous." This record is my debut, the one that's been in the making my whole life.So, I wanted people to love it. I put a lot of hard work and love into it. The response has been incredible and it's very humbling and exciting for me! I'm on a life high! It’s just a good, joyous, fun time for me right now to read all the good reviews. I'm really enjoying the moment. It’s priceless.

Can you tell me a little about the concept behind the record?
I wanted to make a record that told my story, and really gave you all of me as an artist. I released three mixtapes and a EP and with some of those we experimented with the sound and tried different things. But, with this project I wanted to find my sound and really settle in my lane. 9th always tells me "what people love about you is that you show them the beauty of hip-hop." I didn't want to run from that. I wanted to tie that in with the record, hence the title The Idea of Beautiful.

What's beautiful about hip-hop is that the culture allows us all to be individuals. That is the driving force. It doesn't matter about our gender, race, religion, ethnicity. It’s about embracing you as an individual and owning that. Back in the days when DJs were in the parks battling, they all wanted to have different records. I have a sound or I'm scratching this particular way. The same with the b-boys and b-girls. They all had their style of dance and that's why you got the respect. That how music should be.

So, my idea of beautiful is just being yourself whether it’s in how you dress, wear your hair, dance, or how you make music. So, I just wanted to go into this and make good music. Music that told my story and gave you me. I didn't want to go and try to make a hit record or keep up with today's "sound" or trends of "smoking weed, etc.” I just wanted to give you me through good music.

Is there a song or two on there that sticks out for you?
“Destiny” is favorite. There are a lot of memories in that song and its a big chunk of telling about myself, and my open letter to Jay in sense. “When I Have You” and “Kind of Love” are two of of my standout favorites, too! The feeling of the record! 9th really captured the warm feeling we were searching for, and those were both real life experiences and feelings I was going through.

“Precious Wings” is a special record. The first two verses are about when you find true love versus a not so good relationship I went through in the past. As well as the struggle of trying to make it work though not so perfect circumstances. And, the last verse is just about being thankful you have good people around you to keep you grounded. I was thinking about a lot of artists we lost to drugs. and how good it is to have the right people that care about you around. And the stories mirrored my love for hip-hop, so I was touching on real life and music life all at the same time.

Those are just some, but naturally all the songs are special to me.

Who do you listen to today that inspires you and that might have also inspired the album?
I listen to and I'm a fan of a lot of my peers. My Jamla brothers and sisters, Big K.R.I.T., the TDE family, Joey Badass and the Pro Era crew, BJ The Chicago Kid, Jean Grae are just a few of many. I’m always on the blogs listening to new music, and I keep the classics burning. I can’t say there is one artist in particular today that inspired, I'm inspired by the whole movement that going on now.

It’s good to see so many dope new artists, from different places, who all sound different, and are being themselves. It’s really like second golden era on the horizon. I'm inspired by that; by all the good music that's being made.

Regarding the concept, I read that you went into this also heavily inspired by Lauryn Hill. What exactly about her influenced this album? Do you remember the first time you heard her and were like, yeah, I need to do this?
I just fell in love with the music The Fugees and Lauryn made, and what she represented. I loved the sound, the honesty, lyricism and feeling of the music. I wanted to bring that feeling back. So, we went into this record trying to make something that felt warm, like a fuse between The Score and The Miseducation, but still was me. It was really just going for that sound that I've missed so much. The first time I remember hearing/seeing Lauryn was the “Fu-Gee-la” video. Then I got The Score and I've been in the love with music and a huge fan ever since. I wanted to be a emcee well before I was introduced to Lauryn though.

If it wasn't her who inspired you to start rapping, who was it?
The first artist that really made me want to go for it, that made me believe I could do it was MC Lyte. I was crazy young. But, I remember her being one of the first emcees that was a woman I saw rocking. That's when I knew there was a place for me, aside from gender.

Gotcha. Well, what would you do to hear a pure rapping solo album from Lauryn?
[Laughs.] I don’t know. I wouldn’t do anything too crazy. I’m a fan of Lauryn as an artist whether it’s singing or rapping. No matter which, I'd just be crazy happy to hear new music from her. But, a rap album from her would be nuts for me.

How did you go into the creative process for this album as opposed to your previous projects?
We didn't try to over-think it at all. The first thing was to find my sound. Once we did that, it was off to the races. 9th and Phonte had a show in Johannesburg South Africa and while 9th was there he was introduced by Nomsa Mazwai via one of her videos. He got her music, brought it back, and played it for me. I remember he hit me and said "I found your sound". When he got back and played it for me I was like "Yes! That is it!"

So, we reached out to Nomsa and the first record was Kind of Love. We then built around that record. 9th handled a majority of picking the beats that fit. From there I would come up with some concepts, 9th would already have some concepts in mind, based on things Ive been through or stories I've shared with 9th, and he'll be like "hey, why not write about it." Raheem, BJ, Rocki, and Nomsa set the tone for some records too. I'd hear the hook and I always had a story or something to relate to it. That pretty much the creative process.

Was there anything else you wanted to say on the album that you didn't? Or would that be giving too much away for your next release?
For the most the part, I got everything out I wanted to say on this record. I couldn't be happier. But, I definitely have more to share on the next one.

Speaking of next, what are your plans for the next six months or so?
For the next six months we are going to really push this record until we can't push it any more. There will be a lot more visuals shot, definitely a lot of touring, as well as recording. I have three EPs in the works and I want to start on the next solo project after that. Also in 2013, 9th will be executive producing the Kooley High album. It’s going to be a busy, but fun filled six months.

What’s the plan with those EPs?
They are all collaborative projects. I'm doing an EP with Eric G of The Soul Council and the other with two other artist I want to work with. I'm just having fun making music. So, I wouldn't get too tied down with full length projects, I decided to make all of them EPs.

Nice. Now in regards to touring, what’s it like going from rapping in the booth to taking the stage?
Hitting the stage and just being able to interact with the crowd is just another crazy, good experience. You really get to see and feel the effect of your music on someone until you hit the stage and after performing go out and meet fans and talk to them. It's a good fun feeling. I love performing.

Being from North Carolina, do you see the state getting the recognition for hip-hop that it deserves? It should, given your latest release, the love King Mez is getting now, and of course the work of 9th, Phonte, and others.
We are making a dent. But, I still think we have a ways to go. It’s growing, so I'm pleased with that. People are definitely taking notice. I think as long as artists like 9th, Phonte, Jamla and King Mez continue to grind and break through more eyes will be on our home state. There are a lot of talented artist here. It’s crazy the talent that’s here.

So, we just need to keep working and growing and getting our music to the people. It’s hard because we aren't a huge city like New York, LA, Atlanta or Chicago so we have do a lot of traveling to these places and meeting the right people and making the right moves the build the buzz. We are definitely on the right track though.