Last night, Kendrick Lamar’s long-awaited major label sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly, went live on iTunes and was available on Spotify ahead of its March 23 release date. With the entire LP—both clean and explicit versions—online, it became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. The excitement of K. Dot’s new album is still felt this morning, as most fans are digesting its themes, lyrics, and choice guest appearances. One surprise was 9th Wonder’s protégé Rapsody, who appears on “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” This isn’t the first time the pair worked together; K. Dot actually appeared on her 2011 mixtape, For Everything, on a track titled “Rock the Bells.”
Earlier this morning, we got on the phone with Rapsody to talk about her contributions to To Pimp a Butterfly. The 27-year-old MC was noticeably tired from staying up late to listen to K. Dot’s project for the first time with 9th Wonder and her Jamla Records family. Still, she spoke candidly about working with the Compton rapper, the message behind “Complexion,” and if Kendrick will return the favor in the future.
Eric Diep is a writer living in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @E_Diep
When did Kendrick first reach out to you?
Initially, when he and 9th [Wonder] talked about it was the day after the “Control” verse dropped. I was in New York for the She Got Game listening, which you came to. And after that, I went to Premier’s studio to shoot a video. So 9th was talking to Kendrick about the “Control” verse and he hit him and was like, “Yo, I have an idea for my next album. I want to reach out to Rapsody for it.” So 9th was like, “That’d be great or whatever. Just let us know.”
You know, time goes by. He’s been touring. I didn’t think too much of it. Working with one of those artists, you have different ideas when making music. But, he reached back out on Jan. 11 [of 2015]. I was on my way to Toronto, and he hit 9th. He told him he was gonna send him something to get on. That was when he reached out.
Did he send you a skeleton of the song?
I didn’t hear his verse. He sent me the part that I rapped on, so from the part where the beat switches? That’s all I got. I called him and he told me the song is “Complexion.” That was pretty much it. We didn’t talk in-depth about what direction to go in, but he told me complexion. You know, African-American, black people in America. I knew kind of the thought process behind it. I was in D.C. and I wrote that verse that day. 9th drove up, and we went into the studio and recorded it that night.
I was telling 9th, this is my first time hearing the song in its entirety. When I heard the song all together, I told 9th, “Wow that’s crazy.” I hadn’t heard his verse, and it is dope that we had similar subject matter about slaves and about blue eyes. And the 2Pac thing. I didn’t know 2Pac was at the end of the project. So it is dope how it all came together.
I hadn’t heard his verse, and it is dope that we had similar subject matter about slaves and about blue eyes.
What would you say is the message of “Complexion”?
Basically, [it’s] the whole idea of colorism and how much of a problem it’s in the black community. Light skin versus dark skin. It goes all the way back to slavery where you had the dark skin blacks. You know, they were called the field niggas. They were working in the field. And then you had the house niggas who were the light skin ones. Having that separation, it created the vibe, which we still see today and it still affects us. The dark skin would think, you know, “Oh, the light skin think they’re better being in the house.” And vice-versa. That’s just what it is all about. That’s the beauty of all humans. We all come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. But the way we look on the outside, our color doesn’t make anyone better than the next. We are all beautiful in our own right. So it is just appreciating the variety within the black community. Whether you are red bone or black as chocolate, you are beautiful and embrace that.
Do you think this song will speak to all races?
For me, it’s specifically targeted toward the black community, but anybody can draw from that, I think. If you’re that open-minded, you can. It all depends on you as the person.
What does the second part of the song title, "A Zulu Love," mean?
I can't speak on Kendrick's exact meaning, you need confirmation, but I think it's a double meaning. I think he is referring to the actual Zulu Tribe in Africa, as well as Zulu Nation as I am a member.
There are some lines worth talking about from your verse. One in particular, “If you don’t see you beautiful in your complexion, it ain’t complex to put it in context/Find the air beneath the kite, that’s the context.”
The beauty and fun part of writing is you can write something that has double, triple meaning. One play from context is just talking about taking something bad and finding something good in it. I guess that’s putting the air beneath your wings or whatever like you’re a kite. Just playing on the words too with context that people in jail when they send them letters, they call them kites. Playing on that thing when they’re in jail, they are a con and this is their text. It’s a play on that too. Let me think—there’s another one in there. [Laughs.]
Your verse fits his style very well. How would you describe your chemistry together?
I can’t speak for Kendrick, but for me one thing is, outside of being my peer, I’m also a fan. Outside of being an artist, I’m a fan of music and I’m a fan of Kendrick. I listened to all his projects and you get to know the person through their music, especially when their music is as honest and as personal as Kendrick makes his music. Anytime I do something, with Kendrick or Ab-Soul or Big K.R.I.T., I know enough about their music and enough about their story that they have put out to the world that you kind of have an idea from where you kind of take it if that makes sense.
That’s what it is for me, when somebody asks me to get on a project and we together like that. It’s not always about “Oh I wanna body them and have the best verse.” Yeah, there’s competition among all artists. That makes for great music, but for certain songs and themes, it’s more about the music. I want to contribute the best way to make this song as best as it could be. You know when I sent it to him, I hit him and I was like, “I sent it. Let me know what you think. ’Cause, you know I want to do it right. I want to match your vision.”
When you sent him your verse, what did he say?
He said he loved it and he said it was perfect. He talked to 9th and he did the same thing. It’s crazy that I haven’t heard his part and we didn’t talk in deep discussion in so many words. This isn’t verbatim of course, but it fits perfectly. I guess if he didn’t like it, it definitely wouldn’t be on this album. [Laughs.]
So you heard it for the first time yesterday?
Yeah, I heard it last night. It was myself, 9th, a few artists on the label. We got in the room together probably like you did when you were growing up. I know when I was growing up and a CD came out, we didn’t have social media. We all just got together and we listened to it from front to back together. And we talked about it afterwards. This is a phenomenal project man. It’s just a project you can’t put in the box. I can’t even call Kendrick a rapper. He’s just an artist. To be that talented and draw from everywhere from funk, to draw from soul, to draw from hip-hop, to draw a little bit from rock and make this album. To do spoken word. That’s true artistry and musicianship. That’s what makes legendary artists. I’m excited for him.
The credits for the song are incredible. Produced by Thundercat and Sounwave, additional production by Terrace Martin. Keyboards by Robert Glasper. Do you wish you were in those types of studio sessions sometimes when everyone is working together?
Any opportunity you can be around musical genius like that. Whether you are participating or not, just to be a fly on the wall. Just absorb that energy; you are gonna take away something from it. Terrace, man, that’s a room full of talent.
It also had background vocals and scratches by Pete Rock.
Yeah, and Lalah Hathaway.
Have you and Pete Rock worked together before?
We did a song called “Be Inspired.” He didn’t actually produce it. Khrysis actually produced it, but he rapped on it. It was me, Pete Rock, and Lecrae. There’s also one beat that I got from Pete Rock. But I never released it. We worked together, but the world hasn’t heard it.
Is Kendrick going to return the favor on your next project?
I think it depends on the record. If there's a record that he is inspired by, I'm sure we'll work again. We have a lot of respect for each other. He's always been a big supporter. And, he gave me a verse a couple years back. This is our second time working together. It’s all when the timing is right. You never know. Either way, as long as he keeps creating great music and he’s happy, it is what it is. I appreciate the artist that is Kendrick Lamar. Just to be on this project that’s enough for me. We’ll see what happens.
Are you working on anything this year?
We have a re-release for Beauty and the Beast coming out real soon. We gonna add some additional tracks. I’m working on a sophomore album now, which will be out probably fall of this year. Honestly right now, I have a bunch of ideas down and verses here and there. I have a few beats, but recording-wise, I’m kind of just getting started.