At the 2020 BET Hip-Hop Awards, held October 27, North Carolina wordsmith Rapsody took home the award for Lyricist of the Year. Though she was up against four male emcees—three of whom had built their careers on being lyrical mavens—it was no surprise that Rapsody came out on top.
We knew, and she knew, that this moment was long overdue.
Earlier this year, Rapsody’s critically acclaimed 2019 sophomore album, EVE, became the basis of two college courses. One, taught by Simone Drake, a distinguished professor of African American and African studies at The Ohio State University, places EVE in conversation with the writings of novelist Toni Morrison; the other, by doctoral student Tyler Bunzey at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, contextualizes EVE’s tracklist with seminal texts by Black women scholars like Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, and Anna Julia Cooper. Both courses rely on Black feminism and womanism theories and solidify EVE as a text of high intellectual merit in the field of hip-hop studies.
“One of the highest honors is to create art for the culture and have it taught in our educational institutions!” Rapsody wrote on Instagram when news of the courses was announced back in the Spring.
The recognition has been years in the making. EVE was overlooked at last year’s Grammys, despite having received widespread praise. Earlier that year, even Rolling Stone had declared the album, which features a tracklist of 16 songs named for influential Black women, a “masterpiece of hip-hop feminism.” And while Rapsody’s RocNation debut Laila’s Wisdom had landed her nominations for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song, it was Eve that catapulted her into tense “Best Rapper” discourse.
Outraged at the snub, fans took to social media, protesting that the musician deserved, at minimum, a nomination for Album of the Year.
At the October 27 BET Hip-Hop Awards, things played out more favorably for her. But Rapsody’s gratitude and humility remained present.
“This my first award for anything,” she said in her acceptance speech. “I’m happy that it’s from BET…it means something that it’s from a Black network, and it’s for lyricist of the year. The women don’t always get represented for that. I’m grateful.” Next, she paid homage to all the women in hip-hop who had paved the way for her. Finally, in true hip-hop fashion, she shouted out her momma.
It was a memorable moment for Rapsody; earlier this month, students of Tyler Bunzey’s ENG 190 course experienced something similarly epic when the class received a surprise guest speaker.
“I think one girl [said to the instructor,] ‘I think somebody might be Zoom-bombing our class. There’s an extra person here,’” says Treasure Rouse, a political science and history major from Raleigh.
It took a few minutes for the students, who had logged onto the virtual class thinking they’d be reviewing midterm material, to grasp that the Zoom bomber was Rapsody. The artist popped up on Zoom full of good energy and excitement, recalling her exuberance during her BET win, and students had the chance to chop it up for more than an hour with the NC heavy spitta herself. Rapsody greeted each student by name before leading them in a conversation that spanned politics, fashion, and Black women’s hair.
“Hip-hop has always been multimodal,” Bunzey says, reflecting on his course’s wide range of material and media. “[This] allows us to think through things in a more synthetic way, as opposed to trying to include them in a disciplinary lens.”
Arya Kode, an economics and math major who identifies as a child of Indian immigrants, came to the course with little knowledge on American hip-hop culture.
“One of my favorite things about this course are the guest speakers,” Kode says. “That’s a really cool feature that I feel like a lot of UNC classes don’t do—to allow you to engage with people that are actually doing the work in the real world.”
Kode says the experience of being surprised by a Grammy-nominated star was “wild.”
“I was like, ‘Okay, it’s gonna be a chill Wednesday. Maybe I’ll talk once,’” he says, “No! I had to get out of bed and make myself presentable. Even with all that, it made my day. It was a really fun, honestly very casual, cool conversation. Just getting to interact with the creator of the piece that is the centerpiece of an entire semester’s worth of work and discussion—when all the work and discussion has already been valuable—is priceless.”
The Lyricist of the Year award is a testament to Rapsody’s dedication. With ten years in the game, amid increased visibility and popularity, she’s never folded. And she responded to the recognition from hip-hop scholars and their students in the same way as she did her first award.
“Literally the moment she put her camera on, and it registered in my mind like, ‘Yooo this is Rapsody!’—it was super, super cool. And I feel like Tyler did such a good job prepping us for questions to ask,” Rouse says. “It was even more cool because [the conversation] wasn’t just one specific focus. You know, it was just like talking to another person in the grocery store down the street.”
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