Ben Trivett

Rapsody performs 'Aaliyah' for EW's In the Basement

October 07, 2019 at 12:00 PM EDT

Rapsody had always wanted to write a song about being a tomboy. Her interest was based both on her own fashion sensibilities and that of one of her influences: Aaliyah. “Her style was just so dope,” she tells EW, noting that the first time she saw the late R&B singer was in the music video for her 1994 single “Back and Forth.” “She had on the bandana and these black shades. When I saw her, I was like, ‘Yo she’s singing R&B but her dress is crazy and fly.'”

That mood permeates “Aaliyah,” Rapsody’s ode to individuality, and the first track she wrote for new concept album Eve. The song — which Rapsody recently performed on EW’s In the Basement series alongside DJ Face and multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin — looks to create a counter-narrative to what women in hip-hop are supposed to look like. “You define your own sexy,” she says. “For me, it’s whatever I’m comfortable in. I think back to Aaliyah. She was one of the biggest and sexiest artists at that time, and she wore baggy clothes, she was a sneakerhead. So that was my way of relating to her and just saying, ‘Sexy comes in all different shapes and sizes.'”

Rapsody’s idea of originality forms the basis of Eve, with all 16 tracks named after black female heroes of the rapper. The concept came to her while listening to Nina Simone and speaking to her friend about genealogy and the history of North Carolina music.

“It just got me thinking, if you were to make a Rapsody, you would pull from a bunch of different powerful black women, outside of my mother,” she says. “You would get my love for words and poetic side from Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. You would get my motherly nature from Phylicia Rashad. You would get my strong black woman from an Afeni Shakur. You would get my style from Aaliyah.”

Rapsody’s main goal: to show that black women aren’t monolithic. “We exist in so many different spaces and have so many different styles and flavors [that] you can’t put us in a box or limit us,” she says, adding that she wanted “to show that we should all be appreciated in our differences because that makes us who we really are.”

Watch Rapsody’s In the Basement performance of “Aaliyah” above. You can also check her out on the Hip Hop Awards on Oct. 8 on BET, and on the road this fall.

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