The Mill — Friday, Nov. 4 to 10:30 p.m.
Rapper Psalm One released The Death of Frequent Flyer in 2006 on Rhymesayers, the label she was on at the time. A decade later, she’s freshly label-less and taking flight, with a massive output and an unwaning popularity. She came to Iowa City during Mission Creek last year, and returns on Nov. 4 for the Witching Hour festival (tickets available here). She spoke with Little Village about her past year, and the joy she finds in collaboration, whether with her collective Rapperchicks or with the children she mentors in Chicago schools.
Why don’t we start with the work? You’ve got a pretty impressive array of output over the course of your career, but this year you just sort of went above and beyond. You had an album [Shitty Punk Album], and the triple-album set [Gender Fender Bender]. What was it about 2016 that got you fired up?
I dealt with a lot of personal trauma in 2016, and it made me really re-evaluate why I make music, and what I’ve been doing all these years. Like a lot of artists who are at least trying to be prolific, have a lot to say or have a lot of music — what happens a lot is sometimes you make a project and it doesn’t come out at all, or it doesn’t come out the way you intended. And so, in that respect, sometimes you’ll have false starts, or the music just takes on a different face than what you originally wanted for it.
For me, calling out Rhymesayers last year, and dealing with a pretty bad breakup, and then dealing with — just personal things that weren’t too positive, I had to flip my thoughts about my output. A lot of the triple-album music really represents music that I spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and money, on, and if it didn’t come out that way, I’m not quite sure how it would have come out.
I’m not necessarily looking to sign any sort of deal with a major label, or even another indie label. I’m open to partnering with people; however, I feel like, in my career, taking control of my own stuff has worked in my favor more often than not. I just wanted to give people a taste, a small taste — which, it’s a triple album, a small taste, which is funny — but just a small taste of what I’ve been doing, what I’m capable of and the kinds of ways I’m going to start releasing music in the future.
So, in terms of a model, then, for release — you feel like that’s something you’ll be doing more of? The large compilations like that?
No, the triple album was more of an experiment. I wanted to see how people would respond to it. I wanted to see if having the triple CD — which is something other people haven’t done, and they don’t sell a whole lot of those — I wanted to see how my fans would take to that. And I just thought it was a cool thing to do.
I’ve been rapping professionally for 10 years, so having a triple-album set I don’t think is premature. Like I said, I have a lot of music that I’ve been working on throughout the years, and a lot of it that’s on Gender Fender Bender I’m really really proud — I mean, all of it I’m proud of, but a lot of it I had different plans for it, bigger plans for it, Rhymesayers plans for it, so I didn’t want that music to just die, just because the plans changed.
It’s good to honor its life.
Exactly. Because I really believe in the music. I don’t record stuff that I don’t stand by. All the music — I have a personal relationship with all of it.
When you say that the difficulties that you faced earlier in the year sort of led up to this, do you feel like creating the album was something that helped you work through them, or just the beauty that was left behind?
Well, basically, the beauty was in the project — the way that the actual triple album, the conception of that project. The majority of the music was already done. This was music that was recorded between 2010 and 2016, so only a small percentage of the tracks actually did not exist. So the beauty for me was in compiling the songs — I still have hundreds of songs in the vault that people haven’t heard. So, it was about figuring out what songs went well together, what periods or eras of my life went well together … and then putting together the artwork and the concepts for a triple album. Two of the albums are mine, and one is a joint album with Angelenah. Even doing that kind of collaboration was something that I personally had never done before. So getting that to life was really rewarding for me.
You’ve done a lot of collaboration, with Rapperchicks, especially — I’m interested in the way that you’ve collaborated with other women. There’s a neat panel that’s going to be going on at the Witching Hour event you’re coming to town for that’s all about creating in female-only spaces. I’m wondering if that’s something you think about consciously when you’re choosing collaborators.
Well, I didn’t. I never really wanted to subscribe to the, you know, “We have to stick together.” I know, intrinsically, we have to stick together because we’re women, but we don’t have to always work together just because, generationally or historically, men don’t reach out as much. But I’ve since come to understand, since collaborating more with Rapperchicks, that not only is it a powerful thing, it’s very well needed.
Creating safe spaces for women, women of color, queer women, queer people — these are all things that have come to the forefront in my life the last year and a half or so: how necessary these types of actions are. So for me, I don’t necessarily consciously look to only collaborate with women, obviously. But when there’s an opportunity to do a female-heavy or female-only space for a show, and it showcases us in a great light, I’m all for it. I’m all for it.
I read in an interview you did with Jessica Hopper a couple of years ago, who’s another Chicagoan who’s going to be coming to Witching Hour — you talked about that you were going to be going to Haiti that year, in 2014. How was that experience for you, and how have you brought that forward in your life and in your career?
Haiti was like a life-changing experience, beautiful and devastating. There’s a lot of poverty there. As quiet as it’s kept, America has never done a good job at helping out, even though Haiti is like a 45 minute plane ride from Fort Lauderdale or something like that — it’s super, super, super close to the United States. So because it’s such a devastated place, but it’s also such a beautiful place, I was able to get a lot of perspective about how blessed we are — at least how blessed I am, coming from America. All the resources that I kind of gripe about not having sometimes, they have even less, regardless of gender. Because they just don’t have it. The money isn’t there, the technology isn’t there.
So for me, just kind of being more in the moment, it helped me sharpen my skills, because I not only worked with adult artists out there, I worked with kids out there too, which is an extension of what I do here in the states. So for me it just took what I was doing and kinda like blew it up even more. It made me appreciate what I have here, even as it’s sometimes not everything that I want.
Tell me more about your work with kids here.
I run a mentor program called Rhymeschool, and I partner with the Intonation Music Workshop here in Chicago. It basically takes a hip hop backdrop and allows me to do projects with kids in underserved areas, and do like maybe videos, maybe we’ll do a workshop where we write a song, or we maybe record, a lot of times we do performances within the school, like assemblies and things, where we perform music that we create as a group. It’s a really fun thing; we’ve been doing it for about four or five years now. Probably going into our fifth year at the end of the year.
We’ve visited schools all over the nation with this program. It’s a way for me, for lack of a better term, to give back. When I started to tour internationally and saw the global impact of hip hop on the world, and the way other nations viewed us as a whole, I felt the responsibility, the personal responsibility, to offer a different alternative to the mainstream rapper, or what they think about someone from Chicago. For me, it offers an alternative to the … notion that hip hop is at fault for some of the tragedies that happen, some of the tragedies that are happening right in our city. And with children, hip hop can be a way out, it can be a positive thing, and for the most part it is. For me to be able to go into these schools, and do fun projects and maybe even show them a different way, that’s very key in my life, and I have a personal mission to continue to do that as long as I’m able to.
How does that fold back into your own creativity and creative process? Do you find inspiration from the kids you work with?
Yeah, the kids make me smile. The sessions are always lighthearted, and they’re always funny. Sometimes when you’re making music you can take yourself so super serious, and it’s not as fun as it could be. I always like to remember that making the music and making the art is the most fun part of the music business, because the business part isn’t necessarily fun. You know? So, for me, going into the school, having a fun time with the kids and making a cool song, something that everybody can be proud of, that makes me a better writer, makes me a better rapper, makes me more efficient — because we don’t have like an eight-hour session, we have maybe one or two hours to come up with something tangible. So that makes it so we don’t waste time, shows kids time-management skills, shows *me* time-management skills — all of that coupled with the fact that we’re on a mission to do something fun with the kids and have something at the end of those workshops, it just makes me an overall better writer and a better performer.
Genevieve Trainor’s safe space is anywhere with good music playing. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 209.