For most, myself included, college is a place where you discover more about who you are and navigate the transition from being a teenager to becoming a young adult. Many attend classes and prepare for exams with the hopes of becoming an engineer, lawyer or in my case, a journalist. In the case of Marlanna Evans, she wanted to become an accountant. Luckily for her and everyone else, her collegiate experience took her down a different path.
Through her time at North Carolina State University, Evans found her way into music. From groups like H2O to Kooley High, a true musician was born. Back then, she was just a college student. Today, she’s known as a three time Grammy nominee named Rapsody.
Recently, I got a chance to chop it up with her about her tour with Big K.R.I.T, her days at NC State, working with Mac Miller and much more.
How has the tour been so far?
It’s been good. It’s been an amazing experience. We’re about halfway through.
I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time and it’s been interesting seeing how you’ve navigated your music career. You started at North Carolina State and went from there. From what I understand, you were a part of a group called H2O while you were in college. How did that group come together while you were in school?
It was just something that kind of happened naturally. I was working with this guy named Alex at the time, who everybody knew in the Hip-Hop world around the school. He was cool with Kooley High and Charlie Smarts. We just had a mutual love for Hip-Hop and music in general. He knew Tab-One and everybody that ended up being in the group that was Kooley High.
He asked me if I wanted to start a Hip-Hop organization. He said that I know you and a few other people that miss the essence of Hip-Hop on campus. There was nothing really for us or that catered to our culture. We all got together and started this organization called H2O. It was just us and a few other students on campus, so we opened it up to artists within the community.
It was just something where we’d have freestyle battles, free shows on campus and it just became a place where people could come perform and showcase their talents. It was also a place where people could have fun because that’s a big part of Hip-Hop.
I think one year we even did a fundraiser for J Dilla’s foundation. We were just a bunch of kids trying to have fun with Hip-Hop.
In that group, it was me and about 20-30 other people in the organization. Within that, there were about six of us that would always be together making music and hanging out. Then, 9th Wonder heard it and he loved it so much. At the time we came out, it was about 2005 or 2006 and there weren’t a lot of Hip-Hop groups anymore. He asked us, “Why don’t y’all just become a group?”
Ultimately, that’s just how I fell into the group. It was really good for me because I was new and they had all been doing it forever. This was my first time really getting into the studio, recording and doing shows. Luckily, I was able to be around friends that I was comfortable with that made it easy for me to learn. Overall, it was just a good experience for me.
Going off of that, was there a moment during college or right after college that made you decide that music would be what you made your career out of? How did your family react when you told them what you wanted to do with your career?
To be honest, I won’t say that I was fearful, but I was a little reserved about telling them at that point that I had made that decision. I was actually a junior in college when I had decided. I was in school for accounting, but I knew deep down that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. My passions have always been music and basketball. At that point, I knew basketball was over, so music was it for me. It was a passion I had as a kid and it never left.
Once you have a mentor like 9th Wonder that shows you it’s possible, it’s special. Especially being from where I’m from, he showed me that you didn’t have to move away. I could stay in North Carolina. I also had a good support system with my friends from H2O.
You know it’s something I always did on the side, but I never told them it would be my grand plan. They knew I’d do music, but it was always a hobby and for fun. It was just something that I kept to myself to protect my confidence and my mental [health]. I want my mental space to always be in a positive place and not to feel like I was disappointing my parents. My mom would call and ask if I was looking for a job and I’d say yes knowing good and well I wasn’t looking for anything.
It wasn’t until about two or three years after I’d gotten out of NC State that they’d caught on, realized that I hadn’t gotten a job and I was focused on music. I went through those [hard] times, but they’ve always been supportive. Sometimes they would just say that they want me to be stable and they don’t want me to worry about how I’m going to make it. At that moment, I knew that they didn’t really understand the business, how long this takes or that you can make money and have a successful career without being on TV or radio. When they were growing up, that’s just how they knew how artists got on. In the end, it was just the process that I had to go through. Once I had made my decision, I knew I was going to put everything into it. I knew I had a plan and that I had a vision. I had to see it before they did.
Had you met 9th Wonder before or after you had decided to pursue music as your full-time career?
Before. I had met 9th Wonder the summer of 2005. The first two songs he heard from me were the first two songs I had ever written and recorded. That was at the very beginning. It was almost the first month I had ever done any music.
During the next semester, I had decided that I’m going to do music and I was going to put all I can into it. 9th Wonder told me I had something special. I just had some things to work on, so I went to work and that was it.
“He loved Hip-Hop more than anything. He was special. That’s what I’ll always remember and hold dear.”
One of your earlier projects that introduced me to your music was Return of the B-Girl. I think I first heard it when I was a sophomore or junior in high school. It also introduced me to someone who would later become one of my favorite artists, Mac Miller. What was your relationship with Mac like? What was he like to work with?
It’s funny that you say that because it’s usually the other way around. Usually, some of my fans were Mac Miller fans first and he introduced me to them. To hear you say that I introduced you to him is crazy to me.
Mac was a blessing. With him, what you saw is what you got. He was a fun loving kid. All he liked to do was have fun, make people laugh and make music. Everything about him was pure. You could tell that he had a really beautiful aura, spirit and energy.
He was also crazy talented. Working with him, it was just always easy and fun. He was the cool dude in school that everyone knew. He welcomed everybody with open arms and made you feel comfortable.
When we worked together, there was no pressure. Nobody was trying to make a “hit record” or anything. We just wanted dope beats and dope rhymes. We would write, record and listen to rhymes. He would probably tell you, “that’s tight!” We’d be with everyone from the Most Dope crew, so it was really like a family, especially in those early years.
Later on, I didn’t talk to him as much, but it was always love. He’d reach out every now and again and vice versa. That was Mac. He loved music. He loved culture. He loved Hip-Hop more than anything. He was special. That’s what I’ll always remember and hold dear.