Rapper Psalm One stays true to Chicago
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For the most part, popular music has always been a boys’ club, particularly rock and hip-hop. Being one of the few women at the sausage party comes with its share of baggage, a problem exacerbated when the focus is on gender politics. None of that seems to bother Chicago rapper Psalm One, who flaunts her femininity but is more interested in recognition as a great MC. She may get her wish with The Death Of The Frequent Flyer, her long-awaited second album. Actually, it’s expected that Psalm One will receive her due recognition; her first album, Bio: Chemistry (later re-released as Bio: Chemistry II), announced her as a forceful local talent. Now a part of the Rhymesayers family—home to Atmosphere, MF Doom, Blueprint, and others—Psalm is being groomed for the limelight. She spoke to The A.V. Club before Frequent Flyer’s release.
The A.V. Club: You felt your other album was too “scatterbrained.” What did you do differently here?
Psalm One: It sounds a lot more uniform than my previous work. On Bio: Chemistry II, there’s songs with lyrics from like ’96 to ’02, and some of the recordings are years apart, so you can hear a lot of different places in my life. This album is a very much a snapshot of where I was when I was quitting my job as a chemist and signing on to become a rapper.
AVC: Thaione starts the album, and you don’t show up until three minutes into the first track. Was that a conscious decision to have him…
PO: Open it up? Yeah, and actually at the beginning, my label was like, “I think we should have someone open your album,” and not a lot of people do that. I think Missy [Elliott] did it for her first album, like three minutes of Busta Rhymes and then Lil’ Kim and then she came in. Anybody who was actually waiting for this album, I wanted them to wait a little more, kind of a little joke. [Laughs.]
AVC: How often do you get the “How does it feel to be the woman in hip-hop?” question?
PO: Extremely often. As I do more press, people are starting to get the answer, but when I first started rapping, it was something I didn’t want to address. I wanted to address being an MC, and I just didn’t want to really go there too much. I wanted other people to go there and have me sort of diss them. I love being the only girl; I’ve always been the only girl in the crew, even in high school. But at the same time, I wanted to not just be the girl member; I wanted to be another MC and be just as good as all the other MCs… Because there are so many guys, there are some advantages to it. It’s not all bad—and if you demand respect, you’re going to get it.
AVC: It seems like it can be like a musical ghetto.
PO: Exactly. I definitely don’t want to be novelty, but I know that, in some respects, I probably am going to be. So it’s okay—I just try to keep my raps tight.
AVC: How does Chicago rate for up-and-coming hip-hip artists?
PO: As far as resources, not as much as other places because there are no major labels here, so there are no extremely professional things to look at. This is what I am learning: There is no set way to do it. There’s people you need to know, but there is no set way of going about getting where you need to be. But there isn’t a lot of templates in Chicago for us to look at, and a lot of successful artists leave. I could look at indie-rock here, but that’s not my genre of music.
AVC: But there are a lot of parallels between the indie-rock scene and the indie hip-hop scenes, too.
PO: Absolutely, but a lot of the indie-rock labels here are a lot more successful than the indie hip-hop labels. There’s only like a handful—Molemen, EV’s coming up, Chocolate, and All Natural, and G4, but they’re on the super underground. There’s certain things they don’t even want at the indie level. They’re really do-it-yourself, that’s their whole steez, and it’s working for them. But as far as like “making it,” there’s more resources elsewhere, even in Atlanta.
AVC: That sort of makes sense, but then again, it doesn’t. This is Chicago.
PO: Yeah, it’s so bad because it’s such a rich musical history here, and there’s so much talent here that you can find stars left and right. They might not be completely grown and ready, but you can find some great talent here.
AVC: So if you blow up, are you going to leave and buy a house in the Hills?
PO: [Laughs.] Nah, as far as I’m concerned right now, I’m Chi to the heart.