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Transmission
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Music & Film Wed Oct 25 2006

Singing Her Praises

In the Bible, Psalm 1 is a stern warning, concerned with separating the righteous from the wicked. It’s a pretty tall order, issuing a gal from Chicago. Too bad it wasn’t rapper Psalm One’s original choice in name.

“Well, it’s definitely not based on the bible verse,” she laughs. Instead, she intended her hip hop moniker to be the far more clunky-sounding Psalm 65:11, which reads “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.”

“When I was a little chubby girl, I thought fatness in the bible was the funniest thing ever. So, I figured my rhymes have ‘phatness,’ as well,” she says. Unfortunately, the name didn’t exactly roll right off the tongue, and Psalm One ended up changing her name, attaching “One” to reflect her graffiti past.

Fast forward, and Psalm One is a force to be reckoned with, an emerging face in indie hip hop. The woman born Cristalle Bowen started her rapping during high school. By the time she hit college, she started releasing tracks, including the Whippersnapper EP. She paid her dues, and put in her time playing miniscule gigs at various places around Chicago, until she was signed by the indie label Rhymesayers. The label re-released her debut LP Bio: Chemistry in 2004, and suddenly, Psalm One was sharing the stage with fellow Rhymesayer Atmosphere, as well as heavy hitters such as De La Soul and 50 Cent.

And all this while she was still studying chemistry at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. After working as a chemist for a couple of years, Psalm One quit the biz to drop a different kind of science. Her love for both professions often show up in her lyrics; her newest album, Death of a Frequent Flyer, includes the lyrics "Openin’ act rap with the baby bottle / I see right through kids with the safety goggles / Sweatpants holey from the hydrochloric / I smell like chemicals but I try to ignore it."

When asked why she started pursuing rap, Psalm One, speaking from her hometown before she embarked on a nationwide tour with Del tha Funkee Homosapien, is quick to provide correction. “No — rap started pursuing me. Being a broke-ass rapper was calling me. To really make it in hip hop, you’re constantly having to perform and promote yourself, and there was no better time than now. Plus, I can always still be a chemist at 40.”

Backed by vintage soul and blues hooks befitting her hometown, Frequent Flyer focuses on Psalm One’s lyrical skills, often earning her comparisons to strong female rappers such as Lauryn Hill, Rah Digga, and most recently, MC Lyte. She’s a storyteller, willing to dish out tales of her life, loves (both romantic and chemically-based), and upbringing. Though her style is full of traditional hip hop bravado, like many Midwestern rap artists, the effect makes her appear extremely down-to-earth and approachable.

Frankly, it’s a refreshing change. In this age of Lil’ Kims and Fergies, it’s nice to see a female hip hop star not grind on everything that moves. One wonders if being signed to an indie label means she receives the same pressures to be comparatively ghetto fab. “Rhymesayers is great because they don’t tell you what to do. I mean, you have to be something … but I can’t be nothing else but a B-Girl, really. That’s what I am,” she says. “I’m cute enough, if you want to get superficial. I try to keep my girlish figure intact, but at the same time, I’m pretty much just preoccupied with rapping my ass off for you.”

Would it be safe to say, then, that Psalm One regards her music to be more business than pleasure?

Cue that B-girl bravado. “Yeah,” she says, “but if you listen to the business, it’s all pleasure.”

Psalm One performs with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien
Abbey Pub, Friday, October 27.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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