- August 26, 2021
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Rap-Unzel put five years of maturity in between ‘The Rap Game’ and her debut EP, ‘Pun Intended.’
In 2017, a 15 year-old Brazil Barber, who goes by Rap-Unzel, competed on Jermaine Dupri’s The Rap Game — a reality TV series in which lyricists aged 12 to 16 battle for a chance to sign on Dupri’s label. The show had made stars of rappers like Miss Mulatto and J.I. The Prince of N.Y. The teen from Richmond, VA, with a slight frame and long ponytail, decided to throw her name in the game.
Barber had never been in a recording studio or on a TV set before. She wrote poetry from a young age, but only began rapping after a middle school teacher mandated that she enter a music video contest. Since, she’d only posted rap videos on Instagram. (Her Instagram handle has been @therap_unzel since middle school, an impressive elision of the typical teen experience of internet embarrassment.)
But her talent was enough to attract the attention of Dupri’s producers.
Though Barber didn’t win the record deal, The Rap Game changed her life. She realized that she wanted to pursue rap as a career. Five years later, 20 year-old Barber is releasing her debut EP: Pun Intended.
“When you go from being on TV, and being a child star, people have a microscope on you,” Barber says. “They want to see how you transition into adulthood. It can be so difficult, especially in the female rap lane.”
Barber feels as though the rap industry pressures women to lean into their sexuality when they come of age. A double standard can also arise when the star was discovered as a minor: audiences criticize artists they still perceive as children, while popularizing the sexual content they produce. But Barber wants to be recognized for her bars, not her body.
“Back in the day I feel like there was room for everybody,” Barber says. “There were bar-heavy killers like MC Lyte, but there were also the Lil Kims and Foxy Browns who let you know they were getting it on. There’s room for everyone in this game, but there’s one style persevering. There are so many people with so much content, and they’re not shown equal attention.”
Pun Intended focuses on Barber’s lyricism. The six songs do not center a specific style or subject matter. Instead, Barber took the opportunity to experiment. She wanted to please fans from The Rap Game, while opening up multiple possibilities for her musical future.
“I wanted to use each song to showcase a different skill,” she says. “I’m capable of writing melodies, and singing, and writing a hype song. If you listen to this project, you can’t put me into a box.”
Barber began writing the EP two years ago, but because she’s an independent artist, it took time to fund the project. Without label support, it can be difficult to access studio time, or purchase promotional visuals. Barber eventually found family friends with studio equipment, and amassed enough contributions from family and friends to move forward.
The extra time worked in her favor, though. Like many young adults, Barber grew and changed immensely during the course of production. She found herself improving as she practiced, and re-recording tracks with updated lingo. Rap projects don’t often take multiple years to release, but cultural trends shift so quickly that it was necessary to adjust her art.
Fortunately, Rap-Unzel’s clean, on-the-beat rapping is often in favor somewhere. She hopes her official debut in the rap industry will give her an opportunity to play the game.
I’m a freelance journalist based in Houston, Texas and New Haven, Connecticut, where I study English and Creative Writing at Yale. I grew up in South Texas on a steady
I’m a freelance journalist based in Houston, Texas and New Haven, Connecticut, where I study English and Creative Writing at Yale. I grew up in South Texas on a steady diet of The Chicks and Baby Bash, and “Big ‘Ol Freak” by Megan Thee Stallion has been my most-frequented track since its release. I often cover both rap and folk-influenced music. I’m particularly interested in how women and nonbinary artists navigate the hip-hop and country music industries, collective action, and how artists stay financially stable in the internet age. I can be found on Twitter at @riannamart, and via email at email@example.com.