Band of the Day

2011.11.28

Psalm One

A former chemist-turned-rapper trades molecules for microphones
I’m sharper than a blade in the hands of Blue Beard the Pirate!
lyrics from Ginsu Knives

Psalm One is the stage name of Christalle Bowen, a rapper from Chicago, Illinois. As a teenager, she studied many different musical instruments and sang in her church's choir. It wasn't until middle school when she discovered hip hop, after seeing rappers like Common and All Natural perform at local events. While studying chemistry at the University of Illinois, she made her debut performance at a student union showcase. She took on the name Psalm One in 2001, and recorded her debut EP, Whippersnapper. In 2002, just before her college graduation, she released her first full-length album, Bio: Chemistry. She went on to work as a chemist in a food safety laboratory in Chicago, while pursuing rapping during her free time. By 2006, Rhymesayers signed her to a record deal and released her first commercial album, The Death of Frequent Flyer. Musically, she's known for drawing from a variety of influences—from blues, to jazz, to pop—and incorporating them into her flows. Alongside making her own music, she's actively involved in a number of groups that help support underserved kids (the song “Going Smart,” for instance, was written and recorded with a group of 8-11 year old school kids in Oakland). In 2008 she started Charm Lab, a group that provides mentors and tutors for children, as well as distribution for independent musicians. She recently released two three volume EPs (Woman At Work and Get in the Van), and is currently touring around North America.

Like many American latchkey kids growing up in the 90s, rapper Psalm One (the stage name of Chicago's Christalle Bowen) used to come home from school and watch “Bill Nye the Science Guy” while waiting for her parents to come home. Taking a shine to science, she even went on to study chemistry at the University of Illinois. In between writing lab reports and memorizing the periodic table of elements, Psalm One started performing as a rapper in her free time. Just before her college graduation, she released her first LP, aptly entitled Bio: Chemistry. After a post-grad stint working as a chemist in a food safety lab, she officially traded molecules for microphones as she became the first female rapper signed to Rhymesayers. Her second LP, The Death of a Frequent Flyer, is an eclectic and witty collection of songs that showcase exactly why she's the first lady of the prolific rap label. “Rapper Girls” is a bitingly sarcastic commentary on mainstream female rappers who choose to show off their looks and sexuality, rather than focusing on the music: “They keep you around to prevent a sausage fest/and you'll do just fine 'cause of the gloss and chest.” Other songs, like “Macaroni and Cheese” (featuring Ka Di), are completely tongue-in-cheek. Yet one of Psalm One's greatest strengths is that, perhaps from her pure conviction combined with catchy beats, she has this natural ability to make mundane lines like “little bit of milk, little bit of cheese, little bit of butter” and “I make a mean bowl of macaroni and cheese” somehow sound like the most exciting tasks in the world. Psalm One is like a mad scientist on “Beat the Drum,” mixing the perfect combination of Latin-horns and funky beats to achieve an explosively danceable reaction. Although it's been a few years since her last full LP release, Psalm One has kept herself busy with two on-going EP collections, Woman At Work and Get In The Van. Both collections are split into three volumes revolving around specific themes—Woman At Work focusing on being a female in the music industry, and Get In The Van about being on the road and touring. Whether she's analyzing chemical compounds, or rapping about comfort foods, Psalm One proves that she's just as skilled behind a microphone as she is in a laboratory.