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Rita J keeps hope alive on Artist Workshop

Chicago transplant overflows with self-empowering rhymes

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For an artist, finding inspiration can be a tricky thing. Some travel the world. Others travel their neighborhood. Rita J looked no further than her bedroom.

"Everything in my room was artsy, from the books and posters to the CDs," she says, describing the room in her father's Chicago home where she wrote the majority of her debut album, Artist Workshop. "It was very creative and I felt like I developed myself there. I was in my own little workshop, my zone."

While Rita found inspiration in her bedroom, the Chicago native shuffled around from city to city in search of a place to further enhance her artistic development upon graduating from Southern Illinois University. After hopping from Chicago to Miami, she finally found a creative home in Atlanta in 2005.

"The hip-hop community has embraced me," she says in her light, soprano voice. "There are so many female MCs [here] versus when I was in Chicago. In Atlanta I've met so many people from all over the place, and there's genuine friendship among us all, too."

It's not surprising that Rita had no trouble fitting in. Her debut is outlined by her desire to remain positive in an increasingly cynical world – an idea that may be hard to embrace but is appreciated nonetheless. She illustrates her upbeat philosophy on such cuts as "Listen," featuring St. Louis MC Black Spade, and on the mellow "Inspiration," where she declares that her "dreams and aspirations" are only in need of a little "inspiration."

"I'm always encouraging the empowerment of yourself," she explains. "I want women to stand up. Throughout my music, all of those messages come across."

The rest of Artist Workshop, which also features Detroit MC Guilty Simpson, flows in the same starry-eyed, optimistic direction. While the poet-turned-rapper doesn't scratch far beyond the surface of hope and empowerment, there's enough emotion behind every track to engage listeners. For Rita, that's the most important thing.

"Hip-hop can change things," she says, resolutely. "We're all connected through music, it makes it easier to teach people through music. I think hip-hop can really change things for the better."

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