Psalm One

The new guise of Chicago rapper Psalm One is Hologram Kizzie. (Nick Bulanda / September 9, 2013)

After years of underground toil, local hip hop artist Psalm One (nee Cristalle Bowen) is liberating herself. This week she releases "Hug Life," her first full-length album under her Hologram Kizzie moniker. The young MC is also trying out new, more pop sounds with her new alias — working with production duo Compound 7 — but her lyricism and approach is as ferocious as ever. She spoke to the Tribune last week from her apartment in Ukrainian Village about what inspired the shift in her work, and how mentoring kids in Chicago and abroad has driven her to succeed on her own terms. The record release show also serves as a benefit for the Carrefour Foundation in Haiti. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Q: Lets talk about this record. It's your first commercial release since 2009, your second as Hologram Kizzie.

A: This album is a bridge from my last EP, which was just trying something new. I didn't want to abandon what I started last year. That was 50 percent of it. The other half was about putting out songs that Rhymesayers hadn't taken to, though it's a sound I believe in. "Hug Life" is very adult and where I am.

Q: Why did you want to want to continue with the pseudonym? This other persona?

A: It was freeing, being Hologram Kizzie, with white hair (laughs). I got to the point where I felt like I was in a prison of abandoning songs. It's been three years of collecting music and having drawn-out conversations with (Rhymesayers) and then abandoning things on my path. This is about doing whatever I want to do, put out what I believe in. There is freedom and a lot of new challenges.

Q: Whats the difference between who you are musically and lyrically as Psalm and who you are on "Hug Life."

A: The work is just getting better. I have grown. I think people, if they are coming in fresh, it will be just like it was when I came out as Psalm in '06 — they are going to want to know "Who is that chick?!" When I was coming into the game, all I wanted was to rap really, really good. Once you have success in your goals — what do you do? You think about what you want people to remember? "Hug Life" sounds fresh, like having fun; it's sexy and it shows the feminine side of me being a rapper.

Q: You are involved in a lot of things outside of music, which often involve music and kids — charity work, talent shows, mentorship, benefits. You are known as someone who does not say no to those things. Is doing all of that just who you are? Is it what inspires your work?

A: It's all life. All feeding into music. There are times I wanted to quit. I can't, because it's not just me pushing for me to success. Success has nothing to do with fame. If I got famous, sure, I would take that ride, but by doing — I exist and I am. I have always traveled, been inspired by art, am an art nerd. I have always been sensitive and in the world in terms of kids growing up now. Rap took good care of us when I was growing up, but our documentation of street rap has turned to glorification. It's crossed a line. Me? I am from the streets. I have been a chemist. I have tutored kids. I am not famous but I am well-respected in some rap circles. I feel accomplished, but there is so much more work to do. I know what I do has a big impact in a small fan base. My responsibilities are to a woman who makes good music and has a big heart and helps people through my music and my education.

Q: Can you talk about what you are about to do now?

A: I am going to Haiti. I run a mentoring program with Mike Simons from Intonation (music workshop) that teaches kids how to be productive through hip-hop-themed projects. It goes beyond music to things like being on time, seeing things through, being reliable. In Haiti we'll be working with local artists to make music and videos.

Q: How did you get started mentoring?

A: When I was in San Francisco, I was working with a mentor with AmericaScores, which is a program that combines soccer and poetry, and I came on as an instructor. When I came back to Chicago I worked tutoring kids in math and science, and one day this kid recognizes me while we are doing pre-calc. "Are you Psalm One," just freaking out in the kitchen. And after that he is excited about tutoring. I think that opened up a lane for me, realizing kids are going to listen to me because I'm a rapper, but I am teaching them something to succeed in school and life.

onthetown@tribune.com

Twitter @chitribent

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.

Tickets: $10 (21+); hideoutchicago.com