In a year that has seen seminal releases from Kendrick Lamar and JAY-Z, REVOLT TV's Shaheem Reid's label of Rapsody as a "young legend" doesn't hold any less weight. The North Carolina's latest, Laila's Wisdom, shows her fight for Hip Hop's intangible halo crown with 14 tracks that show her slick ability to rock the mic while exposing a piece of her heart as well.
Named after her maternal grandmother, the album's opening and title track "Laila's Wisdom" finds Rap looking back at her younger self in both a first and third person point-of-view. Featuring production from Nottz, the record feels like a lost instrumental from John Legend's Get Lifted, until Rap takes control of the beat on her own terms. With much of the record offering a reflection on her life, from shopping at K-Mart to being noticed by Hov, the song is a dedication to the titular Laila. For those fortunate enough, the vast worldly view and love of a grandparent has the power to shape a child's feelings, ideas, and even their future.
On that note, let's talk about "Power." Peeling back the many layers and interpretations of the singular word, Rap dives headfirst into an array of subjects. The first verse begins with an implicit focus on the power of the woman, so to speak. "They say it has magic powers, even Magic ain't die," she raps. But just as quickly as the song begins, Rapsody moves onto the over-militarization of law enforcement that acts behind the protection of a prestigious badge. Following suit is her recognition of the powers of her being black, and of religion ("I ain't Five Percent, less we talking the top emcees."). Held together by Lance Skiiiwalker's hook, Rap's two-verse Con Edison flow is complimented by Kendrick Lamar, returning the favor following their collaboration on the To Pimp a Butterfly cut "Complexion". Continuing his 2017 warpath that began with the release of "The Heart Pt. IV" earlier this year, K. Dot kicks "debates about the who's the prominent emcee of the millennium/ And it's all for the benjamins/ And I'm all of y'all nemesis/ And I'm all in all happy none of y'all can fathom who Kendrick is/ The only one that ever did wrote Book of Genesis." The manifestation, magnitude, and wielding of "power" is different for Rapsody and Kendrick, just as it is for everyone else.
Throughout Laila's Wisdom Rapsody has no trouble finding and expressing her own voice, one that core fans have championed as what the game has been missing. While Nicki Minaj continues to be the cultural numero uno in holding it down for female artists, and Cardi B is marking her territory, Rapsody taps into Hip Hop's bloodstream and fills the conscious void that purists yearn for.
In between pockets where her flow holds a candle to that belonging to JAY-Z and 90's-beloved phenom Ms. Lauryn Hill (as she previously did on Crown), Rapsody's ability to nurture - and simultaneously give the likes of Black Thought a run for his money - is perhaps more beneficial to her audience than realized. Rapsody isn't sugar coating any of the content in her rhymes though. She gracefully tells her story, effortlessly piecing together concepts from throwaway sound patterns. On the Anderson .Paak-featured "Nobody," she spits "Nobody know nada/ We all know the fate of Assata if Cuba don't harbor/ Nobody know I'm harder on myself than lonely fathers/ Watching Mrs. Parker, these days nobody know who authored."
An artist is only as great as their willingness to be vulnerable, sometimes a draining bargain when one's life is being shared. But Rapsody does so capably and openly, overcoming judgment and insecurity on boldly-titled "Black & Ugly." When speaking to REVOLT, Rapsody explained the meaning behind the record. "Women have it tough. Everything that you see is judged on the way you look," she said. Today's social media-driven society has highlighted a shallow sense of beauty, something that's merely skin deep. In Rapsody's case, she too has experienced being overlooked for the sake of her appearance. Refusing to conform even her style of fashion to not lend credence to the pressures of how a woman should be, Rap's true beauty lies within her intellect and confidence.
Laila's Wisdom is an old fashioned listen. The production provided by Nottz, Khrysis, and of course 9th Wonder sustain the world that Rapsody has built for her audience, should she slay the cypher or look in the mirror. Legends like Black Thought and Busta Rhymes contribute a great deal to the album. The highly respected wordsmiths ride Rapsody's wave, accentuating her capability to rock a mic like no other emcee can. When the smoke clears it will be apparent that Rapsody is one of the best right now, and Laila's Wisdom should be the project that tips the scale in her favor.
Closing the LP is "Jesus Coming," a somber and heartfelt track that focuses on loss. Constructed of three verses, each it's own narrative, protagonists recall their last few moments of life as they go "home." Sampling Otis G Johnson's 1978 "Time to Go Home," 9th Wonder's record is haunting, to say the least, given that the recurring theme found in Rapsody's update deals with unwanted and untimely departures from the physical existence. The usage of "time to go home" in between stanzas further demonstrate the feeling. As unsettling as it may be, going home and being in a better place puts to rest any fears of a life beyond this plane.