Female rappers are often talked about with a disclaimer. It’s usually something along the lines of, “She’s great… for a woman.” It’s a stigma that stems from the overly macho, often anti-queer, misogynistic sentiments that plague rap. It makes it exponentially harder for female rappers to get the credit they deserve.
MC Lyte, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Bahamadia and Lauryn Hill are just a few historically prolific female rappers who don’t exploit the popularity of hip-hop (like Iggy Azalea) to make a quick hit. They can hold their own with any other rapper out there, and with her latest album, Rapsody has proven she’s in that elite class.
“Laila’s Wisdom” named after Rapsody’s grandmother, Laila is North Carolina-based rapper Rapsody’s first limited play released through Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. Rapsody, whose real name is Marlanna Evans, has been putting out solo material since 2008, but she’s gone relatively unnoticed until now.
“Laila’s Wisdom,” released Sept. 22, gives you a look into the events that shaped Rapsody as a person and an artist. It’s filled with highs and lows that interchange seamlessly, balancing between funky and upbeat bass lines on “Pay Up” and harmonized choir melodies on “Nobody.”
The majority of this album is an imperious, sincere take by Rapsody on a number of topics: her family and upbringing, love, self-worth and self-image, the power of money, the oversaturation of social media and the state of race in the U.S. None of these topics come off preachy or narcissistic because the album is so honest.
“Black and Ugly” is a prime example of this, as she raps about people criticizing her for her looks as a non-skinny black woman. “I remember when y’all used to call me ugly, isn’t it ironic now you all just wanna love me, so concerned wit weight I’m mo’ Chucky than I am chubby, confidence of a porn star, the day I cut the horns off.”
While Rapsody makes these acute analyses, she also rattles off clever similes. They range from throwbacks to her days watching the NBA or “The Cosby Show,” to modern quips at a college basketball player chronically tripping players or girls who are obsessed with Snapchat.
My only knock on this album is the overwhelming number of other artists featured. Not only are 13 artists featured, but they are spaced out poorly. There are 14 songs on the album and starting with track seven, every song has a feature. It almost seems like Rapsody is trying to cement her own credibility with the credentials of her surrounding cast. The collaborations generally work well, but they detract from what should be a stand-alone solo project.
There’s also a song on this album that was released 11 months ago. “OooWee” features Anderson .Paak and debuted on Rapsody’s last project, “Crown,” which came out Nov. 17. The song is catchy and features another marketable artist, but it doesn’t have a place in this album.
“Jesus Coming,” the last track on the album, is a beautifully sad song that grips you and makes you wonder when you called your mom. Amber Navan’s reverb on it is raw, emotional and evokes sad nostalgia. It’s not a song that’s fun to listen to – it’s talking about the tragedy of innocent people killing one another – but it’s my favorite on the album because of how emotionally honest and beautiful it is. It’s a testament to Rapsody’s range as an artist and how far she’s come from her days of putting out college mixtapes.