“I’m the better version of what you used to think and call talent.” – Rapsody
If you were raised on the culture, hip-hop isn’t something you age out of. I’ve finally accepted that, especially since my attempts to abandon it have been futile. A uniquely talented artist or project is constantly reeling me back in. The artist in this instance? Rapsody. The project? You guessed it: Laila’s Wisdom. Since MC Lyte, I’ve readily welcomed any woman’s perspective in this male-dominated culture. More specifically, a multi-faceted perspective that doesn’t center on sex appeal. Varying viewpoints and versatile subject matter confirm that there’s a place for me within hip-hop. Though late, my journey with Rapsody began with 2014’s Beauty And The Beast EP, while her table-shaking performance on Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion” was her introduction to many. Addressing every “-ism” you can fathom, Rapsody’s been among the few artists articulating my sentiments these past few years.
Speaking desires into existence is an underutilized superpower. I vocally clamored for more 9th Wonder after Kendrick Lamar’s “Duckworth”. The universe responded in kind. 9th Wonder handles the bulk of this album’s production. Transported me back to college, where my Little Brother Standom-era began in 2003. However, my praise isn’t solely based on nostalgia. As familiar as the crisp drums and soul chops feel, 9th Wonder, joined by Khrysis, Nottz, Ka$h and Eric G; incorporate live instrumentation and beat transitions that are as fresh and timeless as anything heard currently.
Sampling, “Young, Gifted And Black”, the album begins with its title track. Aretha’s vocals are a prelude to the glory ahead. Rapsody affirms it with her captivating wordplay and relevant content throughout. On “Power”, she explores the notion of authority, distinguishing between what’s inherent and perceived. (“Badge make police feel powerful in the hood/Guns make us feel powerful but they don’t do no good/I know my blackness powerful and they don’t like that/I know some niggas sold theirs, sit back and watch ’em tap dance”). “Black And Ugly” finds her prevailing over colorism and imperfections. (“Black and ugly as ever and still nobody fine as me/No one been as kind as me/Only one kind of me/I’m already better than what you niggas still trying to be”). She navigates the valleys and peaks of relationships while noting the importance of maintaining individuality on the lush trifecta, “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love”. Content may be king, but delivery also determines longevity. Braggadocio is the epitome of hip-hop. Crafting songs with the sole intent of giving your competition pause is a requirement. “You Should Know” is Rapsody’s warning shot. (“Influenced by many but I’m a whole new star, yeah/There’s levels to this but I’m a whole new floor/They talkin’ keys to success but I’m a whole new door/Still slippin’ through traffic screamin’ [that the allure?]”).
As it should, Rapsody’s star shines brightest on the album, even with the prominent Kendrick Lamar and Black Thought in tow. She’s sounds as self-assured as ever. She’s also refined her flow. It’s mostly effortless. Finding flaws here feels like nitpicking, but the album isn’t quite perfection. Though sonically catchy, “Pay Up’s” clichéd money theme feels misplaced on an album chocked full of progression. Also, the hooks that aren’t supplied by guests fall short, as Rapsody hasn’t quite mastered that arena. Room for improvement after a project this solid can be viewed as a plus. She’ll iron out the kinks. Gems form the “Crown” she urged us to remember last year. Armed with an abundance of them on Laila’s Wisdom, Rapsody delivers her best work yet. Clap for her “with her rapping ass.”