Rapsody is very much a ‘rapper’s rapper’. Over the past few years she’s been steadily gaining lots of praise from her peers for her prowess as an MC, even though until this year, she had yet to come out with a fully realized album. I think there’s been a number of factors that have played into her recent achievements.
The buzz she’s generated lately is largely due in part to her standout feature on Kendrick Lamar’s highly celebrated 2015 release To Pimp A Butterfly. That guest spot gave her some solid momentum heading into this full scale project, even more so after dropping the single, “Power”, which features Rapsody trading bars with Kendrick himself.
This track is one of nine songs produced by fellow North Carolina native and legendary producer 9th Wonder. Other production and writing credits also include Nottz, Black Thought, and Busta Rhymes, among many other great hip-hop related artists. Clearly, Rapsody has a lot of support and talented people in her corner, but if there’s one thing this new album proves, is that she is as capable a rapper as anyone else in 2017.
Laila’s Wisdom is Rapsody’s second studio album, and her first under her new label Roc Nation. Aesthetically, it’s highly influenced by the roots of black music. Given the producer credits, it comes as no surprise that the beats here are soulful, smooth, and full of energy. The song “Pay Up” is driven by a funky guitar riff and infectious chorus layered in multiple vocals, while “Ridin'” is a chill, lean-back with the top-down anthem.
The features here are great too. Anderson .Paak sounds like a godsend on “Nobody”, one of the smoothest tracks on the entire record. It’s segmented into three different parts, starting by addressing the ambiguity of truth, and finishing with Rapsody clowning on the character flaws of individuals in the digital age, but then regressing, admitting she also succumbs to the same criticisms.
These are just some of the many great song themes explored on this album. Rapsody doesn’t waste too many bars, talking about topics like the importance of artistry, racial barriers, and nodding to rap greats like Lamar and Jay-Z on multiple occasions. She does this with so much swag and confidence too; the verses where she’s just bragging turn out to be some of the best ones.
As lyrical as this album is, it’s also pretty catchy and has some really sticky melodies woven into the songs. “Black & Ugly” is a soul-infused track with a great BJ Chicago the Kid feature, and “Sassy” has a wonky groove with a weirdly catchy chorus. The title track may be the most motivational cut, with a building piano instrumental laid over a powerful Aretha Franklin vocal sample.
I can’t compliment the beats enough for how well they incorporate the samples. A lot of the time, when a record has a lot of mid-song beat changes, like this one, it makes for a cluttered, inconsistent listening experience. However, that’s not the case here, as all of the transitions are seamless and really give depth and variety to a lot of the songs, such as on “You Should Know”.
When Kendrick Lamar made To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015, there wasn’t anybody else who could have released that album. From its to sonic foundation to its lyrical themes, Laila’s Wisdom is a continuation of that record. In the long term, they could potentially be grouped together as seminal conscious rap albums from this era.