Rapsody - Laila's Wisdom [Review]
Rapsody is one of Hip-Hop's most underrated MCs. A long discography filled with beautiful artistry, sharp lyricism and soulful cadences yet she is barely mentioned among Hip-Hop's finest rappers. She was a highlight on Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" and has collaborated with the finest lyricists in hip-hop yet she lacks the promotion that others have had due to her gender.
She possess the type of lyricism that demands respect and she can go toe-to-toe with any MC. Her lyricism is so revered that it made Ab-Soul reference a famous Jay-Z line to praise her skill, "If skills sold, truth be told, I'd actually be Rapsody". In addition, legendary lyricist, Black Thought rhymed, "Been a lyrical grand wizard like Theodore, I'm on the same wave length the sister Rapsody is on" - another clear nod to her skill. Unfortunately, Rapsody is rarely mentioned in conversations of the best lyricists today and she deserves to be there. However, this album acts as a cornerstone in career. It's her first official album release under Roc Nation. It ultimately highlights why she can no longer be denied as one Hip-Hop's premier acts. Laila's Wisdom is a masterpiece and easily, my favorite Rapsody project to date. In the same vein as J Cole's 2014 Forrest Hill Drive, there is no track worth skipping.
Her selection of beats is also intriguing as she manages to mix Gospel elements along with Soul, R&B and Hi-Hop to illustrate vivid storytelling with sociopolitical undertones. Everything is near perfect from start to finish. The introduction was produced by Nottz and samples Aretha Franklin's "Young, Gifted And Black". A beautiful sample followed by storytelling about her upbringing, as she writes an ode to her maternal grandmother - Laila.
The introduction is followed by "Power," which features Kendrick Lamar and Lance SkiiiWalker. The song details objects that hold power in their lives, whether tangible and intangible. It's simply exhilarating to see two heavyweight MCs trade lyrics whilst showing their views on political, cultural and social issues in America. Rapsody uses a sharp cadence whilst Kendrick counters with a dark and aggressive flow that connects with Terrance Martin and 9th Wonder production. Although the song focuses on other facets, it is evident that they are truly illustrating their lyrical power to the rest of the Hip-Hop industry.
"Chrome (Like Ooh)," follows in the same path and shows her ability. She makes her triple entendres and puns seem effortless and they simply go "over your head". The beat switch up is incredibly soulful, unexpected and simply makes one gasp "Ooh!" (as the title intends). The following song, "Pay Up", is To Pimp A Butterfly reminiscent as it interpolates funk elements as Terrance Martin (an integral part of To Pimp A Butterfly) ensures that his keyboard is at the forefront of a well structured concept. Rapsody shows her storytelling by creating analogies of a male and female character being gold diggers in their respective relationships. "Sassy," is my favorite song on the album, she manages to create a great "feel good" song which uses Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise" poem as inspiration. The song has definite socio-cultural undertones as it sends a message of determination and perseverance as a method to achieve goals. However, she manages to make it thoroughly enjoyable by floating on a jazz inspired beat by Eric G.
"Nobody," features Moonchild, Black Thought & Anderson .Paak. Anderson and Moonchild. Anderson melts like butter on the hook as he brings soulful element on a distinct jazz, 9th Wonder created, beat. Rapsody continues to be "in her bag" as she delivers imagery and storytelling with religious undertones. Black Thought rhymes aggressively as he shows his wordplay and gives some introspection to his life as he illustrates how skill. The beat switches create a sudden change that makes the song even better as Moonchild's beautiful cadences harmonize perfectly with the beat.
“You Should Know,” served the first single released for this album and it acts a clear message to those who disrespect her craft due to her gender. She shows why she deserves to be among today's elite rappers. Both verses are insane lyrically, filled with rife wordplay. She bodies another beautiful beat and it's clear that she's in her element. Busta Rhymes also features on the song as he does his best "Barry White" rendition. Busta's poetic and passion-filled verse is incredibly fitting for the second half of the beat, it ultimately comes out as a smooth verse as Busta's aggressive nature and cadence compliments the slow beat perfectly.
"A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love," features Musiq Soulchild and Gwen Bunn. Musiq and Gwen have clear chemistry as they harmonise beautifully over a beat that would typically fit Musiq Soulchild. Rapsody gives some insight on her "highs and lows" in her romantic relationships. She does this while creating a feeling of nostalgia and just pure bliss. The song has several beat switches, which has become something to expect with Rapsody, and she masters it excellently. The end of the track has a saxophone that is reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar's "Ab-Soul's Outro" as we hear Terrance Martin and 9th Wonder's boundless influence. It serves as the perfect song to transition from as the next song, "U Used 2 Love Me," follows in the same vein. Terrance acts an official feature as we hear a keyboard motive reminiscent of that same Kendrick song.
"U Used 2 Love Me," sees Rapsody continue dialogue about her prior relationships. Her storytelling and cadence works well and sees her continue to evoke feelings of love and sadness. The song creates nostalgia, somewhat alike to classic 2000s R&B songs. The final song on the album, "Jesus Coming" is a fine example of "saving the best for last". It begins with gun shots and police sirens, a clear indication of her direction on the song. On a relatively mellow and slow beat, 9th Wonder samples Otis G. Johnson's "Time To Go Home" . She rhymes about the struggles of being black. She creates several analogies as she shows why her storytelling is so revered. She speaks on racism that black people experience daily, the ongoing black on black violence in communities, police brutality and even - military/navy personnel risking their lives. She does this while referring every scenario to Otis singing "time to go home". The song is also assisted by Amber Navran's angelic vocals that support the feel of the song. The song concept is complex yet she delivers it exceptionally. It acts as another firm reminder of why her skill set is truly elite.
Although I always try to be thorough and detailed when reviewing, I usually pick certain songs on albums, however, this album has no obvious low points. It's a 14 track album with no "skippable" songs and I could easily write about the songs left out. Laila's Wisdom has my early vote for album of the year as the quality is unparalleled. I usually struggle to listen to albums that are so introspective consecutively but I've played this continuously with ease. Her connection with 9th Wonder and Terrance Martin is impeccable as she flows over incredible beats with no struggles whatsoever. Her storytelling has reached a new high as she rhymes of social injustice, political issues and her own life whilst making it incredibly enjoyable musically. I always felt that Rapsody's disconnect was her musicality (in comparison to her lyricism) but this album says otherwise. Her ear for production is outstanding and all her features fitted each song impressively. It's clear that the only thing holding her back is her gender. We, as a culture, need to refrain from categorising her as "the best female MC" as it's clear, she's ahead every female act but she might be better than all her male counterparts too!
Stream and download the album here:
Apple Music: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/lailas-wisdom/id1276699895