The artist Rapsody, otherwise known as “Carolina’s Finest,” has provided casual rap listeners with tantalizing glimpses at her skill over the past few years. Her features on Kendrick Lamar’s legendary 2015 release “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Anderson .Paak’s 2016 “Malibu” have established that she is a rising female rapper with plenty of potential.
Rapsody’s dedicated fans have seen the magic of her latest album, “Laila’s Wisdom
,” coming for a while. After some promising recent releases, namely the 2012 “Black Mamba” and 2016 “Crown” EPs and the 2012 studio album “The Idea of Beautiful,” she has finally emerged from the shadows of underground success.
Her entrance into the hip-hop mainstream is not quiet, either.
A sample of Aretha Franklin’s powerful, soulful voice on “Young, Gifted and Black” kicks off the album. The sample, courtesy of producer Nottz, not only makes a powerful statement on black pride, but also sets the tone for the rest of the record.
In the title track, Rapsody cites her idols, Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, a confirmation that “Laila’s Wisdom” is a record that celebrates blackness and womanhood in all of their glory.
After asserting her pride in “Laila’s Wisdom,” Rapsody continues with “Power,” a single that was released before the album. The song is testament to Rapsody’s confidence and skill, and she does not let Kendrick Lamar’s feature on the track overshadow her own prowess.
On “Power,” the beat is hard, and Rapsody’s raps match the sound. She displays deft wordplay, rapping, “I got it from my God / he said a good shepherd don’t trip over what they heard,” as she reflects on her rise to fame, the lessons she has learned from it and her newfound role in the rap industry. In this case, she sets the bar for herself at the 5 percent of “top emcees.” Here, she makes subtle reference to the Five-Percent Nation, a movement founded in Harlem, New York in the 1960s, which teaches that black people were the original people on planet Earth.
From this point onward, the album’s sound becomes influenced more by jazz and funk. These influences are most evident on tracks like “Pay Up” and “U Used 2 Love Me.” Rapsody’s musical style continues the exciting trend of jazz and funk fusion reminiscent of Lamar’s 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The influence of Lamar’s album is particularly apparent because the record has precisely the same trademark sounds — such as saxophone by musician Terrace Martin — that made Lamar’s album stand out.
But to reduce the project to an imitation of “To Pimp a Butterfly” does not do it justice at all.
Though it is true that both albums utilize an impressive range of jazzy instrumentation, in reality, that is one of few similarities between the two. While Lamar applied an unpredictable dynamism to his voice, Rapsody keeps her flow consistent. The grace that comes with her old-school flow allows her to open up and be introspective in ways others cannot.
Rapsody’s reflective nature allows her to look back at others’ stories, not just her own.
To witness her insightful rapping, look no further than the album’s final track, “Jesus Coming,” in which she discusses death with sensitivity rarely found among her peers.
Rapsody is able to address her own thoughts and insecurities and make them universal at the same time. Whether she is lamenting Western beauty standards in “Black and Ugly” or expressing pride in her femininity in “Sassy,” she makes sure her songs can be appreciated by all kinds of people.
One can compare the facets of Rapsody’s craft to a variety of characters in hip-hop. She has Cardi B’s confidence and brashness, paired with the vulnerability of Andre 3000 and the lyrical dexterity of Lauryn Hill. Her old-school style is a salute to hip-hop purists, sweetened by her myriad reverential references.
There are no clear radio hits on the album, but that does not appear to be Rapsody’s purpose. On “Laila’s Wisdom,” listeners will find bold social commentary and a showcase of the artist’s lyrical skills. Rapsody is evidently more focused on improving her craft than getting airtime or sales, foreshadowing more quality music to come.