COUP D'ORIELLE/CC BY-SA 2.0 Rapsody’s debut solo album, The Idea of Beautiful, came out in 2012.
North Carolina rapper Rapsody has been featured on huge projects, including Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, but her solo work made no real waves.
However, that ended on Sept. 22 when Rapsody released her second album Laila’s Wisdom, a phenomenal work that will hopefully springboard her into the spotlight.
This album is full of objectively great songs. The lyricism, the sounds and the flow all work together to create an almost picture perfect album.
There are no awkward verses, no songs that drag on, no skits that feel haphazardly tossed in — this is a project that is artfully crafted with barely any missteps.
The heavy hitter on Laila’s Wisdom is obviously the song with Kendrick, “Power.” Whenever Kendrick steps on a track, it feels like the bar for success is elevated.
He flows over this dark, slapping boom-bappy beat with absolute ease, hopping across the rumbling bass with a verse that feels like it can fall apart at any point.
Kendrick has a style of rapping that he brings out occasionally. I call it “the hot-potato flow,” where he spits in a haphazard, quick fashion, tossing words out with seemingly no care. It constantly feels like he’s about to lose the flow, but he tosses it up again, switches the style and keeps spitting.
Kendrick is one of the few artists known for taking over songs (along with Drake and The Weeknd), but he does not succeed here. Rapsody not only keeps up with him, but has some great verses and flows of her own.
The best song on this album is “Black & Ugly.” The beat is gorgeous and the vocal chops are pleading, begging and sweet.
The piano fills that burst in the higher frequencies feel like the chirps of birds or the whistle of the wind. The chorus, featuring BJ the Chicago Kid, feels like a riff from Django with a heavily layered, gospel chorus.
This also has one of the hardest Rapsody verses on the project. She barrels over the rumbling bass-heavy beat, with clever wordplay (“Get better like Lamar did/I’m never gonna owe dem”) and a flow that seems unstoppable.
“Black & Ugly” is also a song of victory, a song of epiphany and poise. Rapsody spits, “Confidence of a porn star the day I cut the horns off/Took all my demons and threw them down the hill in a buggy/Then stood on top the hill and did the milly rock and dougie.”
Even in this three bar section, you can see the kind of subtle cleverness that Rapsody imbues into her verses. This is true of her writing throughout the project—layered and clever. The way that Rapsody handles subtle wordplay and references—specifically the demon, hell and horns—is very reminiscent of Jay-Z, with his double/triple entendres.
Laila’s Wisdom isn’t just dusty beats and boom-bap drums. A song like “Sassy” shows how dynamic and multifaceted this project is. The up-tempo beat, with its funky, kick-led rhythm, feels like a dance hit.
Rapsody corrals the beat with a flow that feels natural—something that is exceptionally impressive. The yelps and yips in the background are strange, but they fit the weird funky vibe of the song.
Along with all the praise on Rapsody, I want to quickly mention one of the masterminds of this project: the man behind the boards, 9th Wonder. That man is a legend in the Hip Hop game, and is criminally underappreciated.
Almost all of the beats on this project were worked on by 9th and he created a hell of a soundscape.
The samples are all gorgeous, with great chops and drums that feel so natural and unique. Each song sounds completely distinct, while fitting a soulful classic vibe.
There is one part of the album that I think was a major mistake: the song “Chrome (Like Ooh).” I really tried to like it. The beat is crazy—kind of like “Accordion” by Madvillain. Rapsody somehow finds a niche into which she lets loose her intricate verses.
My issue is with the mix of the song. On the first beat of every bar, there’s a booming Sub 808 bass hit, which is boosted far too loud. It messes with the harmonics of the rest of the song.
No matter how hard I try, the monotonous, deafening bass is impossible to get past. The beat switch in the middle of the song saves the track, allowing a whole new lush beat to burst in.
The second part is beautiful. Rapsody continues dropping hard truths; “I was taught to respect the driver more than the ride.”
Remember back when I said “Black and Ugly” is the best song on the album. Two paragraphs later and I’m already taking that back. This is the kind of project where each listen brings a new favorite song.
Right now, I think that “Jesus Coming” is the peak of this project. It’s a gorgeous closer—almost seven minutes of the wonkiest, most delicate beat I’ve ever heard. It barely classifies as a beat, with just a random wail and a small piano melody—no drums.
Amber Navran lays some great vocals over the chorus of “Jesus Coming,” and Rapsody does exactly what Rapsody does across the whole album: snaps.
“Jesus Coming” is a crushing song about violence, death and the loss of innocence in the projects. The juxtaposition between the naiveté of childhood and the terribleness of senseless loss is devastating to listen to.
I highly recommend Laila’s Wisdom. It’s a breath of fresh air in the stale, trap-flavored, Xanax-tinged hip-hop that currently dominates the charts.
This album is already in contention for the best rap album of the year. It is so easy to re-listen to and with each listen, you’ll find new lyrics and themes that you missed on the first listen.
This is an album that continues to get better, both in its musical beauty and in the wealth of thought and feeling in the verses.
I’m glad that Rapsody, who blessed us with a bunch of great features, has transcended her role as second fiddle and created a phenomenal solo project. I sincerely hope that this project gets the respect and attention that it so clearly deserves.