BY PARKER KLYN
“Call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens / We all on the same team, colors ain’t mean a thing.” Rapsody concluded her show-stopping verse on Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion” with these words, bringing a much-needed positive reprieve from the oppressive darkness of To Pimp A Butterfly. The verse was Rapsody’s introduction to a national audience, and she made the most of her time.
Finally, after a five-year wait, Rapsody has released her first major label album titled Laila’s Wisdom. The title is a reference to her grandmother, and in an interview with Complex Magazine, Rapsody described that wisdom as this: “give me my flowers while I can still smell them.” She means not to wait until it’s too late to experience the best things in life, and that sentiment is reflected in Rapsody’s workmanlike approach to hip-hop. “These are my flowers that I’m giving y’all,” she says. “Love yourself, have confidence, be inspired by the music or just let it heal you.”
Rapsody may be from North Carolina, but her sound is definitively New York, reflecting her recent signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. Boom-bap beats and jazzy, funky instrumentals populate the 14 tracks on Laila’s Wisdom with interesting little detours within. The opening title track chops us a dusty old soul sample, and Rapsody drops literally dozens of pop culture references in a chorus-less verse all about self-love. “They say we three-fifths human, well, the rest of me’s an Autobot,” she laughs. She rarely gets explicitly conscious, instead dropping casual one-liners that remind us that black people face quiet oppression every day.
Hip-hop isn’t known for its sappy love songs, so it was refreshing to hear Rapsody explore love from multiple angles. “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love,” like the title would indicate, is an examination of the ups and downs of a relationship. “U Used 2 Love Me” is more bitter, evoking a very relatable sentiment about how we sometimes feel about our exes, especially if the breakup wasn’t on good terms: “It’s like I woke up one day and I ain’t love you no more / Now everything you do gets on my nerves even more.” It concludes with mixed emotions that are far too real: “Imma always love you forever, ex-boyfriend, but I ain’t in love no more / No, I don’t love you no more.”
Rapsody raps a lot over the course of this hour-plus-long album. But her presence is so calming, so eminently likable, that it never gets stale. One of Laila’s Wisdom’s more endearing moments takes place on “Chrome” when she lists all the album’s producers: “9th, G, Jones, Khrysis, Amp, Kash, Nottz / Mama got soul food cooking in the pots.” In fact, the record feels curated by Rapsody with a whole cast of collaborators, like a family reunion where you might not recognize everyone but you have a great time regardless.
Laila’s Wisdom’s features are consistently fantastic, from some of the biggest names in hip-hop to relative unknowns. Lamar returns the favor with an incredible, dense verse that extends the paranoid narrative of his DAMN. album. Anderson .Paak and BJ The Chicago Kid continue their streak of impeccable features with two soulful hooks each. Busta Rhymes and Black Thought play the role of wizened old head, but the most surprising feature comes from newcomer Amber Navran, whose refrain on “Jesus Coming” is stunningly heartfelt. “I gave away my peace, but I know where to find it / I’m going home,” she sings, returning to God after straying.
The album’s not perfect. “Sassy” is an unsatisfying bit of hip-house, and Rapsody doesn’t have the type of charisma and swagger necessary to pull such a song off. She rarely changes up her voice or flow; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as she’s an extremely talented rapper, but because she sounds so casual and calm, the album begins to feel a little one-note after multiple listens.
Still, Laila’s Wisdom feels like Rapsody’s long-awaited coming-out party. She subjugates the expectations of female rappers like Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, proving that a woman doesn’t need to be a supermodel to be one of the better rappers in the game. “They call me black and ugly / But I go so hard, make the whole world love me,” BJ The Chicago Kid sings halfway through. There’s not a better mission statement for Rapsody’s music.