What I found magical about Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is how he created an album that felt alive. Every musical shift is abrupt, every change sudden—it is being thrown down a rabbit hole with no predicting what will happen next. The music moves and you move with it, a different experience than riding shotgun in his momma’s van. TPAB was a complete departure from the traditional familiarity of good kid, m.A.A.d city, allowing the Compton creative to find new companions within free jazz, swinging funk, and inventive, spoken-word storytelling. The album was a melting pot of black music, a cornucopia of sounds finding harmony in one voice.
A beautiful cycle of innovation, elevation, and evolution begins when fearless, defiant, and provocative art enters the creative atmosphere. Minds expand when old ideas are replaced by fresh new ones. This happens in music when a great album exists outside of the designated comfort zone and dares to reinvent what was previously thought possible. The music is granted the power to inspire and influence what comes after; a small, yet strong enough flame to truly begin a wildfire.
Underground blog scavengers know her for being 9th Wonder and Jamla Records' lyrical point guard—for years she has made a name underneath mainstream noses for burning beats and scorching microphones—but To Pimp a Butterfly was the spark that set a new fire ablaze in Rapsody.
Killing a guest feature on Kendrick’s musical masterpiece created a surge of inspiration. It was the expansion of creative limits that she carried with her as she began working on Laila’s Wisdom, her second full-length album but her first to be released through the Roc.
From the first few seconds of the titular opening track, you know you’re in for a heavenly sonic treat when the twinkling keys and soulful choir open up the golden gates for eardrums. The record is beautiful, and that beauty continues to swirl around as Rap slides across the loop both sharply and smoothly, like a knife painting bread with butter. It’s a water-walking performance, what you expect from a top-tier emcee, but the beat never stops moving around her. There is never an excess of sounds but the track is far from minimal.
This is the album’s entire temperament, a casual bombardment of gorgeous sounds. Even on the grand closing, “Jesus Coming,” a depiction of life being lost is done over a marvelous loop, and Amber Navran of Moonchild adds even more soul. It's a stunning piece of music, one of those songs you'll rewind just to dissect all six minutes.
Beginning to end, the music found on Laila's Wisdom is alive. Each record has the racing pulse of a healthy heart. It’s like viewing a canvas covered in color, not a single spot left without a shade of blue, yellow, pink, and green. There's always a sound to latch upon―rather a drum, a note, a melody, or a bar that will pull you in.
If Rapsody’s pen is more like a dagger, these are the kind of raps that puncture. Every way an emcee should display their prowess is showcased. Punchlines, metaphors, stories—it's all here. There are no unnecessary strains, no forced attempts, Rapsody is engrossing without complexity. Her perspective is the world through the lens of a modern black woman; "Chrome" or the infectiously bouncy ode to self "Sassy" feel like songs only Rapsody could make. It's the way she's able to tackle topics of social media, police brutality, Southern life, love, and blackness with such a refreshing point-of-view. I wouldn’t consider Laila’s Wisdom the woman’s version of TPAB, but it's one of the purist panoramas of an '80s-born black woman’s world in this modern age.
For two years, Rap has worked on crafting Laila’s Wisdom, a long journey for 14 songs. The project wasn’t rushed but delicately put together, a rare approach in this age of microwave music. (That also makes this an exciting album to anticipate, knowing as a listener that a lot of time and effort was poured into the creation.) It shows in how full the album feels as if every nook and cranny were tended to with the utmost care. I love how the last minute of “Ridin’” features a looped Busta Rhymes saying, “Turn me up some"—a small touch but such an amusing addition. Even the mixing makes the music sound appropriately crisp.
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There's so much to dive into that a few listens aren't enough to truly capture how outstanding this album truly is.
There are elements of funk, sprinkles of jazz, and R&B bounce. The album is overflowing with pieces of various kinds of music, but the foundation of Laila’s Wisdom is soul. From the samples to the voices that contribute angelic textures, the entire experience is one of warmth.
When rap entered the trap era the music became heavier and darker. By avoiding walking down the past most traveled in 2017, Rapsody found a space much warmer, livelier, and more elegant. You’ll fall in love with the diversity, but it's the cohesive soulfulness that ties all the tracks together. It’s not a long album but the journey is an enjoyable one, by far one of the most gorgeous bodies of work you’ll hear in 2017.
Rapsody's Laila’s Wisdom is the black soul sister that hip-hop has been missing.
3 Standout Tracks
“Power” ft. Kendrick Lamar & Lance Skiiiwalker
The Kendrick feature alone made this one of the album's most anticipated tracks and it doesn’t disappoint. One of the biggest surprises has to be TDE signee Lance Skiiiwalker, an unexpected addition who brings the hook to life with his unique voice. Is that him on the refrain? 9th’s bassline sounds like a wind-up toy being revved up, and the drums burst like little mines exploding, a true foundation for two wizards to spar with words. Rapsody’s OutKast reference will be one of the most quoted lines of this quarter, and Kendrick rapping in Jamaican patois was otherworldly. So many flows, so many bars. This is what it should sound like when great rappers come together.
“Nothing” ft. Anderson .Paak, Black Thought & Moonchiild
Another record that was highly anticipated for its high-profile features. It’s so impressive how Rapsody can have so many exquisite artists and everyone shines like stars in a cloudless night sky. I love the song's concept, how Rapsody makes a list of things “Nobody” truly knows. One of my favorite lines of the entire album is when she raps, “It’s all hip-hop you can’t divide what ain’t different, don’t like all underground and I don’t hate all music that isn’t, I was just making it clap to Waka Flocka last Christmas." Rapsody continues to be a voice of reason and does so with grace and humor. .Paak's hook is so pure that it could cause a baby to cease crying, Moonchild is bliss personified, and I could listen to Black Thought rap Ta-Nehisi Coates' name for the rest of my years.
What I love most, though, might be the ending, when the song makes a sudden shift to two women talking on the phone. It’s a reflection of this age’s fascination with sharing everything. It’s a masterful depiction that's executed brilliantly and lightheartedly.
“Black & Ugly” ft. BJ The Chicago Kid
I will buy 10 copies of the album if Rapsody promises a future EP with BJ The Chicago Kid. The two have a real chemistry, able to bridge soul and rap, and have a song that sounds lovely with a right hook of a message. Rapsody is so good at rapping that it’s fascinating how many quotables she can wedge into a verse. Picking three standout songs was difficult, but ignoring the epicness of “Black and Ugly” would have been a criminal offense. Love yourself enough to press play.
By Yoh, aka Self Care Yoh, aka @Yoh31