“Music taught me life” —Rapsody, “Make It After All”
Rapsody’s music and wisdom will forever be intertwined. Since before 2010’s Return of the B-Girl, Rap has made shades upon shades of life music. From the gutting to the uplifting, from the ceremonious to the darkly truthful, Rapsody has given us a discography’s worth of life lessons to follow.
In celebration of her upcoming album, Eve, let’s case through every full-length project—that means no EPs—Rapsody has on streaming services, and parse the many lessons she’s been teaching us for damn near a decade. Enjoy.
Return of the B-Girl (2010)
Rapsody opens Return of the B-Girl with a humble brag of an intro, noting that she’s nice, but still a ways away from mastering hip-hop. Thus we get our first lesson within the first three minutes of the album: Stay respectful of your craft. Rap goes so far as to echo this sentiment on the title track, too. Indeed, if you are lucky enough to find your passion and make something of it, you must stay a student of whatever game you’re playing.
While “Intro” may be her opening moment, Rap takes time to shout out the incredible women that came before her, laying down the roots for the big lesson of her career. That is, only in knowing where we come from can we ever move forward. On Return of the B-Girl, her hunger and admiration for hip-hop—just look at the feature list and samples—shine.
On “1983,” Rapsody teaches us the value of having a library card, but also the benefit of having a backup plan. While telling us the story of her B-Girl dreams, Rap unwittingly shows us the importance of being pragmatic. When having widespread passions, you can lean into when the going gets difficult. She brings it back to her dreams, both deferred and realized, on “Make It After All,” too.
From “Cherry Red Hot” to “Love Tonight,” Rap teaches us about owning our sexuality to the point of being able to call the shots in the relationship. There’s power in being able to look at yourself and realize you’re okay; in being able to say “I think we gon’ make love tonight” simply because you’re feeling yourself. Not to mention, Rap laces the latter with some venomous bars about loving her life. Rapsody owns both her sexuality and her happiness, and she knows she’s a catch. Even on the romantic “Make Me Say It,” Rap never relinquished her power, reminding us that no partner is worth losing who we are.
In a broader sense, the grand lesson of Return is growth. “Accept responsibility, no arrogance,” Rap spits on “Blankin’ Out,” showcasing the importance of owning who you are to be able to grow. Rapsody matures into her own voice by the end of the tape with her “lyrics deeper than hell,” but along the way, she shows us how to spread our wings and learn from life’s hardships. She’s doling out lessons and learning with us in the same turn.
Part of what makes Return so endearing, then, is how Rapsody remains unaware of the game she’s spitting. The project mostly feels like a freestyle session with your best friend at the local food spot. And so, the final lesson of Return of the B-Girl is to find your people, work with them, nurture and nourish your soul with them, and become alongside them.
Thank H.E.R. Now (2011)
We love the consistency of Rap’s message. Thank H.E.R. Now opens in much the same way as Return of the B-Girl: paying homage. The transition into the tender title track is seamless, with Rap delivering yet another lesson. As she elevates her B-Girl dreams to see herself as a formed artist, rocking stages and stealing the hearts of fans, we learn of the importance of betting on yourself. Your hobbies deserve to be more than hobbies if you can help it, is what Rapsody shows us.
The quiet confidence of “Thank H.E.R. Now”—which reappears across the album, most notably on “Black Diamonds”—rests on self-belief, a strong team, and the overwhelming gratefulness Rap exudes.
With “Black Girl Jedi,” Rapsody elevates and owns her Blackness, and claims her womanhood. Her braggadocio is rooted in an unrelenting knowledge of self that translates into a deep love of oneself. Ushered in by a storm of bars about her tip-top rap performance, Rapsody loudly claims her humanity while standing on a stage the industry deemed to belong damn near exclusively to men. And she has fun with it! The lesson of “Black Girl Jedi”—and later on “Fly Girl Power!”—is one of relishing in your identity, even when the powers that be are looking to erase you.
Meanwhile, on “Sky Fallin’ (My Mind),” Rapsody takes a downtempo approach and lays her anxieties out on wax. The confidence of the first arc of Thank H.E.R. Now melts away as she sinks into a vat of introspection. The lessons here are numerous, with the most pertinent being the necessity of checking in on your mental and being honest about your struggles. As she misses meals and is late to work, she never loses sight of her dream, which makes the second lesson of “Sky Fallin’” one of perseverance.
The triumph of Thank H.E.R. Now, too, is how little Rapsody needs external validation. On “Star Warz,” she strikes at all men who look down on women in the game, or who fail to uplift their sisters in arms. From the track, we glean two things: We do not need others to see our vision to succeed, and women do not need male co-signs to make it in hip-hop. Perhaps even more admirable, is Rapsody finds it within herself to bless those misguided men who don’t want to see women win. With Rap spitting her heart out, we get the sense that she’s going to make it whether or not gatekeepers will let their walls down.
Thank H.E.R. Now is the dream-chasing project. On “Sweetest Hangover,” Rapsody brings us into her world of sleepless nights pining after success. The lesson here is about craft and obsession. As Rap spits about overdosing on hip-hop in the wee hours of the night, we come to understand that to pursue a dream, we must breathe it. Rapsody embodied hip-hop from the jump, which is why her present success not only feels earned but also comes off the heels of powerful tape after powerful tape.
For Everything (2011)
Rapsody opens 2011’s For Everything with a heavy hitter: “I’ve gotta pace myself.” The intro, “Pace Myself,” features Rap hungry for success, while also trusting in the process. From the first two minutes of the tape, the takeaway is that we cannot rush hard work. There is no cheat code for achievement; you have to earn it. Rapsody keeping herself in check humanizes her. With a measured delivery and bevy of punchlines, she gives off the impression she is more than willing to put in the work and stay the course.
On “A Crush Groove,” Rapsody doles out some salient relationship advice, not wanting to lose a friend amid her feelings. She spends the track asking for reciprocity and wishing for communicative openness. It’s a refreshing take on a crush tune that leaves us with the impression it’s better to speak our truths than remain silent with the fear of getting hurt. The track has the coy appeal of budding puppy love, with Rap upping the specificity of her lyrics to bring us into her burgeoning love.
We spend “A Crush Groove” rooting for Rapsody and reminiscing on past crushes. It’s one of the first times Rapsody elevates her life music from easily universal tales of making it to hyperspecific odes that still resonate.
With the title track, Rapsody teaches us that success is not insular. Her victories are the victories of her family and her team. Not only do we see the importance of having a strong support system, but we also note the village it takes to raise and uplift a star on the rise. On “For Everything,” Rap shows us we are nothing without our villages. She does not let her circle become a weight, though. “For Everything” does not reduce to a cry for help in the face of pressure, but rather a celebration of all the people who helped Rapsody evolve into, well, Rapsody. “Culture over everything,” as Rap spits, and family, too. Pay attention to who celebrates with you.
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The sweet love of “A Crush Groove” turns sour with insecurity on the second half of “ABC Guilty.” We hear Rap admit to letting her anxiety get the better of her as she starts policing her man, trusting him less and less as the keys creep on the beat. From her own mistakes, we remind ourselves to not follow in Rap’s footsteps. Though we commend her for her honesty, “ABC Guilty” plays out as a blueprint of what not to do in a relationship. Again, Rapsody humanizes herself, proving herself to be fallible while we learn from her mistakes.
Rapsody focuses so much of For Everything on celebration. On “For Everything,” “Jamla Girls and Jamla Boys,” “Live It Up,” and “Dear Friends,” she paints a picture of her success, who it’s indebted to, and how she plans on rocking with herself when her ship comes in. There is no pretension to Rap’s joy, either. She isn’t popping bottles and showing us up, she’s on the dancefloor with us, because her victory is our victory. Achievement and community go hand-in-hand on For Everything, and the grand lesson of the tape becomes one of loving your village and winning for the right reasons. In that regard, this tape feels so very pure.
The Idea of Beautiful (2012)
Ah, yes, the studio debut. The first lesson of this sparkling debut comes straight from the title. That is, Rapsody challenges us to reconsider what we deem to be beautiful. The social implications are clear: Society has one very narrow (read: white) view of beauty. Rapsody wants us to step outside of that lens and realize beauty is multiple. In that breath, the title of her debut is a powerful mission statement. Where Rap has always concerned herself with speaking truths into her music, The Idea of Beautiful is the first time the rapper takes on society so fearlessly.
Rap delivers her second lesson of the album on “How Does It Feel,” quickly working in a somber truth between bars detailing warring pessimism and optimism: “Peace don’t come cheap.” She follows this up with: “It feel like we all need to love and pray more,” teaching us that to take care of our mental, we must look inward and connect with our flavor of spirituality. Whether that’s prayer or however you find your balance, husband that ritual and nurture it so. There is so much hate and darkness in this world; Rap uses this cut to remind us to seek out light.
On the theme of challenging conceptions of appeal, we have “Precious Wings” and “Kind Of Love,” where Rap challenges the notions of beautiful love. Bars pining after the one brush shoulders with lyrics about being used for sex. What she teaches us here, as she’s been working at with her previous projects, is that love will never be simple. This song is truly about managing our expectations to avoid getting hurt if we can help it—and valuing ourselves and our passions over everything. As long as you keep your head about yourself, love will work out, and past pain will eventually melt away into a memory.
Speaking of memories, Rapsody’s come-up bars are a distant memory. Instead, she marks her debut with lyrics about aspiring for more while being pleased with her station. “I worked at it, had to put the drive into automatic,” she spits on “Destiny.” The lesson here is about fighting for the payoff. Long days at dead-end jobs and nights up working hard are not for nothing. Sacrifices are worth their weight in gold when the right time comes, and the stars align (“The Cards”). Her lessons of perseverance never go unnoticed, but on “Destiny,” especially, we see the importance of self-belief in conjunction with hard work.
With perseverance and success, comes, of course, trials and tribulations. Through her storytelling on “In The Town,” Rapsody teaches us no one is beyond redemption, grace, and miracles. As she expounds upon the cycles of poverty and drug abuse, we can’t help but root for her characters. This track, more than any other up to this point, showcases Rapsody’s ability to bring to life stories outside of her own. “In The Town” proves the Snow Hill, North Carolina native to be an expert observer, with her wisdom truly blooming on this cut.
In all, The Idea of Beautiful marks Rapsody’s arrival in music. No longer pining after success, Rap sets her focus on speaking truth and making a broader statement with her work. She’s fully transitioned into making life music. Rapsody makes music for freedom. She makes music for Black women. She makes music for quiet nights in and long drives with no destination. She envelopes you with her wisdom. The Idea of Beautiful marks the start of Rapsody knowing her impact on wax and using her voice for good, forever.
She Got Game (2013)
Rapsody begins 2013’s She Got Game with a song about nothing, that happens to be a song about everything. Most notably, the track’s second verse tackles the depression that comes with having a passion, but no one on your team. The lesson here is one of endurance and self-love. Sometimes, you have to be the only one cheering yourself on, and be okay with that fact. The love will come, but the best place for it to blossom is from within.
As Rap admits, “Currently, I’m secluded with all my passion / I wonder if I’m slightly depressed from all the harassment,” we realize that there are plenty of externalities waiting in the wings to knock us down. Why play into those fates? It’s better to spend our time big-upping ourselves, especially when the world is so focused on the opposite. As Rap puts it: “I got myself up ‘cause I was made for the game.”
With “Everlasting,” Rapsody teaches us the importance of staying true to yourself in the face of trends. She expounds upon the fickle nature of clout and money, and we come away with the knowledge that the only everlasting art comes from the soul. She uses the second half of the track to lambaste those who use rap as a scapegoat for society’s failings. She must have known at the time of recording; this would make her music everlasting.
In the face of this, we have “The Pressure,” wherein Rapsody admits, “They hated before but now they love ya for life / The pressure, I fight to stay on the path of my life to write the right.” The lesson here is twofold. Firstly, Rapsody warns us of the intentions of those who will turn towards you only when you are succeeding. Just as we learned on “For Everything,” it’s important to note who will and will not go hungry by your side, and who wants to eat off your plate once you’ve got a meal.
Secondly, “The Pressure” is Rap’s way of teaching us that success is not exclusively positive. The weight on her shoulders mounts while she fights to stay true to herself. From her fight, we learn to respect our voice and be as loud as we need to be. From the success of Rap’s career up to this point, we discover our unique voices have power beyond words; it just takes time for the right people to hear us—but they will hear us.
Where The Idea of Beautiful was about Rap’s arrival, She Got Game features moments where Rapsody steps back and admits to her faults, as on “Lonely Thoughts.” Here, Rap once again humanizes herself by leveling with us about her flaws and her struggles with herself (“At war with my own picture”). What we learn from this project is that even in the face of success, there will still be strife. She Got Game teaches us to prepare for all that life hurls at us, and to remember we must live life on its terms.
Laila’s Wisdom (2017)
Finally, we have Rapsody’s latest opus, Laila’s Wisdom, an ode to her grandmother and an album that serves as a reminder that life does not ask permission. This record highlights everything infallible about Rap’s music.
From the way she weaves sex talk in with murmurings of love (“A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love”) to heartbreaking tales of innocent lives lost (“Jesus Coming”), Rapsody lays every life lesson from her years and years in the game out on wax. She takes old lessons of love and romance, of social responsibility, of defining her womanhood and Blackness, and polishes them into a package that is both becoming and GRAMMY-nominated.
On “Power,” Rap shows us the importance of honing and owning our narratives, of finding the power within ourselves, our pasts, and projecting power unto our futures. On “Sassy,” Rapsody thrills us with her unabashed womanhood. Where so many pundits wish to unsex her and use her as a pawn in their tirade against other women in the game, Rapsody keeps herself sexy and carefree. Both tracks teach us that we get to decide who we are and what we are worth. After casing the above six projects, we quickly realize that Rap’s whole catalog is meant to guide us towards self-worth.
One of the most potent songs of Rap’s career, “Black & Ugly” speaks for itself. The record is not only a lesson in owning your narrative but in how to use it as fuel to feel self-love when people use it against you. “Isn’t it ironic now they all just wanna love me,” she raps, reminding us of the snakes she recalls on “The Pressure.” Rapsody has been weaving lessons between albums since the start of her discography, and they all come into themselves on Laila’s Wisdom.
With “Nobody,” Rapsody has us finding comfort in not knowing. She also challenges the systems in place that keep us from understanding or batting back against systemic inequality. She teaches us to ask questions, to be okay without answers to some, and to push for answers to others. With the second verse, she shows us to open up about our personal lives, to seek help, and to find resolve in our circles. Again, it takes a village; something Rap’s been spitting about for nearly a decade.
Each bar on Laila’s Wisdom could be a life lesson unto itself. Wisdom is in the album title, after all. In 2017, Rapsody harnessed her voice and created a body of work that exemplifies her biggest strength: giving game.
From 2010 through 2017, Rapsody sounds right at home leveling and growing with the listener. She tangibly cares for us, and for that very reason, her music will be everlasting.