Review Summary: "OooooooooWeeeeeeeeee"
Some may argue that Rapsody’s relevance stems only from her guest verse on To Pimp a Butterfly – especially given it’s the only rapped verse on the album by someone who isn’t Kendrick. To an extent, it’s hard to deny these criticisms. However, when “Power” dropped, the main cut off her Roc Nation debut, Laila’s Wisdom
, it became immediately clear that Rapsody is in no need of a major league co-sign to make herself heard. Driven by a restless, filthy bassline that is sure to make the best of speakers crackle and spit, “Power” sees Rapsody roll out her thesis on the duality of power, with such scope that no corner of society is left unscrutinised. Kendrick even comes to return the favour with another rabid, never-before-heard flow animated with nutty Jamaican patois. But as Laila’s Wisdom
journeys through the jazz-brushed landscape of 9th Wonder’s design, “Power” becomes a single dreamy memory among countless creative highlights for the North Carolinian MC.
The lifeblood of Laila’s Wisdom
is its lyrical content: an emotive mix of social commentary and personal experience, coming together as an auditory projection of Rapsody’s reality. Drawing from frustration with those who refuse to dissociate her physical appearance from her work, Rapsody delivers an empowering gospel-tinged celebration of one’s body image with “Black and Ugly”. The loose snare beat and soothing soul samples used on the track produce a warm, welcoming feel; the perfect backdrop for a message aimed at the self-conscious. On “Pay Up”, Rapsody bashes the “gold diggers” over a twangy funk instrumental punctuated with sassy gang vocals. Through narrating from both a male and female standpoint, Rapsody demonstrates a mature approach to songwriting that’s often found lacking in some of today’s “conscious” MC’s. Seven minute epic, “Nobody”, is a grand statement on how ignorance plagues our mentality – encompassing the same breadth that made “Power” so compelling. Such moments of studious detail show Rapsody really does know her s**t.
Introduced by an effusive, and at times sexually explicit, Busta Rhymes on the tail-end of “You Should Know”, love takes the focus on the second half of Laila’s Wisdom
. But rather than discuss love as a concept, Rapsody lets us into her own love life with such tracks: “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love”, “U Used 2 Love Me” and “Knock on My Door”. Each is well-crafted with strong lyrics and vivid jazz-rap instrumentals, however, they do feel like a step back from the first half’s vortex of societal themes. Still, it’s a personal touch that I think Laila’s Wisdom would suffer without.
Rapsody doesn’t need a concept or narrative to keep things bumping though, most-notably with “You Should Know”, the album’s main braggadocious statement. On this track, 9th Wonder builds up and demolishes walls of tension through constantly interchanging moody chord progressions and scratchy, dub-soaked chugs; providing the perfect atmosphere for Rapsody to shake up the competition with her meaty bars. Penultimate banger, “OooWee” strolls in with a wake-up slap for the unfortunate few who may have drifted off during the 1 hour runtime of Laila’s Wisdom
. Over tequila soaked guitar plucks, Rapsody brings a simple but powerful “rags to riches” vibe while Anderson .paak hangs back on the hook to ensure everyone has a good time.
However, entering with a flurry of gunshots, “Jesus Coming” slumbers along to break the happy ending “OooWee” promises. Consisting of 3 separate narratives – drug use, gang violence and international war – “Jesus Coming” illustrates the tragedy of premature death and how commonplace it is. The barebones instrumental, accompanied by a grainy voice repeating, “time to go…”, brings out the poignancy of Rapsody’s plaintive storytelling with an epic grimness. It’s a contrasting way to end such a vibrant album, but, the aura of contemplation created by “Jesus Coming” ensures Laila’s Wisdom
lingers in the listener’s consciousness long after it finishes – a striking quality for an album to have. It’s always satisfying to see an artist hit their potential, but Rapsody has exceeded hers by delivering one of the best hip-hop albums we’ll see this year. All without a single trap beat too.