Snow Hill, North Carolina only has 1,614 residents, but one of them has five mixtapes, three albums, a To Pimp a Butterfly Grammy and, now, a classic album to her name.
Rapsody's slow-burn ascension from linking with former Little Brother producer 9th Wonder in 2008 to Laila's Wisdom is textbook tortoise-wins-the-race. 2012's The Idea of Beautiful featured "Destiny," a proclamation of wishing she could spit a verse for Jay-Z; four years later, he signed her to Roc Nation. While the album's theme may be based on Rapsody's grandmother Laila telling her to give people flowers while they can still smell them, there's clearly also a lesson in patience here.
Laila's Wisdom is an incredible album from start to finish, encapsulating the evolution of Marlanna Evans as an artist; her artistic decisions are evident all over the project, as she seems to casually sprinkle brilliance without second thought. As both Nicki and Kendrick have popularized in recent years, Rapsody takes the opportunity to pitch her inflections wildly when the composition calls for it, something not heard in her less dynamic earlier work.
Rapsody's low-key veteran status is exhibited in the who's who of featured artists here, including Kendrick, Busta Rhymes, Gwen Bunn, Anderson .Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid and Black Thought, to name only a few. One might worry that so many secondary characters might drown out the lead, but that's never an issue here; bar for bar, Rapsody owns every track. More importantly, every track stays focused on the story she's telling, regardless of who adds a line or two.
Every track is emphatic, including the songs between the songs. "Chrome (Like Ooh)" is the soundtrack to an extended summer, while "Sassy" is a boastful rollerskating jam. "You Should Know" is Kodak Black's "Cell Therapy" meets Eric B.'s "Mahogany" drums taken to the opera, where a solo stage-lit Rapsody stands surrounded by tossed roses. And "Power" has some K-dot fake patois going on, if you're into that sort of thing.
Wisdom ends with the looped "Jesus Coming," a series of sombre farewells told from the victims of shootings on foreign battlefields and at domestic block parties. Seattle vocalist Amber Navran channels Tweet to add particular weight to an already heavy piece of perspective.
Rapsody deserves all the accolades for Laila's Wisdom. It's not only her best work, but the best amongst her peers, the sort of album that transcends the lane she was in beforehand, transcends whatever antiquated gender biases may still permeate the genre and puts her in the same category as your favourite rapper (who's now clamouring for a Rapsody feature). (Jamla / Roc Nation)