Though women have always been instrumental in hip-hop, there’s a tendency to not only disregard their efforts in the genre but to excessively pit them against one another. Rapsody is frequently used as the catch-all “lyrical” benchmark to an emerging artist, who often has nothing in common with her other than being a woman. It’s as though we have a limited collective RAM for discussing the women in hip-hop and Rapsody is trying to change that. On her latest project Eve, Rapsody looks to unify and exalt the black woman in all of her forms by drawing inspiration from her favorite heroes.
It’s wild that in 2019 people must be reminded that women aren’t monolithic, that sex appeal and lyricism aren’t mutually exclusive. This may come as a surprise to some people but women can be multifaceted. Even the dichotomy of rapper and woman rapper is an unnecessary one and it’s interesting to see Rapsody simultaneously raise up her black female identity while also demanding her accolades as one of the best of the generation, period. As she says on “Cleo”, “Now they say I ain’t elite / On to the next/ I don’t take time to address opinions that ain’t 9th, Dre, or Jay-)/ Only rap radars I need are them and the streets / Be careful, the validations y’all seek.” Whether you’re tuned in or not Rapsody is already here to stay.
Not only is each title taken from the names of powerful black women but most of the project’s references do the same. From threats to “set it off like Jada P with the box braids,” or on Woopie where she says, “they gon’ make a sister act up, Angela Bassett/ Blow the whole car up, I ain’t even gassin’,” to being “Misty Copeland ten toes down dancing around the odds”. It’s refreshing to hear women rapped about as the executor of action rather than a simple prop. The album calls for the empowerment of all black women, not simply the ones falling into whatever predisposed definition of respectability or desirability. Despite the fact that “Nobody tells you how to survive as a black woman” everyone seems to be comfortable with policing and dictating their experience. Through the invocation of these historical figures in her rhymes, Rapsody reclaims the narratives and fills the void with women and their stories.
A majority of the production comes courtesy of 9th Wonder, who crafted a diverse soundscape ranging from Tupac and Phil Collins samples to a flip of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” The rest of the production was handled by Nottzz, Eric G, Krysis, and Mark Byrd. Though Rapsody shoulders the brunt of the rapping responsibilities, she occasionally passes the mic to one of her very talented guest artists, reaching across several generations and facets of hip-hop. Reyna Bey’s spoken word segments are spellbinding. Wutang veteran GZA pops up for an esoteric verse about space selfies. D’Angelo makes an appearance. Masked Brooklynite Leikeli47 delivers a smooth performance on “Oprah”. J Cole has a verse about his wife giving birth on “Sojourner” and JID does his thing on “Iman.” While it’s nice hearing Rapsody spar with them, the crown for best feature on the album has to go to Queen Latifah on the heartwarming and nostalgic “Hatshepsut.”
Despite the seriousness of topics like self-determination, sexism, and colorism, there’s a playfulness pervading the album that slightly lightens the thematic load. It’s best displayed on “Iman,” as she tongue-in-cheekily checks JID after he says “behind every great man is a bad bitch, handling shit.” Once again channeling Queen Latifah, Rapsody keeps him on his toes, asking him “I appreciate your eloquence, but who the fuck you calling a bitch?” It is exactly this sort of whimsical energy that prevents the album from ever coming off as insincere or preachy. With her wit and lyricism remaining sharp as ever, Eve is a powerful follow up to Laila’s Wisdom, she further cements her claim in hip-hop as well as her place in a long spiritual lineage of badass women.As she affirms on “Whoopie,” Rapsody is a rapper’s rapper most concerned with crafting quality hip-hop. Once again she’s proven herself capable of doing exactly that, providing one of the most polished and conceptually cohesive rap albums of the year.