In a rap game dominated by trap and mumble, Rapsody provides a different energy. An adept lyricist the likes of Lauryn Hill, she isn't fixated on summer anthems or hooks that loom over the words. Instead, Rapsody is a throwback to late-'80s /'90s hip-hop, when gritty beats and intricate wordplay were held in higher regard. Across several releases — namely 2012's The Idea of Beautiful, 2013's She Got Game, and 2014's Beauty and the Beast — the rapper has earned widespread acclaim, although she still flies under the radar.
Maybe that's why her new single, "You Should Know," feels so sharp. Rapsody's tension rises to the surface, to the point where she starts riffing on pop culture — everyone from Miley Cyrus, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Darth Vader and Rocky Balboa gets a shout here — and fake love from fellow rappers. "Young Gu yellin' I should rippity rap more," Rapsody grumbles. "I'm known to black out, y'all resemble the Oscars." Elsewhere, Rapsody riffs on her journey, examining hurdles she had to overcome to arrive at this creative plateau. "Influenced by many, but I'm a whole new star," she asserts. "There's levels to this, but I'm a whole new floor."
The music is equally shapeshifting: the plodding drum track features a muddy Spanish guitar sample, bright and bleak piano chords, and a popular Goodie Mob sample (of "Cell Therapy"). Toward the back end of the six-minute track, on what sounds like an interlude, Busta Rhymes spits a sensual spoken-word verse: "And when you talk, your words remind me of beautiful speeches/Say to myself, 'I thank God for these beautiful creatures."
Though Rapsody released a nice EP — Crown, in 2016 — "You Should Know" feels like a grand reintroduction and a battle-ready testament to the power of perseverance. Dope rhymes never go out of style.
Laila's Wisdom comes out Sept. 22 on Jamla Records.