Culture over everything.
This is Rapsody's (Marlanna Evans) maxim which is heard throughout her music. As Jamla's (9th Wonder's independent record label) first lady, she has had the fortune to be a part of a team that shares that sentiment. Under Jamla Records she has dropped 3 critically acclaimed mixtapes (Return of the B-Girl, Thank H.E.R. Now, and For Everything), and we can finally add an LP to her discography. Off the break we can expect to hear superb production from 9th Wonder and his army of in-house producers (The Soul Council). Rapsody has taken advantage of her situation by learning and elevating her lyrical skills with each tape. From beginning to end The Idea of Beautiful is a welcome departure from over-produced albums with pedestrian lyrical content. Here are a few stand out tracks (but do yourself a favor and run the whole album at least once).
Believe Me has been in rotation for a little bit now (even has a video). This 9th produced track is also accompanied by a remix which is just as good as the original. Ms.Evans takes this soulful beat and flows effortlessly from beginning to end. She talks about the misconception that people have when they find out she is a "rapper", asking her for money and cars. Her dream was to get paid doing what she loves, but above that her goal is to be role model for young girls. Now that she is in the industry she has learned that her monetary limitations have kept her from reaching a larger audience. But she is able to look in the mirror and say she did not compromise her lyrical integrity to sell a few more records.
Non Fiction is another pairing of the "park bench poet" with a Black Hippy member (she previously teamed up with Kendrick Lamar on "Rock the Bells"..and yes..it is fuego). This time she calls upon Ab-Soul to accompany the Raheem Devaughn hook on another 9th production. It seems that Rapsody takes her already intricate rhyme patterns and metaphors to another level when she is paired with another emcee of a high caliber. This track is no exception. And it goes without saying that Ab-Soul brought his A game on this one as well.
In the Drums is a nostalgic piece where Rapsody takes time to talk to her fellow rappers. Her wordplay and metaphors are kept to a minimum (in comparison to other tracks) while she lets her flow deliver her point of view of the current state of hip-hop. She knows of the pressures of wanting to have "the money and the message" but advises not to "stress the session, just say what's on your mind". Her style is predicated on genuinely expressing her life stories, knowing that someone will relate to it. She doesn't care about how she is perceived, hip-hop is her therapy. Rapsody sees her role as being the counter balance from rappers that only rap about "sex, drug usage and rapping about wealth". Thank you, Ms.Evans.
Jay-Z is always at the top of Rapsody's list of emcees that have influenced her. So it seems appropriate that her first LP has a song dedicated to her idol. Destiny is laced with the hook "I want to meet Jay and just play a rhyme for him/ I see him spitting Heineken/ like "Girl rhyme again"/ saying "Your inspiring, to Blue Ivy and them". Since this would be there first meeting the "lyrical cyclone monster" takes this opportunity to give him a timeline of her life and how Hova was a part of it. While her mother was in the hospital fighting for her life, Rapsody would memorize Jay's lyrics to escape her immediate reality and daydream about her future. Ms.Evans even throws in a Jay-Z signature double entendre bar into her verse, "your girl game tight/ you can say I'm Jay worthy".
Thunder is the last track on The Idea of Beautiful. This simple beat with a melodic bass riff lets Rapsody go Super Saiyan (google it) to the point that I do not know how to explain the track. Her metaphors, wordplay, and flow are all on swoll as if she felt this track was her last chance to solidify her place in hip-hop history. What I will do is give you a couple of bars to get a taste of this beautifully crafted track (disclaimer: I did my best to be as accurate as possible, but since this just came out yesterday there is no where to check lyrics. This also goes for other tracks).
"born in this world to be a leader/ so the meter reads ether red in the zone/ when im in the zone, microphones"
"all black like the omen the benjamins in my wallet/ I holla "fuck all the dollars" my [people] thinking like college/ courses, they took and jordans couldn't afford them/ so they stole them out of boredom, yo just to be like the noun/ a person in place of that thing/ that bling round/ ring fingers now they up in that thing"
The BITM crew knows I am huge fan of Rapsody and 9th. But it would be hard not to become a believer after this thoughtful album. Along with Jay-Z, Rapsody accredits Yasiin Bey, Lauryn Hill and MC Lyte as her top influences to her style. Of course she is influenced by many other emcees but you can definitely hear in her rhymes that these legends are most prevalent. It feels like we are in phase in hip-hop where quantity seems to overshadow quality (and the pressure to pair any rapper with the "it" pop artist is more and more common), especially with the younger rappers. It is a relief to know that there are a handful of young emcees that will stay authentic to the culture of hip-hop. Rapsody is no longer a rookie. She now has a couple of years as a student of the game (from an industry standpoint) with one of the best professors on the planet. It is her versatility that allows her to grow from track to track. She is at home talking about hurtful passed experiences with significant others in Precious Wings to reminiscing about old-school songs in Beautiful Music. There is really much more I can say and I could honestly review every song on this album, but I will leave some room for you make up your own opinion about it.