I, like many people, was first introduced to Rapsody when she was given one of the only prominent guest verses on To Pimp a Butterfly on the song “Complexion.” The verse was terrific, fit in with the album’s themes and set high standards for the emcee. Standards she was able to meet with her Grammy-nominated album Laila’s Wisdom which showed that Rapsody was one of the best technical rappers working right now and was able to collaborate with artists ranging from Kendrick Lamar to Anderson .Paak.
Needless to say, expectations were pretty high for her follow up Eve, a loose concept record where each track revolves around a historical black woman, ranging from modern celebrities like Serena Williams and Oprah Winfrey to Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut. The idea was ambitious but also had the potential to get tired and feel gimmicky so I went into this with reasonable expectations. Luckily, those expectations were not just met, they were exceeded and this could very well be Rapsody’s best project to date.
The album starts off with “Nina,” which sets the tone for the rest of the album. Rapsody raps about empowering herself and others over a tastefully used Nina Simone sample. Her bars are sharp, playing with the names of various black women to make each of her points. It is one of the best written rap songs of the year and is just the start of what this record has to offer. Following this is “Cleo,” a more personal song to Rapsody’s journey paving a path for herself in the rap industry. She highlights who she is and the kind of artist she wants to be and while she brings up artists who use their body for success, she never shames them. The sample of “In the Air Tonight” is incorporated into the beat very subtly and is not nearly as distracting as it could have been.
The song “Aaliyah” is the first track to overtly reference their titular woman. Rapsody makes several lyrical nods to the late singer, discussing her directly, and tying her career into the modern conversation of the sexualization of female artists in the industry. We then get “Oprah,” a track all about money, an obvious connection considering who it is named after. The song is definitely a playful flex anthem but does not feel braggadocios but continues the themes of empowerment, this time from a financial perspective. I do think Reyna Biddy’s outro goes on longer than I would have liked and did not fit in with the tone of the rest of the song.
While the songs up to this point have done a great job of showcasing Rapsody’s abilities as a technical and lyrical emcee, it takes a little bit for her to start truly throwing some undeniable bangers into the mix. “Whoopi” has an infectious flute-based beat that Rapsody rides with intensity, with entertaining mantras like “They gon’ make a sister act up,” a clever reference to the iconic Whoopi Goldberg movie. “Serena” also goes hard with a well-placed sample of “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown),” or that sample from “Sicko Mode” as people know it now.
But no song is as entertaining to me as “Ibtihaj,” named after fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American Muslim Olympian to wear a hijab while competing. The song might not reference Ibtihaj directly but the idea of swordplay is definitely on display as the song samples GZA’s “Liquid Swords.” Rapsody also trades verses with GZA, who has not sounded this great in years and ties it all together with a wild chorus sung by D’Angelo in his typical layered vocal delivery.
The second half of this album goes into some deeper, emotional places that I think fit the narrative that Rapsody has been going for excellently. On “Myrlie,” Rapsody raps about the pain and anxiety many black women feel, being afraid that their loved ones will fall victim to racial violence and die because of hate and bigotry. Mereba’s vocals are a haunting accompaniment to an already dark track.
We also get back-to-back jams with “Iman” and “Hatshepsut.” “Iman,” is focused on black beauty and is accompanied by SiR’s smooth vocal delivery and a solid verse from JID, who uses his verse to show respect to women until he ends his verse with the line “Behind every great man is a bad bitch” which Rapsody rightfully calls him out for. While it was impressive to see Rapsody go toe-to-toe with GZA, nothing could top “Hatshepsut” where she raps with Queen Latifah who comes out to prove why she is truly the Queen of hip-hop. The song is one of the best example of empowerment on an album about empowerment, showing two women rapping together and not versus one another or trying to outdo each other.
The album closes off with “Afeni,” a beautiful message to black men and how they should be treating the women in their lives as equals. The song, named after Tupac’s mother, uses a sample from Tupac to further drive its point and PJ Morton only adds to this song’s complex message with a beautiful performance.
There are a couple moments on here that did not completely work for me, but even those have redeemable. The song “Michelle,” while initially seemed tonally out of place, is a playful ode to the beauty of female bodies and Rapsody is having fun rapping about shaking ass. “Sojourner” is also solid, but feels too much like a J. Cole song that Rapsody is featured on and is one of the less memorable moment on here for me.
Still, this is a complex album and this review is an overly simplified expression of how great it is. I think Rapsody is still at the top of her game and shows she is not only talented by consistent and ambitious with her projects. This makes me beyond excited for where she goes next and I hope this album can further push her career forward because people are letting her go unnoticed for too often. If you are a fan of hip-hop, especially the classics, this is a must listen and will likely be one of your favorites of the year.
Best Tracks: Nina, Cleo, Serena, Maya, Ibtihaj, Hatshepsut, Afeni
Worst Track: Michelle