Marlanna “Rapsody” Evans may be from small-town North Carolina, but she’s made BIG noise for the better part of this decade. Even with hip-hop’s unspoken rule about the culture being akin to a “Billionaire Boys Club” with a sign out front that reads “NO GIRLS ALLOWED”, Rapsody has proven that she can hang with those boys and shame many of them with her mic skills. Unlike some of her well-known predecessors (Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown) and her contemporaries (Cardi B., Nicki Minaj, or even Iggy Azalea), Rapsody doesn’t utilize sex appeal or obscenities to garner attention for herself. As she states, “I drew a line without showing my body, that’s a skill.” Her mic skills speak for her, which is why she has both the respect and co-signs from hip-hop artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller (R.I.P.), Talib Kweli, Murs, Styles P., Chris Rivers, and fellow North Carolinian, producer 9th Wonder. Yes, Rapsody has hip-hop credentials and her identity as a Black woman in this art form has been a prevalent theme in her work. From “The Idea of Beautiful” to “Laila’s Wisdom“, she certainly has contemplated about the Black woman’s role in hip-hop. Combining that idea with hip-hop’s Afrocentric period has resulted in “Eve”, her third album and with an apropos title. Comprised of 16 tracks, each one is a tribute to her heroes among Black females, even fictional ones, who’ve inspired her.
9th Wonder and the Soul Council (Eric G, Khrysis, Mark Byrd, & Nottz) behind the album’s production gives it a backdrop dripping with soul for the most part. Starting off with “Nina”, Mark Byrd samples “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone, with the drumming and sample usage being reminiscent of pre-fame Kanye West productions. The one song that deviates from the album’s mostly uniform soundscape is “Cleo”, produced by 9th Wonder. He sampled Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” but utilized it in a manner that kept it too readily identifiable. Rapsody’s title and lyrics were Inspired by Queen Latifah’s character in “Set It Off” (1996). Eric G’s “Aaliyah” is interesting as it’s sprinkled with references to Aaliyah, paralleling Rapsody’s own tomboy traits with those of the late singer. Eric G is behind the boards again on “Oprah” which sounds like a light-hearted send-up of big-money anthems, but with an Oprah Winfrey overlay. It features Leikeli47 and Eric’s production on this one is nearly skeletal.
Rapsody gets playful with references to both the film “Sister Act” and sports on “Whoopi”. Produced by Khrysis, the “Watermelon Man” sample the song is built from is instantly recognizable, as is the Luther Campbell sample Eric G builds “Serena” from, but Rapsody tears that beat down with her flow on it. One of Eric’s beats that didn’t seem to fit Rapsody’s flow was “Tyra”. The beat sounded too frantic for her flow and both the rapper and the music in this song didn’t appear in sync in certain parts. 9th Wonder’s “Maya” is much smoother than the previous tracks. K. Roosevelt sings on the hook with ‘caged bird’ being referenced frequently. Rapsody utilizes a similar concept to “Brain Cell” by CunninLynguists in that both songs make use of enclosed imagery to convey the idea of being trapped.
Olympic sword fencing winner Ibtihaj Muhammad gets a nod on “Ibtihaj”. The homage on this one is clever as 9th strings it together with samples from “Liquid Swords” by the GZA, and even gets a guest verse from him (with D’Angelo on the hook). The next two tracks address systemic issues in the Black America: The Eric G-produced “Myrlie” refers to Myrlie Evers-Williams (wife of Medgar Evers, who was brutally gunned down). In rapping about the racist violence that besets the Black community, Rapsody draws inspiration from a widow who still pressed on after her husband’s death. “Reyna’s Interlude”, produced by 9th Wonder, is a spoken word of empowerment to Black women everywhere. “Afeni” also follows that theme with vocal samples from 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”.
“Michelle”, produced by Nottz, is a “Ladies First” party vibe celebrating names used in Black American culture. It’s also a homage to Michelle Obama being the first African-American First Lady. The “Black is Beautiful” theme is prevalent on “Iman”, produced by 9th Wonder and features from SiR and Atlanta’s JID. Queen Latifah makes another appearance on the album, only for real this time with the first female Egyptian pharaoh name-dropped on Nottz’s “Hatshepsut”. Hearing Queen Latifah spit a verse after at least a decade reminds me of when Jay-Z got Rick Rubin to do a hip-hop beat back in 2003 for “99 Problems”. Though Rapsody’s been holding down the album lyrically, Latifah had the better verse on this song. Lastly, “Sojourner” is a complete North Carolina affair with 9th Wonder behind the boards and J. Cole providing mic assistance. However, Rapsody didn’t need any guest verses on this song. “Out and so I’m out, I got an Audi and it’s bad / I said that line ’cause niggas only respect you if you brag” was just one gem among many in her verse:
“Where I’m from, we don’t recognize that it’s good math
If you don’t teach the ones that’s comin’ up to multiply their cash
Think for themselves, think beyond sales
Everything with worth don’t come with some whistles and some bells
The ones I gotta leave behind, the ones you gotta bail
Meek Mill, I’m workin’ hard, ain’t too far from a meek mil’
To keep it real, the realest niggas I know always kept it real
And I’ma tell you, Black-on-Black murder been whack
9th, turn me up so they can hear me in the back
Yeah, and that’s pretty hard for me
But you see hopeful niggas and where they all ought to be
Scared to grow wings, +Birdman+ with a bunch of +Carter+ beef
That’s old news, look, nigga, you talkin’ to modern me”
“Eve” is a powerful listen as Rapsody continues dispelling negative stereotypes about female emcees with raps that never embody the lowest common denominator. Naming each song after influential Black females (some historical figures) and then naming this conceptual third album after the first created woman in biblical history made “Eve” something of a history lesson itself. Even if each song wasn’t directly about the woman referenced in the title, it was still sufficiently thought provoking to ponder and then search why Rapsody made those particular choices. In “Eve”, Rapsody succeeds in crafting a love-letter to the oft-overlooked, oft-denigrated minority that is the Black female.