Written by DeRa Brinson
This week’s Sonic Breakdown will cover Rapsody’s album Beauty and the Beast. This album is actually a rereleased deluxe version of the original released in 2014. This is a talented female artist whose album was referred to me by Matthew McCray, a true hip-hop head that I know. I will give a breakdown of each track followed by a conclusion on the album as a whole.
A scene from the movie G.I. Jane begins the album, setting the tone of feminine aggression as well as the contentious relationship that can exist between a strong woman and men in leadership positions. A very 90s boom-bap beat is used to propel that gritty, aggressive vibe. Rapsody’s very first line, “I skip on water, I skate on ice, if hell froze over, I’ll still be nice,” catches your attention, lightly illuminating her level of smoothness, wittiness, and well-deserved confidence and providing a small glimpse of her word-playing ability. This is a braggadocio song with a smooth quality that creates a nice groove. The chorus of “can you feel it,” sung by Heather Graham, adds to the nostalgic 90s rap tone, urging the listener to confirm that we feel it. Rapsody’s delivery is a matter-of-fact way of telling us that arguing her ability would be asinine. I am beginning to agree with her based on what I am hearing.
“Who I Am”
A slower piano is the base for the production of this track, giving a more warm and intimate feel. Rapsody makes the statement, “They know who I am,” with a slight inflection on am, indicating that it might be a question. That inflection shows a softness to a friend or sympathetic ear versus her enemies, who would view it as a weakness. Softness or weakness is the sense of her questioning her confidence or having doubt in her ability. This is a nice contrast to the hubris of the previous song. The supporting vocals from Heather Victoria that follow, “They know,” can be akin to her subconscious confirming her confidence or rejecting the doubt. In the first verse, the line, “Don’t be flirtin’ with your gift, you better marry it—you nervous?” implies that she needs to embrace her talent, skill, or gift wholeheartedly with no fear. This captures the tone of the entire song. The second verse continues to push this theme and brings into account black consciousness and materialism. The song has a sultry, sexy confidence with some vulnerability by both female vocalists, matched perfectly with the instrumentation.
“Hard to Choose”
A ticking sound is initially heard, setting up additional layers for another 90s golden age of raptype production with a dark, introspective tone. The concept of this track is making difficult decisions or sacrifices in order for Rapsody to reach her goals, such as integrity for money, quantity for quality, or self-respect for fame. She also intimates that she feels connected and responsible for giving women, particularly black women, a positive role model, which prohibits her from making sacrifices of integrity, quality, and self-respect. She clarifies in the song that she has love for all races but sees herself in the faces of all these black girls’, making the sacrifices and decisions easy as well as worth it. These feelings are shown with the line, “Loyal to all, but when I look at these black girls’ faces, why I choose to be better not basic, so I understand why it’s not hard to choose.” Rapsody wants to raise the bar of what black girls try to emulate. The song is structured as a single long verse that gives the impression that this is just a stream of her mind, oscillating these ideals between conscious and subconscious.
This features a hard-hitting, gritty beat with a bounce to it. Rapsody has a lot of nice similes and metaphors that exemplify her immaculate word play. This is more a mixtape-type of song in the aspect of using a lot of different punch lines and popular references to accentuate her points in an interesting manner.
“Waiting On It (Baby Girl)”
A gangsta chorus is juxtaposed with the neo soul production, surrounded by a hard reverse rap clap and sultry singing. Rapsody uses this great line to draw attention to her skills in the rap game: “I see further than that little midget that Jay Hova quoted.” That line is not only showing confidence in her own ability but also pays respect to the legends whose shoulders the hip-hop world is standing upon. Another line that stood out, only because I just recently was listening to the Babyface song the line is referencing, is “that’s that whip appeal, you gonna know my name for real, baby.” She’s playing on the title of the song “Whip Appeal” and the artist Babyface. This is a nice motivational song about not waiting for things to happen to reach your goals but making them happen with your determination.
A sample from the classic Nas song “If I Ruled the World” is the core of the production. Rapsody changes her flow slightly, emphasizing the last words in each line in the beginning of the only verse on this song. She has a more global perspective in the sentiment and content of this song.
A gritty sound with a Ruff Ryder feel sprinkled in toward the beginning of the song builds the atmosphere. The gritty bass line progresses, adding a guitar and ad-libs reminiscent of retro New York hip-hop songs. The word play of “Godzilla, only God is illa” is just an example of her creative mind and religious views. The production is surrounded by a sampled loop that creates a sound of proclamation of her talent.
A very somber piano section with Heather Victoria singing “’Cause he’s the man” in a blues tone starts the track and is looped throughout, emphasizing the theme. Rapsody showcases her storytelling skills with the tale of a young boy feeling pressured into the position of being the man of his household due to his father vacating that role. She breaks down the mental strain of being in that position for anyone, much less a child or young boy, to have the weight of a family on your shoulders added to the normal stress a majority of young black men face already, such as not falling victim to the streets. In the middle of the story, she uses the phrase “the man” to evolve from being the man of the house to the man in terms of the gangster and thugs looking up to him for the wealth, fame, or respect he garnishes. The story ends with the young boy grown into a man stuck in his hood due to taking care of the family and accepting that it won’t change. It ends in a full circle, as it started, with hopelessness and sadness. A whole new beat with a slight feeling of hope and optimism, resulting from the lighter guitar portions of the production, emerges as Rapsody sticks to the theme of a man, this time a good man that loves her for her. She also expresses how it is difficult raising children when they ask certain questions that a parent wishes they could provide a better or different answer for than the truth. Legitimate questions such as, “Why don’t people like me because of my color?” or “Why doesn’t my life matter?” are all spoken by children, which is like a punch to the gut because of how sad it is that a child—or anyone—has to have these things explained.
“Coming For You”
A guitar scale permeates the beat with a deep bass line and several different groups of individuals harmonizing in different sections to complete the layers of the production. There are sections of the production that sound like a heartbeat. This provides imagery of Rapsody’s music as the heartbeat for hip-hop, exemplified by the traditional hip-hop production here, attention to detail, to her lyrics, and the line, “Nas said I had a blessed flow.”
“Forgive Me (I’m Sorry)”
A xylophone and bass line is the core of the production for this track. Rapsody is giving a sarcastic apology for being a student of her craft and having laser focus on improving her skills. The production switches to a beautiful piano piece with supporting drums that provides gravity for the verses.
“Don’t Need It”
A faster tempo production that still maintains a smooth quality is accompanied by Merna’s vocals, adding so much soul and a jazz quality. This song is an anthem or declaration that Rapsody is good enough and has done enough to earn her place without help or handouts from anyone. She is saying she made it to this point through her hardwork and dedication to her craft, which is a prominent theme of the album as a whole. Toward the end of the last verse, she uses the line, “I’m Birdman. My play is not to make your opinions my burden. Whoo! Uh, damn Michael Keaton. Shoot the nose to spite the face,” to illustrate it is okay to have pride and confidence but not to let that impede your growth. The line is interesting as well because it refers to the movie Birdman, in which Michael Keaton’s character is writing a play to help reinvent his career and change public opinion. It was a good movie that paid attention to detail by way of the acting and interesting cinematography that is also showcased throughout this album.
The production reminds me of the R & B group Total, and the guitar with the wah-wah pedal brings to mind TLC’s “Waterfall.” It is the sexiest R & B/hip-hop blend song on the album. The line, “Feelin’ possessed nowadays like Cleveland and Akron, you my 23 BAE, best shot I got,” stood out to me because I like sports and easily understood the connection to Lebron that this line is referring to, which is that Cleveland and Akron are happy because Lebron, whose jersey is 23, returned to the Cavaliers, and he is the best shot they have for the state of Ohio to win a professional sports championship. It is a nice change of pace and adds dynamics to the album, but this is my least replayed song.
Jazz and traditional New York/East Coast production with a darker atmosphere. Merna sings the chorus with a mature, rich, silky controlled tone. Rapsody has aggression and hints of frustration, expressed by the punch added to specific words and phrases at certain breaks in the production. This has some religious tones in regard to what should be glorified, what your belief is, and some references to judgment day from the chorus line, “Are you a believer in my Lord? Will you be around when it all comes down?” She concludes the album by still questioning herself. She is making sure she is never comfortable with overconfidence and complacency.
This album is very lyrically dense and is similar in that regard to Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly albums, which were reviewed on this site earlier this year. Which is ironic because I first heard her on “Complexion” from Kendrick’s album. I could spend several days decoding it and parsing out every meaning and sonic property and still miss things. This adds to the high replay-ability, which provides more evidence of how great an album it is. Through this album, Rapsody gives an introspective view of who she is and what she values. She mentions specifically many of her musical influences, (De La Soul, Nas, Raphael Saadiq, and MC Lyte), and the listener can tell that era affected her sound.
Rapsody is a mixture of Rakim’s smooth delivery, MC Lyte’s edge or feminine aggression, and Lauryn Hill’s emotional connection with a splash of Queen Latifah’s positive, unifying quality. Something that stands out to me is that her content isn’t just female oriented, but human oriented. She touches on topics and situations that are very relatable to a multitude of people black, white, male, or female. Rapsody does have songs and perspectives that can only be given from a female point of view, but she approaches these topics in a socially conscious manner. It is a well thought-out album that shows how lyrical Rapsody is, not as a female rapper but just as a rapper. Two albums will be reviewed next week: Raury’s Indigo Child and Boogie’s The Reach mixtape. The Boogie mixtape was recommended by a entrepreneur friend whose instagram name is ILOVESLUMP.