If you’re just getting in on this countdown now you can get caught up by clicking the links below:
#18: Lemonade – Beyonce
#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody
Album #17 on the list comes from someone I consider to be the best MC in the game right now. Nobody is consistently releasing hip hop records as good as Rapsody right now. Her new album, Eve, dropped just over a month ago and I’m still absorbing it. Someone needs to explain to me how I can go months without a single new album I’m interested in, then I get new shit from Rapsody, Raphael Saadiq, Common, and Jidenna within days of each other. It’s too much to process at once.
As I said, I haven’t gotten a chance yet to properly take in the new Rapsody album, but I can tell you that when (if) I do my mixtape of the best tracks in 2019 like I did last year “Ibtihaj” will be on it. Easily one of the coolest tracks of 2019. But, enough about Eve. My #17 album of the decade is 2017’s Laila’s Wisdom. Before this I had known of Rapsody only as a featured artist on other people’s albums, specifically Kendrick Lamar and Talib Kweli. Talk about keeping good company. It doesn’t get much better than those two. She really caught my attention on Kweli’s track “Every Ghetto” from 2015’s Indie 500 album with 9th Wonder. It takes skills to be the MC who triggers an, “OH SHIT,” reaction on a Talib Kweli track because Kweli is one of the GOATs. For whatever reason it wasn’t enough for me to start digging in to her older records, though.
When Laila’s Wisdom dropped I was thinking I should give Rapsody a listen. Then Busta Rhymes co-signed Then Busta Rhymes gave the album his stamp of approval by referring to it as, “The best album…from top to bottom in its entirety that I’ve probably [heard] in the last 10 years.” After that I had to hear this album now. While I might not think it’s the best album of the last 10 years like Busta (I do have it listed as #17, after all) it’s definitely up there and worthy of that praise. She got a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album as a relative unknown in a crowded field that year. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN (winner), JAY Z’s 4:44, and Migos’ Culture were among the other nominees. In an era when it seems you have to look and sound like Nicki Minaj or Cardi B to get recognition as a female MC, Rapsody stands alone as the best MC (male or female) making music right now.
Here are the awards for Laila’s Wisdom.
Like many of the categories on this album, this one is loaded. It might not have that one hit that stands out (at least in my opinion) but it’s definitely top-heavy. For me it’s Nobody featuring Anderson .Paak and Black Thought. You’re probably thinking, “Of course he picks the track with .Paak on it,” and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Here’s the thing: This is a Rapsody song with assists from the other two. She gets two verses. .Paak sings the hook. Black Thought takes the third verse, but they actually change up the beat and make it feel like a different song when he’s on the mic. I love the vibe on this track. The tempo, bass line, and .Paak’s vocals on the chorus complement Rapsody’s flow beautifully. Black Thought’s final verse is the cherry on top.
How do you pick a favorite lyric when writing about someone like Rapsody? It’s like…I don’t know…trying to find the best diamond in a bag full of diamonds. They’re all good. I’m partial to this one from Nobody:
Oh my God
Nobody know the true religion
So why nobody know to show respect and mind your business?
I know prison business, but nobody know how many innocent in it
Nobody know that cure for cancer been made by the chemist
Nobody know the cost of a dollar worth less to em, Kendrick
Nobody smart enough would ever say racism ended
I get winded by the weight of it all
‘Cause everybody talkin’ shit but don’t know nothin’ at all
I get chills just reading that shit. “Everybody talkin’ shit but don’t know nothin’ at all” might just be the perfect sentence to summarize the 2010s. Don’t like that choice? There are at least 500 other clever, thought provoking lines on this album. Take your pick. Rapsody is brilliant.
Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song
It’s tempting to give this to Busta for his mind-blowing verse in the final 100 seconds of “You Should Know” but the other four minutes of the song bang, so it’s not truly a slow jam. U Used to 2 Love Me is a heart wrenching breakup song, but it’s got a lovely chill feel to it. My only complaint is that it’s too short at 2:42 with most of the song dedicated to Terrace Martin’s vocals. Rapsody’s beautiful, emotional verse lasts less than 90 seconds.
Favorite Hype Song
Did you see the movie Creed? One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Adonis Creed steps in to the stadium for his ring walk before his fight against Pretty Ricky. The combination of emotions a boxer must feel during his/her ring walk is palpable in that scene. What puts that scene over the top is the ring walk music selection. It was “Hail Mary” by 2Pac. You hear that song and feel ready to take on the world the same way Adonis must have in that scene. That’s the main criterion I’m looking for when I pick a favorite hype song on an album. Would it work for a boxing ring walk? It doesn’t have to be speed metal or hardcore hip hop. It would be dope if someone did a ring walk to Chrome (Like Ooh) so that’s my choice.
Favorite Happy Song
I’m not sure which song on this album is happy, per se, but Pay Up feels happy. It’s uptempo and has a crazy bass line that makes it feel happy. The song tells a story about gold diggers – both male and female – so the lyrical content isn’t all that happy, but it feels happy and that’s good enough for me.
Song I’d Play if I Was DJing
It’s Pay Up again. On an album that’s mostly mid-tempo beats that give Rapsody’s insane songwriting time to be understood, “Pay Up” is the faster track you’d want to listen to at a party or club.
6th Man Award
This album is bolstered by an amazing lineup of guests including Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, Musiq Soulchild, and BJ the Chicago Kid. They all get their assists when given the chance, but 9th Wonder’s production is deserving of something better than just a 6th Man Award. The beats on this album add as much to it as Rapsody’s lyrics, and that’s the genius of 9th Wonder. He might not quite be in the household name category like some other hip hop producers, but I’d put his catalog up against anyone. If 9th Wonder is producing it, I’m going to like it, and he did some masterful work on this album. Check him out in this video of Rapsody’s Tiny Desk performance.
Now that I’m done with this post it’s time for me to give Eve a good listen and decide whether or not I should make an exception and add it to my Top 19 of the 2020s list. Something tells me Rapsody will have a lot more to add to my 2020s list before that decade is over.
Before I go it’s time to tease #16. My hint is two words: Lake Crescent. If you’ve been reading my blog and/or were present in the car when we drove around Lake Crescent in July of 2014 you’ll know the answer.