Rapsody - The Idea Of Beautiful
For those of you who were sleeping: “You need to wake your ass up!”
Hip-hop has long survived as an acronym, courtesy of Common, and even as the “Olympic sponsor of the black glock,” as Mos Def so deftly raps in “Hip Hop”, all of which came about as an attempt to self-preserve. More than maybe other musical genres, hip-hop has cautiously walked a line on the road of authenticity. Fake rappers, after all, will trigger the alarm many times over than the dangers of unprotected sex or Stop-and-Frisk. While many will deem this truth as sad, in some convoluted way, hip-hop’s addiction to self-preservation, to check fake emcees at the door, is rooted in the desire to self-preserve as a culture. For many years, it was all the urban youth had. But, North Carolina’s Rapsody dispels all that on her landmark debut album The Idea of Beautiful. Rapsody is more concerned with the idea of “beautiful” than she is with beauty. By a similar token, she is more concerned with the idea of “Hip-Hop,” and how it can survive within a larger context, than she is with the lower case hip-hop emcees have been waging beef wars over since the ’70s.
For Rapsody, now is a time as good as any to pop the delusional bubble that has hovered over the heads of emcees as well-intentioned as Def. Rightly titled “Motivation”, Rapsody starts off with what might be her most confrontational track, getting all listeners to “wake the ass up.” While male emcees would have gone for the jugular, Rapsody, with the help of Big Rube’s spoken word and Khrysis’ production, aims for the alarm clock. Weaving together a lullaby of palm reader clarity, Rapsody looks to pry the hip-hop community out of slumber. The intro, clocking in a little under four minutes, understands that it has to take its time when dealing with sleeping dogs that would rather lie. It tenderly flows into “How Does It Feel”, featuring Rocki Evans, that frames Rapsody’s plight as a result of her upbringing; it isn’t that she wants to stir the pot, as much as to treat the scald victims. But then again she understands that listeners will jump to conclusions. On the 9th Wonder produced “Believe Me”, she drops, “Lauryn ain’t crazy, just don’t know what she been through.” And even when referencing people like Canibus, she picks on the art of rap battling for its scripted dimensions, rather than on the disgrace of dueling with the help of a legal pad.
Sure, Rapsody isn’t all grace. On “Believe Me” she shudders on the hook “frontin’ niggas give me heevy jeevies,” which doubles as a nod to Lauryn, and on “Kind of Love” she spits “Hip-Hop ain’t pop, stop the propaganda.” But it’s the emcee’s expertly weighed attitude that will win over listeners. She leaves the fire and brimstone for hip-hop elders like KRS-One or Nas, who lamented that hip-hop was on its last breaths. To Rapsody, “hip-hop never died, yo, the radio fell.” As perhaps the most enlightened interpretation of the whole commercial mess that robbed hip-hop of its proletariat roots, Rapsody frames it as an issue of invention. As radio kicked its last breaths, music that was highlighted on its airwaves was also of poor quality. It wasn’t that conspirators were behind its downfall. As the Internet picks up in content curation, so will the music overtaking the “cloudwaves.” The Idea of Beautiful is just one example of the “second coming.”
People will compare Rapsody, and therefore, The Idea of Beautiful, to Lauryn Hill and her Miseducation, but way more shades of Reflection Eternal’s equally exceptional Train of Thought are at play. While the similarity is definitely not intended, the two works seem like soul siblings— the Jack to her Jill. And while Train is a stronger and more cohesive whole, I’d put my money on Rapsody in terms of nuance. But ultimately, The Idea of Beautiful is a flawed piece. Like most debut albums, it is bogged down by lazy numbers like “Destiny”, the cameo-ready “Roundtable Discussion”, and “Precious Wings”. In the end, it runs too long for its own sake, which might be an issue that was resolved on the alternative 14-track track list. Idea also seems strangely top-heavy, since the album ends on tracks like “In The Town”, “Come Home”, and “When I Have You”, which hold their own against “Motivation”, “How Does It Feel”, and “Believe Me”. Again, length might be an issue.
Overall, however, The Idea of Beautiful is a triumph. From Rapsody’s veneration of her hip-hop ancestors, to the gingerly produced tracks that complement her Shawn Carter slur while also tickling her female sensitivities, Idea will turn many heads (and just as many ears). Her lyrical methodology is especially exceptional as she references Trayvon Martin, the Twin Towers, and her hip-hop forefathers on “The Drums”, without ever seeming preachy. And its strong points, notably “How Does It Feel” and “Believe Me”, are lessons in cultural dexterity with just the right dose of radio playability. Rapsody has said that she “[works] hard to be a great emcee, but also [wants] to be an even better role model to young girls like Ndibulele and Lowethu,” who are the two little girls from South Africa that decorate the album cover. While emcees have battled over the years about hip-hop’s authenticity, Rapsody knows that its issues extend into a bigger picture. After radio fell, she says in “The Drums”, “the power’s with the people.” Rapsody is on a mission to wake people up to that truth. Here’s to hoping she succeeds.
4.5 out of 5
[Notice: This review is based on the 16-track version of Rapsody’s The Idea of Beautiful, which includes the tracks “How Does It Feel”, “Come Home”, and an interlude, which differs from another 14-track (plus a remix) version that does not include the listed tracks, and is presented on several music publications as the official track list. Potholes used the 16-track version for reference.]