This year’s Grammy nominations in the rap categories may have surprised many, with the name Rapsody popping up twice: Her LP Laila’s Wisdom is nominated for best rap album and “Sassy” is nominated for best rap song.
She may be unfamiliar to some rap listeners, but she’s respected in high places. She’s the protégé and signee of Grammy-winning producer 9th Wonder, Kendrick Lamar made her the only feature with a guest verse on his benchmark album To Pimp a Butterfly, and she’s managed by JAY-Z’s powerhouse company Roc Nation.
The North Carolina lyricist born Marianna Evans has been putting in work since the late 2000s, originally rhyming as a member of the group Kooley High before signing with 9th Wonder. Before rooting for her as the awards approach on Sunday, check out a list of 10 of her best songs below.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Rapsody – “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” (To Pimp a Butterfly)
There’s only one guest rap verse on Kendrick Lamar’s classic album To Pimp a Butterfly, and Rapsody doesn’t waste one bar of it. “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” is an attempt to tackle the issue of colorism — more specifically, the preference of fair-skinned people over those with more melanin — and Rapsody, a dark-skinned woman herself, is the perfect guest for the song.
She narrates her own journey of learning to love herself and her dark skin and praises men and women of all hues, with a batch of deceptively clever punchlines (“embracing my dark side like a young George Lucas”) and inventive rhyme schemes to boot. Many were surprised to see Rapsody on the track list of To Pimp a Butterfly, but Kendrick made a great decision by getting her in the booth.
Rapsody feat. Kendrick Lamar and Lance Skiiiwalker – “Power” (Laila’s Wisdom)
Many rap fans likely turned on “Power” for the Kendrick Lamar verse, but Rapsody more than holds her own on the duo’s second collaboration after her appearance on “Complexion” from Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. With two verses, Rapsody spits about the power of things and people that hold power — police, sex, money, violence — and encourage listeners, and herself, to not let them exert control. Both rhymes are delivered effortlessly over a thumping 9th Wonder beat, showing that her flows are just as sharp as her rhymes. An A+ verse from K. Dot doesn’t hurt either.
Rapsody – “Pay Up” (Laila’s Wisdom)
Lots of rappers have spoken about the insincerity of women who only want them for their dough, but Rapsody flips the script on “Pay Up.” For the second single from Laila’s Wisdom, Rapsody presents a man and a woman who both exploit their partners for money. The first verse is dedicated to a woman who demands new threads and expensive vacations from a man, ignoring him if he doesn’t offer such perks.
But the second verse illustrates a man who’s bumming off of his partner: driving her car, making calls on her cell phone plan and accepting gifts while failing to carry his own weight. Songs like TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” have called out ain’t-shit men before, but Rapsody’s decision to hold both to the same golddigger standards makes her perspective valuable.
Rapsody feat. Raekwon & Mela Machinko – “Coconut Oil” (She Got Game)
The title “Coconut Oil” is appropriate for this Raekwon-assisted highlight from Rapsody’s 2013 mixtape She Got Game. The Chef has always touted a smooth, unimpeded flow, and it’s a testament to Rapsody that her delivery on this song is just as slick as the Wu-Tang legend’s verse that follows.
Rapsody – “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love” (Laila’s Wisdom)
One of the worst parts about a lack of female representation in hip-hop is the way that the genre portrays love and sex. On “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love,” Rapsody reveals a difficulty to maintain a romantic relationship. She wants companionship, but she wants space; she feels too selfish to dedicate time and emotional energy to someone else, but feels horrible when he leaves because he’s fed up. The song is relatable and reveals that women can have trouble opening up just like men do.
Anderson .Paak feat. Rapsody – “Without You” (Malibu)
On this gem from Anderson .Paak’s breakout album Malibu, .Paak seesaws between treating his woman right and doing her wrong — and Rapsody’s verse shows that the significant other isn’t having it. Rap’s verse breaks down all the love and support she gave her man while he was down and out, before chucking the deuces to give play to the dudes who had been creeping in the DMs. Don’t depend on second chances with Rapsody.
Rapsody – “Destiny” (The Idea of Beautiful)
It appears that Rapsody is familiar with the Law of Attraction. On this song from her 2012 mixtape The Idea of Beautiful, she spits vivid, loving rhymes about her upbringing under a pair of hardworking, Jehovah’s Witness parents who told her she could be whatever she wanted to be if she put her mind to it. Her dream, as she shares here, was to spit a verse for JAY-Z and impress the legend so much that he spits out his beer in shock at her bars. We don’t know if he was drinking when he heard her, but we know he was impressed — four years later, Rapsody would announce that she signed to JAY-Z’s management company Roc Nation.
Rapsody – “Jesus Coming” (Laila’s Wisdom)
On the closing song to Laila’s Wisdom, Rapsody delivers a heartbreaking ode to three people, all in their dying moments: a young adult suffering from a drug overdose, a child caught in the crossfire of gang violence and a member of the military who gets killed in combat. Weaving around a somber sample that wails “it’s time to go,” Rapsody narrates each tragedy from a first-person point of view, with each story just as tragic as the one before. Rapsody’s powerful ability to convey multiple lifestyles while finding the despair that binds them together makes “Jesus Coming” one of the most poignant songs of this past year.
Rapsody – “Drama” (Beauty and the Beast)
Rapsody is more than able to stick to a concept or a story, but sometimes all that’s necessary is bars — and that’s exactly what she brings on “Drama,” a song from her EP Beauty and the Beast. With a pounding beat from Khrysis as the backdrop, Rap flexes with two equally hard-hitting, confident verses. “Super easy flow, shit I could do it while I’m snoozin’,” she rhymes. Indeed.
Rapsody – “Fire” (Crown)
The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States left many people of color feeling shocked, upset and afraid. On Nov. 11, 2016, days after Trump won, Rapsody released “Fire,” a song that captured the emotions felt by many around the country.
She frets about Trump’s electoral college victory, police brutality and other racial violence against black people, crying to “burn it all down” while encouraging her brothers and sisters to stay together and refrain from losing their minds. It’s complicated, contradictory and downtrodden — and a song that connects with the moment.