by Daniel Paskowski
Among those who comprise the star-studded feature list of Kendrick Lamar’s seminal To Pimp a Butterfly, only one artist was asked to drop a guest verse alongside him. In my first introduction to Rapsody, she effortlessly rose to Kendrick’s call and professed on the dreamlike “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” the fullest kind of self-love that people of color, including herself, have struggled practicing in the face of white-centric standards of beauty. By that time she was already an accomplished artist in her own right with two EPs and an album under her belt. Now, Eve presents itself as both a victory lap and only the beginning for the North Carolina-born emcee. The project expands on many of the themes she explored in her “Complexion” verse and previous releases. With a tight focus and intriguing concept, Rapsody continues to prove that she is one of the more compelling hip hop artists in her lane and is showing no signs of slowing down.
On Eve, Rapsody takes the name of the prototypical woman and flips the implied analogy on its head by centering the album around influential black women that have inspired her through their courage and unabashed successes in fields like business, music, and sport. Originally seeking to title the record Alien – reflecting the historic alienation of black women in America – Rapsody revealed in an interview with The Breakfast Club that Queen Latifah prodded her to come up with its more meaningful release title that challenges the ahistorical notions of a white Adam and Eve. By going one step further and naming each track (sans one interlude) after fifteen such women, Rapsody sets up her album with a strong theme before the listener even begins to digest it.
Fortunately, Rapsody ensures her concept for the project does not die in the water by weaving into the DNA of each track a piece of each of the women she seeks to honor. This is manifested by styling her delivery on the tracks after the demeanor of these progenitors, like “Nina” Simone’s steadfastness and “Whoopi” Goldberg’s ever-cool swagger, or by incorporating the life experiences of prolific activists like Myrlie Evers and Sojourner Truth in bars that don’t feel forced or biographical in nature, instead organic in the context of her broader messages and parallels to events of the present day. Indeed, Rapsody’s lyricism is top notch across the entire album, and it is especially commendable how she manages to never let her bars dip past tribute into trite.
As many of the women Rapsody honors engaged in pursuits under the common umbrella of advocacy and activism, Eve could easily have been bloated and repetitive; yet, with Rapsody’s skill as an emcee, she manages to keep things fresh with clever wordplay and sharp delivery that speeds up and slows down as a given track requires. 9th Wonder and Eric G handle the bulk of production on this album, and they do a fine job for the most part, helping Rapsody craft nostalgic, thoughtful, and poignant, soundscapes on “Aaliyah,”, “Maya,” and “Myrlie,” respectively. The three song stretch between “Oprah” and “Serena” feels a bit bare, but sampling GZA’s “Liquid Swords” on a song about fencer and first Muslim woman to represent the United States in a hijab “Ibtihaj” Muhammad, is a stroke of genius creativity on the part of 9th Wonder.
Like Kendrick Lamar on Butterfly, Rapsody chooses to send her album off with the help of some words from Tupac Shakur – in this case, from his well-known “Keep Ya Head Up,” itself is a tribute to black women, so Tupac probably wouldn’t mind that the track is named after his mother and famed activist “Afeni” Shakur. To match the various pursuits and kinds of lives her inspirations led, Rapsody manages to create a gamut of moods on this album and recruit a range of guest artists like the legendary Queen Latifah, fellow N.C.-native J. Cole, and up-and-coming JID, with whom she shares a humorous back-and-forth quip at the end of the track “Iman.” Eve is great not just due to the fact that on it Rapsody brings increased visibility to a cohort of deserving black icons, but that it is a stellar hip hop album first that simultaneously manages to lift the messages of its namesakes in a fresh way for a new generation.