What is this generally accepted edict within hip hop right now, where when an album has been out 24 hours or less, it is either deemed a classic or total trash? Can a fan/critic/hip hop connoisseur truly provide an unbiased review of a project after just one listen? Those questions won’t be answered with today’s post, but I do think about them regularly.
Two weeks ago Snow Hill, NC native Rapsody released her latest music offering. She Got Game is Rapsody’s 5th mixtape and seventh solo project. As a disclaimer, the first time I heard She Got Game it was like “OH SH*T , Rapsody done messed around and released a classic!” Taking the previously mentioned thoughts into consideration, I decided to calm down, give the mixtape multiple, full listens and “live” with it for a few weeks.
On a recent sunny beautiful afternoon I gassed up the truck, grabbed a bottle of water and a box of hot tamales, then hit a couple of Carolina country back roads and rode out to She Got Game for several, back to back listens. This granted one of best opportunities to really listen to the mixtape in full with minimum interruptions.
Before we get deeper into this review, let’s get some facts out of the way. Jamla is one of the most powerful independent hip hop label coming out of North Carolina right now. They have a dedicated, heavily enganged social media presence lead by the Jamla Army. In the past year, Rapsody has touched down and performed on stages on three continents outside of North America: Europe, Asia and South Africa. She has received media coverage in every major hip hop publication and media outlet: XXL, Source, BET, MTV, Sirius XM, Hot 97 and Jay-Z’s Life+Times. Combine all of these with the fact that bar for bar, Rapsody is a better rapper then the average up and coming artist, has some male rappers salty about her success. Not to put too much emphasis on the negative, but it’s tough for some guys to accept the fact that a female lyricist is all around better then they are. Rapsody is winning outchea. You will deal.
In the months leading up to She Got Game’s release, Jamla Records dropped hints on the artists that were to be featured on the mixtape. Checking out those names, which included Raekwon, Phonte, Jay Electronica, Common and others, was like reading through a who’s who of hip hop lyrical beasts. Say what y’all want, it takes a lot of guts to be confident and secure enough in your bars to be side by side with artists whose skills are of a high caliber. To see these names was enough to not want me to check any singles. I wanted to hear the full project totally tracked out and sequenced, not piece meal. Hence, no leaks for me.
It’s been a while since I reviewed a project [READ: The Top Carolina Hip Hop Releases of 2012]. Combine all of the Rapsody facts stated above, in addition to the point that she is one of the less than five female rappers AND only Carolina artist who has released an official DJ Drama Gangsta Grillz project, there was no way I was going to let this piece of Carolina hip hop history be overlooked without a track by track review. Y’all can check it out below.
Y’all know how DJ Drama-hosted mixtapes usually have the machine gun shots with a body dropping sound on the intro track (see Lil Wayne’s “Over Here” off Dedication: Gangsta Grillz)? I had this slight fear that Rapsody’s mixtape would start like that but thankfully it didn’t. DJ Drama still sets the tone by briefly talking about where the hip hop game is in regards to artists of the past, right now, future and then says where Rapsody’s legacy falls into all of that. Rap follows up and ties it together with a history lesson of her life in the past, present and future. At the end of the track, she weaves in the mixtape’s theme of basketball and why “she got game”. Clever.
If I needed a soundtrack for relaxing on a yatch with some fine men flexing with their shirts off while me and my homegirls sip on chilled champagne, this would be it. 9th Wonder’s production on this track is incredible. Raekwon describes the beat as being that “black sand talk”. Think luxury rap that is accessible to the average consumer.
On this track Rapsody basically talks her sh*t. Now that she’s outchea winning there are alot folks who are d*ckriding and/or jumping on the bandwagon. She also calls out those who try to get features and shows out of her for the low. The women has been crowned by Young Guru, The Chef and multiple other hip hop folks of high caliber. How y’all expect her to do stuff for the free? Oh yeah, somebody must have betrayed Rapsody’s trust cause she calls them (him?) out on this track too.
Step into the mind of a female rapper giving y’all a peep into her introspective thoughts. This was my introduction to Chance The Rapper. His bars don’t match the title of this track and Rapsody’s mellow, laid back tone. I’m not sure what he’s talking about here besides how good of a rapper he is.
There’s that one dude (or chick) from your past that if you’d settle down with, may have kept you from achieving a certain, high level of success. You love that person but being with them slows down your grind. Charge it to the game. Sidebar: ever since Raheem DeVaughn went the independent route a couple of years ago, I forgot to keep up with this music. This was a great reminder to go back and get caught up. Pun intended.
This track has a bit of futuristic, spiritual vibe to it. Mac Miller and Rapsody rhyme about some of the characteristics of the Millennials.
The why Khyrsis chopped up El Debarge’s “Love Me In A Special Way” overshadows Rapsody’s rhymes on this one. Not that what she rapped about is sub-par, which is the various ways she loves certain people and situations, but the production is so good that it took my attention away from the lyrics.
On here Rapsody draws parallels between her lyrical skills and superheros such as Bruce Wayne, X Men, Bane, and Cat Lady. Basically she came to save rap game by utilizing the super powers from her heritage (Cherokee and African). Don’t y’all see her cape flapping in the wind?
Wale stays on lyrical task by picking up where Rap Diddy dropped off and continues the Gotham City theme and movie references. He also flips it to where the “super hero” is a regular human being: Mr. Holland (“Mr. Holland’s Opus”) and Jim Carrey on a sequel. This one is deep y’all.
“Dark Knights rise again / Jamla we back baby.”
This is a tribute to Lauryn Hill, whom Rapsody has mentioned in multiple interviews is a huge artistic influence. She also touches on not making the XXL freshman cover and how some North Carolina artists are *still* salty that 9th Wonder doesn’t “put on” for the state. By this point in the album, I get the sense that financially, Rapsody isn’t where she wants to be and there’s been money struggles. She alludes to it on several tracks (this one included).
Never settle for less then the best and keep working towards your dreams.
The title says it all. It’s pretty much about finding love then losing it. Can’t really put my finger on why, but this track is my least favorite on the whole mixtape. It’s not bad or good, just meh.
The beat. OH THE BEAT! Don a bucket hat, put on a matching adidas sweat suit, a rope chain then strike a pose. DJ Premier’s production did that. Maybe it was the “there it is” sample I can’t place. L.L. Cool? Premo himself? Anyway this track is Rapsody at her lyrical best on the whole tape (with the exception of “Jedi Code”). Crown this lady!
DJ Drama set it out at the beginning of this track by pointing out the fact that Kendrick Lamar didn’t mention any female artists in his controversial “Control” verse. This was Rapsody’s response to that fact. The beat sounds as if it may be extra hard to flow over but Rapsody killed this track. Straight murder scene! It’s my favorite on the whole mixtape.
As far as sequencing goes, this track is perfectly signifies that the mixtape is coming to an end. A “wrap it up” song is something a lot of Carolina artists have a tendency to overlook. I think there’s a gift to sequencing some independent artists just don’t get. You can’t just throw a whole bunch of tracks together and call it a mixtape. Anyway, Ab-Soul is my favorite rapper out of Top Dawg Entertainment (behind Kendrick), so I was curious if he was gonna wash and outrap Rapsody on her track. He didn’t. Also, if you’re wondering what the song is about, it’s basically answers some of the things folks may wonder about when it comes to these artists.
I heard the production on this and instantly thought dang if it don’t sound like 9th Wonder flipped then chopped the beat from “For You” off The Listening. I’m serious y’all. Go listen to “For You” and then “Jedi Code” right quick and tell me if I’m wrong. This might be the closet thing to a Little Brother reunion we’ll ever get.
Speaking of Little Brother, twenty years from now when Phonte is headlining the Essence Festival rocking a linen suit with the matching gator sandals and running down Foreign Exchange’s greatest hits, every Little Brother fan in the crowd should mentally flip back to “Jedi Code” to remind themselves what a lyrical beast Phonte was.
Now on to Jay Electronica. Since he’s never released a full length album, I guess he’s just going to go the Dr. Dre Detox/Andre 3000 route: at the top of every year promise the fans your album is coming, never drop it but then be featured on everybody else’s hot song but your own. This track is up there with “Jedi Code” as one of the best on the whole project.
She Got Game is near perfection. It is Rapsody’s best release to date, surpassing 2012’s The Idea of Beautiful. If you’ve been listening to her for more than two years, you can certainly hear how her lyrical skills have progressed and became more sharp over time. There’s something to be said about practice and “shooting in the gym” (see what I did there?). One thing I’m still trying to figure out is why Rapsody’s love songs are just meh to me — I’d rather hear her go hard on a difficult DJ Premier beat then to go smooth and laid back on a love song. And thank goodness DJ Drama didn’t yell all over the whole mixtape — remember how he used to do that on earlier Gangsta Grillz?
As far as Carolina hip hop projects released so far in 2013, She Got Game is the best so far. It is well sequenced, the production is top notch, and the features did not outshine the star. I don’t do “stars” or “mics” a la Source but this mixtape is a classic. Two weeks, multiple listens, a car ride through the country and an empty box of hot tamales reinforced what I heard after the first listen.
Have thoughts of your own about She Got Game? I’d like to hear from you. Leave a comment below, Tweet me @nancioishiphop or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.