A few songs into her furious 20-minute rumble at the Belmont, 35-year-old hip-hop artist, Rapsody paused to break down her reasons for persevering in a music form that, over the last two decades, has been largely dismissive of women.
“I do it for her, and for her, and for her, and for you, and the daughter you may someday have if you don’t have one already, and your wife, and your sister,” she said, speaking directly to the women and men who had gathered for the all-female rap showcase. “I do it so women can know: anything a man can do, we can do just as well, if not 10 times better. So when they ask about Rapsody, don’t tell them I’m a female rapper. Don’t tell them I’m a female rapper, don’t tell them I’m a female emcee. When they ask you about Rapsody, you tell them I’m a (expletive) beast.”
It was a potent rallying cry, backed by the lyrically precise, but viscerally raw verses she savaged the crowd with as she blazed through “Nobody,” “Ooh Wee” and the title track from her excellent 2017 album, “Laila’s Wisdom,” one of the best hip-hop releases of the year.
Rapsody knows a thing or two about being dismissed. She’s been fighting her way through the trenches of the hip-hop underground for over a decade. A man with half her moxy and skill would have caught a break years ago. Hers came in 2016, when Kendrick Lamar tapped her for a verse on “Complexion.” She was the only rap feature on his phenomenal album “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
With “Laila’s Wisdom,” released by Jamla Records in partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, she’s lays claim to her place in the ranks of hip-hop’s titans. This is her time and she’s hungry. The unspoken subtext to her relentless performance? I’m coming for all y’all dudes.
Nowhere was this clearer than in the standout track “Black and Ugly” with its searing hook “Yeah, they call me black and ugly/ But I go so hard, make the whole world love me.” In an era, when the majority of new rappers coming up in the game (including several on the showcase that night) lean hard on a backing vocal track, Rapsody performed all her verses live. On “Black and Ugly,” she went one further and took the track out with an epic a capella that seemed to go on for two minutes or more.
It’s been a rough couple years for women, and when she addressed us earlier in the night she said, “Whatever you want to be, whether you want to be an emcee, you want to be a DJ, producer, you want to be the first woman on Mars, you want to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets…whatever you want to do, believe in yourself. Because nobody can tell you what you can and can not do. Nobody can tell you the path that you gonna take to get there. Nobody can tell you the time. Nobody can tell you that but you. That’s between you and God.”
Her performance added extra fire to her aspirational words, reminding us not to strive to be the best female emcee, DJ, astronaut, er…music writer.
We should all strive to be a (expletive) beast.
Rapsody appears at Stubb’s BBQ at 11 p.m. March 17 and in the Roots Jam at Fair Market the same night.