Raspody - Ibtihaj


I can't remember the first time I heard about Rapsody. She rose up in my radar around three years ago when I was living in NYC. I was talking about my love for hiphop and rap in particular and my ex was telling me « You love lyricism. You should listen to Rapsody. I'm sure you'll love her. I know as a black woman, she's a huge inspiration for me. » I was like « Yeah, I know her. I'll take a listen » but I never took her opinion on this particular matter seriously. As much as I like to pretend to listen to other people's opinions on rap, I don't really like to be directly influenced. I don't like to be a follower.
Furthermore, I actually knew of her. I knew she was a good lyricist, that she loved plays on words and that she was recognized as top notch. I also knew she rapped on tight beats. Overall, I knew I would like her. I just thought there were plenty like her and that I was already satisfied with the MCs of the supposedly same caliber in my library. No rush then.

Three years later, sitting at my desk, boring myself out at work, I stumble upon an article in Rolling Stones magazine. Rapsody is interviewed and talks precisely about what I love the most about a lyricist: her lyrics and what she actually meant. It's like discovering a magic trick. You can sometimes understand wordplays by listening but the feeling you get is often indescribable. Your body understands for you. Deciphering the feeling through the MCs explanation is a rare treat.

There I go, delving into her last album Eve. A concept album narrating and contextualizing lyrically the woman side of her and all the women that inspired her. Here's the thing though, I couldn't go through it all at once. I love the album for many reasons but I had to stop at Ibtihaj. Strangely, in this black woman empowerment masterpiece, « Boy! Boy you sharp boy!» is how she starts this track. Didn't expect it.

First comes the suave hook by D'Angelo. Multilayered vocally and going crescendo, the soul artist adds its vocal print to the legendary hook from Liquid Swords by GZA. Just like to say ancient times were somber and now it's time to shine out from the chambers. Then comes Rapsody, "Thinkin' like, back in the days, when niggas wore fades / Silk tied caps, just tryna catch a wave". Reminiscing old times thinking: "I used to want to be with you, part of your group but I've always been here and let me show you how." It's not a reference to Biggie , considered by many to be the G.O.A.T., by chance. 

But the most impressive part, as always when listening to her, is the wordplays. An avalanche of them even. Her verse is particularly dense. She pays hommage and respect to her most revered peers, from Gangstarr ("While everybody in my gang a star, DJ Preem") to Jay-Z, here: "Screaming through the sun roof, Money still ain't a thing" or here: "I think like a billionaire, I spend less than I make" as a reference to the latter being the first hiphop billionaire.

As the awry course of this verse was getting me impatient, considering the context of the album ("when is she going to talk about women here?"), she starts flexing and connects Hov to another legend: Queen Latifah and the Original Flavor Unit, via U.T.F.O. / Roxanne Shante beef. "Women been leading the way since Roxanne ShanteAnd the Unit had Flav and Jay had Marcy neighbors that waved" and a little further "Ain't an emcee on this Earth that make me feel afraid".

Finally, GZA comes to close this homage to Hip-Hop as he circles back to the original job of an MC "An MC should electrify, beautify, strive to / Empower, inspire, transform a worldview" as someone who's still the owning the game from afar and above "When I'm so off the radar, it's very hard to find me / In space, a selfie with the Earth behind me". Justice and quality are served on every level - rhyme, vocabulary, message - and Wu-Tang's Genius harnesses the dictionary to confirm its status and educate furthermore. Delectation.

One my favorite parts in listening to rap music is to discover the origin of the instrumental. My best friend and I spent countless hours actually crate digging to look for new hot tracks, classics and other gems just to listen to them back at his place. And the first introduction to a song is most of the time the instrumental. Especially recognizing legendary DJs styles. DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Jay Dee, etc. We usually had the same tastes and knew from the get-go who was behind the production.
No I.D. delivers here a perfect performance that reminds everyone why he is known as "The Godfather of Chicago Hip-Hop" and an early inspiration to Kanye West. He gives a larger part to the Willie Mitchell - "Groovin'" sample, adding warmness to the "Liquid Swords" more raw instrumental. He also uses D'Angelo range to create a somewhat ominous ambiance by moments through hums and chants. This coupled with the evanescing organ adds depth to the track, responding to the universal challenging and lyrical dimension of the two MCs.

As I was  looking for the origins of the instrumental, I found the one song that started all this: Young Rascals - "Groovin'" which was an instant hit in May 1967.

My father listens primarily to Jazz and has been playing the guitar since he was a teenager. This predominance for Jazz often masks the fact that he's a hardcore fan of the Beatles and as such of 60s pop music. It's the music he grew up with.
I play the guitar partly to be able to play with him one day. Rap music is the music I grew up with but it's not the music I want to play with my guitar. The relationship my dad has to Jazz is similar to the one I have to Bossa Nova actually. Ultimate technique and musicality, in singing as well as in playing, both equally applicable to Jazz and Bossa Nova.
Through "Ibtihaj", Rapsody overcomes GZA figuratively even though the latter is still relevant. Women's advent in rap and their mastering of Hip-Hop's codes, which are both masculine and paradoxically universal, is her Jazz, her Bossa Nova.

What links us all, finally, is pop music from the 60s. In a sense, pop music speaks to marginal and allows them to emerge. I tend to think today's 60s pop music is rap. What do you think?