21. Rapsody, 'Laila's Wisdom'
On this soulfully assured magnum opus, veteran North Carolina MC Rapsody paints a picture of black womanhood that's rarely seen and even more rarely celebrated. On "Nobody," she raps with impeccable candor, dexterity and self-possession: "It's all hip hop, you can't divide what ain't different/Don't like all underground and I don't hate all music that isn't/I was just making it clap to Waka Flocka last Christmas." She's not here for validation, just to express every side of herself, while championing strength through humanity and grace under pressure. "Black and Ugly" is a testament to self-love in a society where women are seen long before they're heard and "Jesus Coming" examines death through the eyes of casualties of wars overseas and in our own backyards. Because Rapsody's so comfortable with herself, she forces listeners to face their own emotional reactions. A concept album baked in maternal love, Laila's Wisdom benefits from beats by longtime collaborators 9th Wonder and the Soul Council production team. But make no mistake, this is her show. B.Y.