By Jamel Smith
September 27, 2020 (updated)
North Carolina’s own Grammy-nominated rapper Rapsody recently shared a new song, “12 Problems,” which will appear on the Roc Nation social justice charity compilation album, Reprise.
“12 Problems” is the latest offering from the project, following Jorja Smith’s “By Any Means” and Vic Mensa’s “No More Teardrops.” The full Roc Nation collection features contributions from Ant Clemons, AJ Tracey, Chronixx, Buju Banton, Sebastian Kole, and more. Upon release, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to various charities and organizations focused on social justice and civil rights efforts, including Gathering for Justice, Until Freedom, Equal Justice Initiative, Grassroots Law Project and the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice.
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The track sprawls over a Don Cannon and Cubeatz-produced sequence of crisp trap drums, trunk-rattling 808 bass rumbles, and looping choral vocals that could unsettle anyone. The North Carolina femcee emerges as a sharp shooter as she fires off social commentary and her personal frustrations against societal adversaries: police brutality (“Cops kill lawfully, no remorse”), the prison industrial complex (“Y’all thirteenth superstition/We get a thirteenth amendment”), and the War on Drugs (“Black men in jail for a ounce or two/For us it’s punishable”).
Duty-bound by the artistic modus operandi of fellow North Carolina artist and activist Nina Simone, Rapsody maximizes her three-minute time slot to “reflect [on] the times” in which she and her community live daily, and she does so with truth and power.
If one is unfamiliar with Rapsody’s technique as an artist, it would only take 20 seconds into “12 Problems” to conclude that escapism is not one of them. Rapsody is firmly grounded in reality. She is also timely in her subject matter– two components which have proven to be efficient and effective in her artistic calling.
Rapsody, much like her community, has no time to waste. Five days following the drop, we saw a country on fire…again. This time, in the name of Breonna Taylor– the 26-year-old Black woman and “essential worker” fatally shot in her sleep by Louisville Metro Police Department in March. In a tale too familiar, a grand jury announced that none of the officers involved in her murder would be indicted for her murder. The only charges that would be brought forward were reserved for the shots fired into the apartment of her neighbor. Outlining America’s history of racialized injustices, Rapsody reflexively calls out the system responsible for Taylor’s unjustly demise in the first verse’s concluding couplets: “Get ya sh*t straight, Mr. Police/Did the same thing to Cochise/Did the same thing to Raheem/Do the same thing in our reality, y’all bogus.”
“12 Problems” laments over the past and present of the Black American experience with the police– or, as colloquially referred in the song, “12”– through the reimagining of Jay-Z’s classic “99 Problems” hook: “I got 99 problems and 12 still the biggest/I got 99 problems/Batons, bullets, triggers.”
Like the griots who came before her (namely Nina Simone), Rapsody proves to be equally reflective and prophetic in her voicing to and on behalf of herself and her community. As she inducts “12 Problems” into her working canon of powerful rap commentary, she further establishes her own personal artistic modus operandi– to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. “12 Problems” puffs its chest out as a reminder to our collective adversaries that she has not lost focus.
Watch the music video for “12 Problems” by Rapsody and listen to the Roc Nation Reprise compilation album.