Walking into FirePlace Studios yesterday (August 13)—or anywhere in New York City, really—the only topic on everyone's mind was Kendrick Lamar's verse on Big Sean's "Control (HOF)." The Compton MC—who declared himself the "King Of New York" and ruffled more than a handful of feathers—had made so many waves that even super-producer 9th Wonder and his protege Rapsody, in town for the listening party for Rap's new Gangsta Grillz mixtape, She Got Game, got sucked into reading about the drama. "I was talking to Phonte earlier today, and he asked me where I was," 9th said about his former Little Brother teammate. "I told him New York City, and he said, 'Oh, so you at ground zero, huh?'"

What 9th and Rapsody—and later when he arrived, Young Guru—noted about the verse was Kendrick's almost unassailable lyricism and his insistence on bringing lyrical ability back to the forefront of hip-hop. And Rapsody, the North Carolina-based spitter signed to 9th's Jamla label, has defined herself along the same lines. With She Got Game, her fourth solo project and first since debut album The Idea Of Beautiful came out in August of last year, she's enlisted the likes of Raekwon, Wale, Common, Ab-Soul, Problem, Mac Miller and Chance The Rapper to rap alongside her as a way to prove her mettle in the game. "These people push me, and it's great to rap alongside them and show that I can hang with them," she said before the listening party began. "The central point is, as a woman, don't put me in this box that I can't perform as good as the guys can. I'm spitting on this one. I don't have anything to prove, but at the same time, that's just what it is."

It's been a bit of a battle for Rapsody to step out from behind the stigma of "female rapper" in a mostly male-dominated genre, and her response has been to line up some of the best lyricists in the game and stand tall alongside them, regardless of gender. What Rap and 9th—her mentor, label boss and the producer on many of her tracks—want to push is this narrative that there is no gender to what Rapsody does. She doesn't rhyme about sex like many of her female counterparts; she doesn't take off her clothes or flaunt her sexuality; she doesn't conform to many of the archetypes of the female performer, in hip-hop or otherwise, that has existed in pop music for decades. But the fact is that her gender does factor in, and has in the past, to the discussion around her. "If she were a man rapping like this, she'd have a deal by now..." "She's great, for a girl..." She doesn't dress like Azealia Banks, take topless selfies like Nicki Minaj or make half-naked music videos like Iggy Azalea. She wanted to go on a headlining tour this summer, but agency after agency passed, and she thinks her gender may have had something to do with that.

So instead of trying to conform to the model set out for female rappers, she's trying to eliminate that discussion and put her lyrics first. She Got Game was a concept hatched last fall, with work beginning in late May, a process filled with writing to the beats floated her way by 9th's Soul Council production team while isolated in a car—"I have to have a quiet spot because I have to hear myself"—and cutting out all vices, save for Nestle's Chunky candy bar with raisins and Welch's fruit snacks. "I'm completely comfortable with the lane that I'm in and the zone that I'm in—it's like tunnel vision," she said about this project. "I just make dope joints, and it's a lot more forceful, and I'm confident."

She didn't always have the same confidence. After signing to Jamla in 2008, "I had this idea," she said. "When we were kids, our favorite MCs were on these [major] labels, but they were the best in the game, too, and now you have these MCs on these labels and they're not necessarily the best rappers. At first that definitely was the plan—I'm gonna make this joint, gonna get a [major] deal, they're gonna push me, and it'll all be good—but nowadays, it can't work like that and have you be true to yourself."

She Got Game is definitely Rap staying true to her brash self, spitting sass and swagger—as well as a healthy dose of indignation—over 9th and The Soul Cycle's soul-heavy, funky beats. She's got Chance freestyling the end of his verse over an off-kilter jazz riff (with the young Chicago MC commenting on his free Acid Rap mixtape with "I got way too much soul for me to sell it"), a head-nodder with Raheem DeVaughn, a Lauryn Hill sample on "My Song" and a funkified disco beat from DJ Premier, whom she refers to as "Uncle Preem." Despite earlier assertions that she wanted to be the "female Jay Z," she's found a niche that she enjoys without the need for mainstream acceptance. "I think I can have a sustainable career without being on the radio or having a mainstream hit," she said. "You don't make music for the radio, you make it for the people, to touch the people. And that's how you win." —Dan Rys (@danrys)

The track list for Rapsody's She Got Game is below:

1. A Song About Nothing (Prod. by Eric G)
2. Coconut Oil ft. Raekwon & Mela Machinko (Prod. by 9th Wonder)
3. Thank You Very Much (Prod. by Khrysis)
4. Lonely Thoughts ft. Chance The Rapper (Prod. by Denaun Porter)
5. Caught Up ft. Raheem Devaughn (Prod. by Khrysis)
6. Generation ft. Mac Miller and Jared Evan (Prod. by 9th Wonder)
7. Special Way (Prod. by Khrysis)
8. Dark Knights ft. Wale (Prod. by E. Jones)
9. My Song ft. Mela Machinko (Prod. by 9th Wonder)
10. Complacent ft. Problem (Prod. by 9th Wonder)
11. Love After All ft. Gwen Bunn (Prod. by 9th Wonder)
12. Kingship (Prod. by DJ Premier)
13. Feel Like (Love Love) ft. Common (Prod. by Ka$h)
14. Never Fail (Prod. by Eric G)
15. Never Know ft. Nipsey Hussle, Ab-Soul & Terrace Martin (Prod. by 9th Wonder)