Even with the recent success of Nicki Minaj—and, maybe, because of that success—Rapsody’s task is a tough one. How does a female make a name for herself in what remains a male-dominated music? With the release of her free album Thank H.E.R. Now, the North Carolina femcee’s method is clear: Remain honest by telling her own story over soulful production.

The subtitle found on the album’s cover, “Culture Over Everything,” gives an early clue as to what to expect. Rapsody discusses her upbringing, influences and love for hip-hop over choppy basslines and soul samples provided by 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Nottz and more. She brings along plenty of guests to help paint the picture, as well, as Raekwon, Phonte, Big K.R.I.T, Mac Miller, Murs, Jean Grae, and Marsha Ambrosious all make appearances.

The Amp produced “Top Five,” with the chorus sampling Lox members Jadakiss and Styles P, and the verses displaying the lyrical chops of Rapsody, King Mez, and Laws, is an early ear-grabber. The song works not only because the three come correct with the bars, but also because their three distinct sounds compliment one another on the record. Rapsody’s wordplay is a key throughout. “No fault of mine, I’m a winner, Sammy Sosa/You went from a star to not mentioned, Ed Cota,” she delivers on the Estelle featured “Fly Girl Power!” Her picking apart of the plight of the intelligent southern rapper on the soothing "Lampin'" shines, as well.

Unfortunately, the offering ultimately loses steam, as it drags on before coming to a close. This is not particularly a knock on the tail-end of the release—in fact, “So Be It” bolstered by Big K.R.I.T.’s countrified flavor and the 9th Wonder produced, Raekwon assisted “Black Diamonds” are quite strong and appear near the end. Any project that clocks in at 20 tracks and an hour and twenty minutes, though, is risking losing its listener somewhere along the way.

Even so, Rapsody has proven with Thank H.E.R. Now that it may be time to do just that. —Adam Fleischer