Don’t call it a comeback. Female MCs are slowly re-establishing themselves as major players in the rap game, and some of them are doing it without a shake of the hips. Just as LL Cool J raged some years ago, female MCs will argue that they’ve been around for years―people just haven’t been paying attention. But the industry, along with any half-decent hip-hop fan, will have no choice but to give North Carolina upstart Rapsody a slice of the spotlight. Her debut album The Idea of Beautiful is a very good first step in what should prove to be a decorated career.

While other females often settle for party antics or crotch shots to push record sales, Rapsody has been studying Jay-Z’s delivery and growing alongside the legendary producing powers of 9th Wonder. Like 9th, who signed Rapsody to his label Jamla Records, Rap had a less than glamorous beginning as an artist; she has gotten where she is, based primarily on her velvet delivery, grade-A lyrics, and her unwillingness to sexualize her craft. You never get the sense that she lets up her rock-solid philosophy to present female MCs as everyday folk. Even when paired with rising stars like Ab-Soul on “Non-Fiction” or Mac Miller on “Roundtable Discussion,” no trace of gender politics or forced flirtation ever emerges. Her peers are her peers, and they must stay on point to match her fire.

Though The Idea of Beautiful is colored with a light brush by 9th Wonder, as well as producers Khrysis, Amp, and others, Rapsody paints with heavy strokes. The album is carpeted by mellow vibes and vocal renditions that sound like Al Green daydreams, which complement Rapsody’s grit all too well. “Come Home” and “How Does It Feel,” both featuring singer Rocki Evans, are perfect examples. In “How Does It Feel,” Rapsody raps “Praying for my brother in Afghanistan fighting war/Against brothers that you’d probably mistake him for,” which could have easily been given the Killer Mike treatment and called out as being overly political. But the beat is laced with clouds and ghetto dreams, bringing down Rapsody’s sharp tongue to a blunt object wholly capable of breaking down walls. Some of those walls might just have to be the ones put up by skeptical hip-hop listeners who declare that “they just don’t like female MCs.” For them, Rapsody has an unflinching talent that she lays bare on the standout “Believe Me.”

If you want glitter and gold, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, or even Azelaia Banks, will do. But if you want an emcee with the potential to create gold records that go beyond just numbers, then Rapsody is your dame. Though The Idea of Beautiful is a bit on the long side, weighed down by lukewarm tracks like “Precious Wings” or “Destiny,” it might just be one of the best hip-hop debuts of late. —Bogar Alonso