Lupe Fiasco as a musical artist is both predictable and unpredictable. He is predictable in
the sense that listeners can expect cerebral and socially conscious lyrics – often indiscernible upon an initial listen. Lupe Fiasco is certainly slated in the intellectual rap sub-genre, along with Common, The Roots, Mos Def, and sometimes Nas (Life Is Good did feature that club-banger “Summer on Smash”). Unpredictable despite Lupe’s rhymes is what type of album you can expect from him as of late. In order to grasp this unpredictability, a brief examination of Lupe’s discography is helpful.
Examining Fiasco’s Discography
In 2006, Lupe released his fine debut album, Food & Liquor, which debuted at no. 8 on the Billboard Albums Chart. Food & Liquor clearly placed Fiasco in the socially-conscious category, but the album’s ascent to notability is owed more to a single dedicated to skateboarding (“Kick, Push”), which only peaked at no. 78 on the Pop charts. Food & Liquor won a Grammy for “Daydreamin'” a cut featuring soulstress Jill Scott in the Urban/Alternative category. 2007’s follow-up The Cool stands as Fiasco’s most conceptual, dense album to date that technically should NOT have spawned a commercial hit. Regardless of its depth (at times nearly inaccessible), “Superstar,” featuring Matthew Santos was a top 10 single on the pop charts! But there
were some other notable cuts (“The Coolest” and “Dumb It Down” amongst them). Like his debut, The Cool also nabbed Grammy nominations.
2011’s Lasers came after a four-year hiatus, delivering the MC’s most commercial effort. It debuted at no. 1 (204,000 copies) and spawned über popular single “The Show Goes On,” which peaked at a career best no. 9 on the pop charts. Add a hot collaboration with Trey Songz (“Out of My Head,” no. 40 on Billboard
Hot 100), another moderately successful single “Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways)” (a personal favorite at no. 70), and Lasers for all it’s critical chagrin (Grammy-nominated chagrin mind you), was another success, even if it lacked some of Fiasco’s ‘antiestablishment’ fodder.
And now we are left with 2012’s Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1. Based on preliminary charting info, Fiasco is unlikely to garner another no. 1 album, thanks to a release of star-studded artists’ anticipated efforts (Mumford & Sons, No Doubt, Green Day); He is expected to settle for no. 4, somewhere in the ballpark of 100,000 copies. Numbers aside, Food & Liquor II steps back towards the density of 2007’s The Cool while being more approachable with the sensibilities of Lupe’s debut. There are no overt ‘hit singles’ to be had, though Fiasco has managed to chart with “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” (no. 76) and
“Lamborghini Angels” (no. 92). “B*tch Bad” charted on the R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart while most recent single “Battle Scars” has failed to chart yet. The fact that the MC eschews commercial tastes here moves towards his antiestablishment characterization, but requires a truly dedicated fan to accept/appreciate Fiasco’s rumination.
All in all, Food & Liquor II is another strong album by Lupe, but relies more on critical success than commercial aspiration. It is not an album that you will totally understand upon the first listen and at nearly 70 minutes, it is certainly difficult to digest for a second consecutive time without isolating it into pieces. This exhaustive length might be what hurts the lot of the album more than its neoteric, socially-conscious material.
The Songs – 16 of ‘Em! (17/Deluxe)
The album begins socially-conscious (big surprise right?) Lupe’s sister, Ayesha Jaco delivers her poetry that incorporates every social issue, most notably Jim Crow, Traevon Martin, and “…the west side of Chicago/where food and liquor stores still occupy the block…” It is well written and articulated, certainly setting the tone of Food & Liquor II.
The first true cut proceeds in “Strange Fruition,” (featuring Casey Benjamin) which is true to its strange title. Produced by Soundtrakk, “Strange Fruition” is well produced, incorporating a lovely sample (strings are derived from it) and hard drum programming. The chorus is mysterious featuring illy decipherable lyrics: “Many things, strangest things you ever seen/oh, look a how they swing/embedded they go, no eyelids gone low/or gone by sundown/they’re dodging 5-0.” Again, the ‘strangeness’ all plays like a tone poem, which ultimately makes “Strange Fruition” effective.
“ITAL (Roses)” has less of a mysterious vibe, with standard hip-hop production work (synthetic brass, synths, sound drum programming) by 1500 or Nothin’. The hook is chocked-full of words and filled with social references: “May we have some roses for the ladies/a little appreciation for the gentlemen/and here’s some kisses for the babies/some peace and inity for the whole wide-wide-wide world…” Lupe’s second verse is pointed for sure: “I know you’re sayin’, ‘Lupe rappin’ bout the same sh*t/Well that’s cause sh*t ain’t changed b*tch/and please don’t excuse my language cause I would hate for you to misrepresent…” Dense though cerebral, none can deny that Lupe is good at what he does, even if the ‘roses’ are a bit hard to digest here.
“Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” the first single, produced by B-Side and DJ Simonsayz, is anchored by old-school samples (“Today” by Jefferson Airplane and “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” by Pete Rock & CL Smooth. Lupe’s flow is incredibly agile on the verses with his best lyrical reference materializing in verse 3 where
he alludes to Wu-Tang Clan (“…cash rules everything around these n**gas…”), a popular reference that Akon alludes to on Wyclef Jean’s hit “Sweetest Girl (Dolla Bill).” The hook is wordy, but plays well into Lupe’s antiestablishment mindset as he throws punches at the media: “Live from the other side what you see/a bunch of nonsense on my TV/Heaven on earth is what I need/but I feel I’m in Hell every time I breathe…Rich man, poor man, we all gotta pay/cause freedom ain’t free, especially ‘round my way…” It requires analysis like everything else on Food & Liquor II, but “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” is a highlight.
“Audubon Ballroom” (produced by Fatimes & Built) continues ‘The Lupe Manifesto,’ with notable punchlines to alleviate some of the heaviness. Amongst the most clever punchlines include “…But it’s so Titanic to be iced out…” (it’s important to sport bling-
bling), “In other words, lyrical Zuckerbergs…” (The Facebook craze), and “Black panthers, black anthems, black blues…” (all black e’erything). And if that was not enough, top that off with the racially-charged hook: “Now white people, they can’t say n**ga/so I gotta take it back/now black people, we’re not n**gas/God made us better than that…” A lot to take in, it is signature Lupe by all means. Still, it is a mouthful. #Cerebral
“B*tch Bad,” the second single, produced by The Audibles is arguably the album’s best cut and also its most controversial. The hook is one of the simplest of the effort, but the meaning transcends simplicity, which is genius: “B*tch bad, woman good, Lady better, they misunderstood (I’m killin’ these b*tches)…” As usual, everything has double and sometimes triple meanings with Lupe. The initial read one gets upon hearing “B*tch Bad” is that Fiasco is scolding parents for promoting free ‘endearing’ use of a formerly derogatory reference towards women. At the same time, he plays on the word when he states “I’m killin’ these b*tches…”) As usual, there is plenty to analyze, digest, but “B*tch Bad” is incredibly clever, even it its title might turn off some.
Remaining on ‘autopilot,’ “Lamborghini Angels” (third single, produced by Mr. Inkredible), continues to pack a punch. “Lamborghini Angels” contains more commercial fodder than say “Around My Way” because there is more of a ‘sensationalist’ edge (not that the single performed well). The hook attracts (“I see diamond flooded demons/Lamborghini angels…halos down with the doors flapping when they come through…”), but it is the content of the verses that are most characterizing of Lupe, particularly the socially-charged final verse. Lupe’s flow continues with great agility.
“Put ‘Em Up” continues to keep things rolling alone, most notable for the malicious production work contributed by 1500 or Nothin’ & Julian Bunetta. The hook is catchy, at least by the end, which is welcome: “I keep my back to the past tell it bye (bye)/face to the
future tell it hi (hi)/everything is super so is fly (fly)/come and stick the fans up/go on and get your hands up high/high, high, high…” On “Heart Donor,” Lupe brings Poo Bear along for the ride, riding a beat courtesy of The Runners. Poo Bear delivers, declaring “I’m a heart donor…everything I got, I give it all to you/my heart and my soul, I give it all to you.” “Heart Donor” is a lovely cut, though it does not eclipse a trio of heavyweights the likes of “Around My Way,” “Bitch Bad,” or “Lamborghini Angels.”
Bilal steals the show on “How Dare You,” literally. Lupe sounds less electrified than the indie-R&B star, who is on fire. Lupe regains his swag with a little help from a soulful Guy
Sebastien on the exceptional “Battle Scars,” the most recent single from Food & Liquor II. Produced by Pro-Jay and Guy Sebastien, Lupe easily atones for any miscues. That said, Guy Sebastien “works it out” as Randy Jackson likes to say. Soulful, nuanced, and pitch-perfect, Lupe/producers make the right move to consider this an ‘equal’ entity as opposed to ‘featuring’ Guy Sebastien. Following the high-level “Battle Scars” is a downgraded “Brave Heart,” which once more features Poo Bear. Most interesting might be the fact this is the fourth consecutive cut to feature a vocalist. Poo is less effective here, sporting different vocal production. Lupe’s delivery is solid, though at this point, he has shocked more with more preeminent showings.
Thankfully, the top-notch, soulful “Form Follows Function” gives Lupe another dynamic solo spot, sans collaboration. Produced by Infamous, “Form Follows Function” reminds fans of the soulful-productions that graced Lupe’s debut. Socially conscious, agile, and confident, Lupe slays here. Follow-up “Cold War” finds Lupe agile, though more casual. Jane $ $ $ delivers the hook that unsurprisingly provides the listeners with a history lesson: “Said it’s a cold war/ain’t nobody win like the government/in the U.S.S.R…” yeah you get the idea…
“Unforgivable Youth” features Jason Evigan (frontman of After Midnight Project) , whose hook performance is quite casual (“This world, my heart my soul/Things that I don’t know/The icicles hey grow/they never
let me go/Scars are left as proof /but tears they soak on through/things I’ve done/My young, my unforgivable youth…) With the standard pop/rock thing that Lupe features on every album going on, the cut is solid, not exceptional. The closer, “Hood Now (Outro)” is too long, but certainly enjoyable and more relaxed than many of the neoteric cuts sported here (translation: brainy, nerdy, social conscious rhymes).
Overall, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. I is very much a Lupe Fiasco effort. There are multiple messages, double and triple meanings, and more than enough socio-political messages to ‘float a boat.’ Cerebral, enjoyable, overstuffed, and brilliant would all be adjectives to describe this effort. Sometimes one wishes there was that ‘sellout’ cut like “The Show Goes On” while most of the time the listener is more than pleased with the wealth accumulated through the seventy minute affair. Essentially, Food & Liquor would have benefited from another edit, which would have made a ‘solid’ album a truly ‘great’ one or better than the given product at the least. Good, but there is room for improvement.
Favorites: “Strange Fruition,” “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” “Bitch Bad,” “Lamborghini Angels,” “Battle Scars”