Politics, it is a term that many people have issues with mainly because of its actual purpose or meaning. Take for example the politics associated with hip-hop; artist often complain about the industry’s short comings and label debacles that hinder the true art. Some artist have either benefited or suffered from the politics of hip-hop. I never really noticed it until I heard Lupe Fiasco. The Westside Chicago native burst out on the scene (at least for me) in 2005. I was but a mere college freshman when I first heard Revenge Of The Nerds, and it completely blew me away. I could instantly tell he was cut from a different cloth of emcees. The FnF general has released 2 nearly classic albums, and a third that was received by many fans and critics as “sup-par,” but was considered his biggest commercial “success.” Lasers almost didn’t see the light of day because of industry politricks. It took a massive movement by fans to petition Atlantic Records in order for it to be released. Lupe’s latest offering Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part. 1 is the second installment in the FnL saga, and It may be one of the final albums from the intellectual emcee, and if it is, let’s hope Mr. Fiasco came correct. One of my biggest concerns was that the album would try to replicate the commercial success of Laser. I hope to get the dark and introspective feel Lupe gave us on The Cool and Food and Liquor. Never the less, as a major fan of Lupe, I don’t expect anything less than near perfection.
Although, a lot of listeners felt Lasers was a “pop/electric” album, I didn’t see it that way. FnL II is no different for me; it does a great job of balancing the different sounds that listeners were looking for. It is more of a traditional hip-hop sounding album; it has hard knocking drums, smooth piano keys, horns, snares and a variety of different instruments that add flavor to the production. There are a few darker sounding beats on the project and some that liven up the mood. I would have much rather preferred a darker feel, but I know that not everyone is a fan of that sound. The mixture of production gives every listener an opportunity to connect with the music. Melodies and tones help round out the feel of the album, so that it didn’t get boring or repetitive as many of the hip-hop albums these days tend to do. There is a few times where the beats shine brighter than Lupe, but for the most part the beats were all well selected. I am happy to say we will not hear any bitching and moaning about the “electric” sounds produced by the album. It is what you come to expect from a traditional album. I wonder just how much of the backlash Lupe thought about when selecting beats. I say that because I loved the feel of the last album, and it is very easy to see the change in these beats. Whatever the reason, I’m glad he went in the direction he did!
When I listen to the average hip-hop album, it usually takes me one listen to pick out the hidden meaning and insight of the lyrics. However, when I pop in a Lupe Fiasco CD it takes me a significant longer time. It is easy to know what the “big” picture is about the song, but some of the double meanings and coded messaging fly right over my head the first time around. I started listen to the album knowing I was going to have to sit and digest the substance of it all more than once. The topics on the LP vary from the perception of a derogatory term, to the molestation of young boys to the shire admiration of a young female. Regardless of the agenda, it seems as though Lupe finds away to out do himself. I have to admit this album isn’t as politically charged as the previous one, but it does give off a very introspective feel. Lupe has always taken on the perception that intellectual hip-hop isn’t as marketable or appealing to the masses. The lyrical attack starts right away on the first track with Lupe spitting “That’s why my sounds and sermons are so full of wrath/Baptize your mind, let your brain take a bath/Swim inside the river get delivered from the craft/Of the witches in this business that be livin’ off your sad/Hatin’ on your happiness you hit ‘em off with laughs/Smile ‘til they surrender, then you kill ‘em off with glad.” That can be easily summed up by saying forget the bubble gum rap let Lupe’s rhymes help you embrace the spiritual awakening. He continues on for what seems like the entire album. The lyrics are one thing, but the flow is untouchable, while the pattern and quick switches often get over looked, but young Lu makes it seem so easy with lines like “I alley-oop it properly/Football or volley-b, hock-el-y, or sock-el-y/You just get the rock to me/Try and put me down like Gaddafi over Lockerbie/I’ll lock you in a locker b/Like Bruce Leroy, like Johnny in a locker see/Shock is the only thing that 2Pac is toppin me/Hot as rocket bottoms or kill em where your lava be.” What most people don’t get about Lupe’s rhymes is they are simple in meaning, but carry so much depth in terms of how they are constructed. It’s as though he wants to find the absolute hardest way to say some that could be said very simple. It’s clear to see that Lupe has realized the meanings don’t have to alienate the listener to still be witty and creative. He has always taken pride in the lyrical substance of his craft and that is one of the reasons he is so revered by fans and critics alike.
I have to start off by saying I’m glad we got more than 12 songs. However, there are a few blemishes that I wish were never created. First of all, “Heart Donor” is the weakest track on the album, in my opinion. I wanted so much to like it but the “country” sound turns me off immediately. Knowing Lupe, he did it on purpose to show everyone that he can make any type of music. I’m sure some listeners will love it, but it just wasn’t for me. I’m also glad we didn’t have any super lovey feeling songs. “How Dare You” featuring Bilal is directed for the female listeners, but in true Lu fashion he destroys the flow. The Guy Sebastian assisted “Battle Scars” instantly connects with 90% of listeners who are going through relationship issues, and not to mention a massive hit. I personally gravitate to tracks like “Lamborghini Angels” and “Put Em Up” because of the nostalgia that I get from previous projects from the Chicago emcee. Even though there was the whole Pete Rock issue, “Around My Way” is a monster track and just shows how much respect Lupe has for the history of the game. Poo Bear and Jane both add amazing vocals on “Brave Heart” and “Cold War” respectively. “ITAL (Roses)” is another track that didn’t catch my attention right away, but then again I can’t seem to get past “Strange Fruition,” which is arguably my favorite track on the album, besides “Bad Bitch” for its important social message. I was absolutely ecstatic to hear the poetic sounds of Ayeshia on the “Intro” once again. I have come to love them and expect them as a Lupe stable. The album ends with “Hood Now” as Lu joyfully celebrates yet another amazing project.
I can’t say this is a perfect album, but it’s damn near close. As a die hard Lupe fan, he can never do any wrong by me. I have come to respect him as much more than a simple artist or emcee. To me he represents a healthy and positive voice that a lot of the younger generation kids don’t have. I am a fan of Hip-Hop, I know Lupe grew up in a tough neighborhood and could easily rap about the negatives and how he over came those hurdles. However, he goes a completely different route; he shows us that music can have substance; it can combat the politics of an industry trying to reduce the art form. He can take a political stance and still be commercial. His music can have meaning, but still be entertaining. A lot of artist do that, and that’s how music should be, but how many of them stay true to themselves and say “my music can stand on it’s own and I don’t need to have gimmicks?” Lupe trusts his music so much that the packaging on this album is all black. No cover, no tracklist, no pictures to take away from the art. Nothing else matters but the music, it isn’t about money or respect or even recognition. It is about substance and to me there is no greater example of a true emcee, artist and performer in Hip-Hop than Lupe Fiasco. I hope he gives us Part 2 soon, but then again I have enough to digest for the time being, so there is no rush. Food and Liquor II is just what the title suggests, A Great American Rap Album.
Review by Edgar Gomez (@MrEdgo) for Defsounds.com