July 19, 2013 15 comments
Hey Lupe. How are you doing? Good? Good. I don’t know where you’re at these days, but I’d really like it if you paid your full attention to this.
I’ve been a fan of you since I first heard your guest verse on “Touch the Sky.” The Fahrenheit 1/15 series holds up against some of the best mixtapes ever. The first three rap albums that I bought were Late Registration, Food & Liquor and Like Water for Chocolate. Chicago hip-hop runs through my Bostonian veins. At one point you were my favorite rapper out. Granted, I was sixteen and new to the world of hip-hop, but you made music that spoke to a swath of discontented youth through clever wordplay, cool stories and headnodic beats. It was part of what inspired me to get into the blog game, starting with an article that helped launch Rap Genius.
That’s why it pains me so much to tell you to shut the fuck up. Please. Just go away.
Over the past several years, you’ve grown from a can’t-miss artist to a mild success to an annoyance to an insufferable asshole. I know that the years 2008 to 2011 were tough for you. Album being shelved, stuck in label limbo, severe depression, all culminating with that clunker called Lasers. The optimist in me really wanted that album to succeed:
— WW2 (@LoneXI) February 23, 2011
— WW2 (@LoneXI) March 8, 2011
But in my heart, I knew it sucked. When I first heard “Words I Never Said,” I was disappointed by the scattershot conspiracy theories and pseudorevolutionary bullshit that has since become your calling card. It was the first glimpse into a bitter, abrasive emcee born from an unharmonious record deal. All the saccharine-sweet electronic beats couldn’t save it (although I do like “Beautiful Lasers” [and “I’m Beamin’” wasn’t on the album? Really?]) I chalked it up as a loss, and thought maybe next time we would see some of the fun-loving, playful Lupe return.
(Point of clarity: the difference between informed commentary and pseudo-revolutionary commentary is hard for me to explain. Lupe originally delivered clever, nuanced exposés of societal injustices [see “American Terrorist”] or gripping stories [“Little Weapon”]. Now, Lupe just throws his two cents at every issue under the sun without expounding on your position, leaving the listener with the distinct [and usually correct] impression that he has no idea what he’s talking about.)
Then came Friend of the People, which was supposed to be your reconciliation with your fans who hated Lasers (read: everyone), and I thought “oh! Lupe without label constriction! This’ll be great!” And then the realization: it’s not just Atlantic. It’s you. You suck now. You’re rapping over electbro remixes and WHOMPWHOMPWHOMP nonsense and firing a tommy gun at injustices from 500 yards away. The best track on the mixtape was just you retelling scenes from 90s urban crime dramas, and the rest of the time, you weren’t saying shit, just blowing hot air.
It was at this point that I realized the Food & Liquor Lupe that was once my favorite emcee was dead. There was no winking and nodding, no subtlety or substantive wordplay. It was just vague moralizing. And that didn’t just stay on wax, it dripped over into your public persona. The person that people literally rallied for became an obnoxious douchebag prone to spouting off via everyone’s favorite bullhorn, Twitter.
First, you beefed with MTV. Then Chief Keef. Next, for some godforsaken reason, D.L. Hughley. Talib Kweli, Pete Rock, you ate through all the good will that you had built up throughout your career with your petulant, whiney attitude.
So Food & Liquor II: The Album of Absurd Name Length came out and I gave it a listen, and it was worse than Friend of the People. The beats were garbage, your lyrics were patronizing babble (“Bitch Bad” could be the foundation of a mansplaining course) and when combined, gave us such memorable tracks as “Heart Donor” and “Brave Heart.” Your resentful, sour demeanor permeated throughout the album like a skunk’s odor, and worst of all, you wasted a Bilal feature. “How Dare You,” indeed.
More antics, more derision. And then, just when I’d written you out of rap existence, you dropped a verse on “Poor Decisions” with Rick Ross and Wale and… everything just worked. Old Lupe reappeared. The shit sounded like the old you, full of energy and clever and politically charged but accessible. You weren’t on an ivory tower of a soap box, preaching to the masses, you were relatable. Like an abused significant other, I thought that maybe, just maybe, you’d changed back into the rapper that made such fantastic albums half a decade ago…