October 2, 2012 4 comments
Music represents an escape for so many people. There are dramatic exaggerations, party anthems, songs to make you forget your troubles, etc. However, there was a time when music was used to speak on relevant societal issues and provide social commentary combined with nice melody and harmony. It seems as though these days that balance of human overindulgence and introspection has been sorely lacking from hip hop. Some artists simply aren’t talented enough to articulate these topics and the absence of their attempts to do so is greatly appreciated. There are more than enough mainstream rappers who could tackle these issues but for one reason or another they don’t. One rapper not afraid to shy away from controversial topics, or controversy in general, is Lupe Fiasco.
Lupe Fiasco seems to be constantly caught up in one issue or another. From being the go-to political commentary rapper, to calling President Barack Obama a “terrorist”, to engaging in a war of words with fellow Chicago rapper Chief Keef, Lupe always seems to be on the wrong end of a PR nightmare. This doesn’t even include having to boycott his own record label to get them to release his third album “Lasers”, an album which Lupe has openly come out against. “Lasers” did very well commercially but the content of the album was very watered down given Lupe’s back catalog of work. It was almost as if he agreed to create “Lasers” the way that Atlantic wanted him to in exchange for more creative control on the follow-up album. And boy does Lupe go all out with his latest release.
“Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1” is not only a mouthful of a title but Lupe’s attempt to nullify the crossover attempts of “Lasers” and jump right back into creating the brand of conscious hip hop that he is known for. In this instance I would compare Lupe to Nas, who went through his own career slide with the release of “I Am” and “Nastradamus”. Nas tried to blatantly go for crossover appeal but when under fire was able to revert back to what had made him so popular in the first place with “Stillmatic” and has not missed a step since. “Food & Liquor II” is Lupe Fiasco’s “Stillmatic” moment in which he attempts to reassert himself at the forefront of the discussion about the top lyricists and it does not disappoint.
While reviewing this album I have to review it from two different perspectives. One is from a strictly musical standpoint, as if it were in a vacuum, and the other I’ll touch on shortly. From a pure music perspective, this is some of the best music Lupe Fiasco has released in quite some time. Tracks such as “Strange Fruition”, “ITAL (Roses)” – which should be on the radio but it never will – “Lamborghini Angels” and “Form Follows Function” all display his one of a kind lyrical prowess. “How Dare You” with Bilal is a great change of pace track which shows his range on the album. This album has none of the overtly pop tracks that were the entirety of “Lasers” while almost getting back to what made him great on “The Cool”. This is not mixtape Lupe lyricism, as you won’t find any tracks like “Failure” on here, but the music is still very damn good.
The other way to view the music is from a social commentary perspective, taking it outside of the vacuum. While not sacrificing the musicality and lyrical content, I get the feeling that Lupe has taken it upon himself to fill the conscious music void single handedly. This is a truly strange time period in music in that Lupe represents the only mainstream artist that would speak on the topics that he does. I’m quite frankly amazed that Atlantic Records even signed off on some of the subject matter from this album, as most record labels shy away from controversy. Having said that, this album is a very heavy listen which in turn hurts the replay value some. “Bitch Bad”, which we’ve touched on before here on the site, is not the type of breezy jam that one listens to while cleaning up the house or getting ready to go out for a night on the town. At some points during the album it feels like Lupe is preaching to listeners his views and opinions, and while this is a welcome change from the 2012 norm it may rub some listeners the wrong way. Again, this is entertainment after all, and Lupe may have sacrificed some of the entertainment value in order to emphasize his point.
All things considered, this album is a fantastic step forward from the generic nature of “Lasers”. There are some pitfalls and in no way is this album better than the original “Food & Liquor” but it’s nice to see that the Lupe Fiasco we grew to love 6 years ago is still capable of making the same quality of music. This album has brought my focus back to his music and I will be anxiously awaiting the next installment of “The Great American Rap Album”.