“Now I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag /Cause I can’t find no reconciliation with your past”, proclaims Lupe Wasalu Fiasco in the first moments of his latest release, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album. The Album is a sequel to Lupe’s classic debut album, Food & Liquor which launched almost a decade ago.
Much can be said about the trajectory of Chicago-born ‘conscious’ rapper, Lupe Fiasco’s musical career. His debut release, Food & Liquor was an eclectic mix of great samples, inspired lyricism and a strong message. Soon followed by The Cool, which brought listeners fewer samples, but more focused lyrical concepts and maintaining a strong message. It’s Lupe’s insistence for message in his music that his most common praise and criticism stems, his tendency to seem ‘preachy’. This took a whole new turn after Lasers, in which Lupe may as well be leading a full Sunday mass service. Lupe is no stranger to preaching, and a large part of his fan base actually embraces it; it’s just that in the past, it has come in small doses and delivered via metaphors of robot project buildings (Food & Liquor’s “Daydreaming”), through first person stories of skateboarding and mischief told by fatherless youths (Food & Liquor’s “Kick Push” I & II) , through layers of multiple entendres within allegorical imagery (The Cool’s “Dumb it Down”) or by painting vivid images of a zombie apocalypse regressing the world into an Orwellian authoritarian society (The Cool’s “Streets on Fire”). But Lasers felt like heavy hour-long lecture, the guy seemed to have pretty much “dumbed it down” everything by being so blunt and direct about everything — now even with his latest title. Lupe has transformed over the years in his sound and approach to music-making, how does his latest piece stack up against his earlier works?
“Strange Fruition” Starts of the album on a very critical look at US-American institutionalised racism and discrimination. Sampling Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Lupe critiques American history finding “when there was nothing equal for my people in your math/ You forced us in the ghetto and then you took our dads”. In “Around My Way”, Fiasco recounts much of American history in a deeply cynical manner, While delivering one slickest Pop Culture references: “Hither you can be Mr. Burns or Mr. Smithers/ The tyrant or the slave, but nowhere in the middle.” This is especially sharp when considered along with Lupe’s involvement to the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2012 (Lupe, wrote the . “Lamborghini Angels” is about many things. An exorcism, racism, dangerous “cures” for the mentally ill, pedophile priests but primarily seems inspired by Lupe’s own struggle with materialism. “Hood Now” is one of the best outros in the game, blending the albums theme into an almost comedic retrospection of the American Black community. “They gave us scraps; some of it old/ We cooked it up and called it ‘soul’”
The album art for Food & Liquor II is “all black. Everything.” Matching the theme of a song in Lupe’s previous album, Lasers. It was to be part one of a two part Food & Liquor experience with the second half (set to be all white) halted indefinitely in production. Something many fans of Lupe are bitterly accustomed to.
Critical reception of Food & Liquor II saw the album receiving an average Metacritic score of 70, based on 18 reviews. Kitty Empire of The Observer characterized its music as “pugnaciously mass-market”, but complimented Fiasco’s “righteous fury and weary humour. Fiasco was criticised by The Guardian’s Paul Maclnnes for his attempt to “stand out from many of his hip-hop peers … in such portentous fashion” stating “Fiasco is not without skills or beliefs, but neither are as refined as his self-regard.”Rolling Stone’s Jody Rosen found it to be Fiasco’s most “rewarding effort in a while” Colin McGuire of PopMatters also felt that Fiasco exhibits “heavy-headedness” and ultimately called the album “better-than-average introspective and culturally conscious hip-hop”. Mosi Reeves of Spin wrote that the album is “fine and good. It’s just not The Great American Rap Album. The album sold 89,778 copies in its first week, debuting as #1 on both R&B/Hip-Hop and Rap Albums.The album debuted at number five on the US Billboard 200 chart.
With the current generation of hip-hop (and music in general, for that matter), we have nearly reached the point where production values aren’t going to get much better. So perhaps now, artists can now stop rushing to best Mike Will’s latest release in beats & samples and instead now concentrate on making music with actual depth. Except, of course, this may too be ultimately futile because the best rap album ever, Kanye West’s very own My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has already been made. I commend Lupe for returning to his far more superior rap style and thematic concerns. But is this the quintessential great American rap album deserving of its title?
I think not.