Album Review: Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1
Lupe Fiasco’s musical career has been as fascinating and complex as the hip hop itself. Growing up in the projects of urban Chicago in a highly educated Muslim household, with a father who was formerly a Black Panthers, Lupe is a reflection of his upbringing.
At age 19, back in 1999, after discovering Nas’ lyrically powerful album Illmatic a couple years before, Lupe joined a rap group called Da Pak. Soon after though, he chose to leave the group because he saw little meaning in rapping about drugs, crime and women. After a number of mixtapes, he crossed paths with Jay-Z and Kanye West who would go on to propel Lupe’s career to a whole new level. Lupe was featured on Kanye’s hit, “Touch the Sky”, which helped him become an established name in the industry. Soon enough, he released his classic single, “Kick Push”, and was signed by Atlantic Records. In 2006, he would release his legendary, beautifully crafted, Grammy Award winning debut album, Food and Liquor. Lupe carried his momentum as one of the most talented, creative, and meaningful lyrical rappers in the hip hop world onto his second album, The Cool, with his chart topping single “Superstar”.
The next three years of Lupe’s career would be his some of his darkest as well as completely unknown for his loyal fans worldwide. Nearly two and half years after his second album, Lupe Fiasco revealed the issues surrounding his next album. He had been constantly butting heads with Atlantic Records’ label executives over the commercial appeal of his music leading to his feelings of anger, lack of control, and disappointment. In an act of unparalleled support, Lupe’s most devoted fans received thousands of signatures and held a rally to force Atlantic Records to release Lupe’s new album. Through great speculation and struggle, Lasers was released in March 2008. As any dedicated Lupe Fiasco can tell you, Lasers, was not exactly what we’d been waiting for over three years. His lyrical depth and storytelling poetic writing were lacking as were the inspired and inventive sampled instrumentals we adored on his first two albums. By any means, Lasers, became his highest selling album because of the commercial, radio friendly appeal of a number of the singles.
Few people believed Lupe Fiasco could return to his intellectually stimulating, intelligently crafted lyricism he once possessed nearly four years earlier. Few people believed Lupe could exceed expectations and enhance his legacy with another excellent hip hop album. While Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor II did not reach the level of natural magnificence that the original project or The Cool sustained, moments on Lupe’s new album are as captivating, meaningful, and thought provoking as Lupe’s created in years. The listener begins the journey through Lupe’s politically vigorous mind with “Strange Fruition”, a stunning combination of a string heavy instrumental and Lupe’s characteristic historical storytelling. He continues on “ITAL (Roses)” with an upbeat, positive approach to the moral issues with the rap game and justifies some of his choices over the years with my favorite line on the album, “I know you’re sayin’, “Lupe rappin’ ‘bout the same shit, Well, that’s cause ain’t shit changed, bitch”.
After that comes “Freedom Ain’t Free”, the single that led to a conflict with Pete Rock over the use of the beat. It’s a little disappointing that Lupe’s producers only barely switched up the sample, but Lupe’s flow is on point, and he smoothly describes images of the American experience. “Audobon Ballroom” is one of the weaker tracks on the album, as it sounds unfocused and forced at times. Lupe continues with his two previously released singles, “B*tch Bad” and “Lamborghini Angels”. Both records feature unique instrumentals for Fiasco’s style. He also experiments with his rhythm on both singles and absolutely excels with it. Not to mention, he paints images of peoples’ experiences like a famous poet. “Put Em Up”, “Battle Scars” and “Cold War” are the last three strong pieces on the project. “Put Em Up” is a dark, lyrically complex track that reminds us of his classic, “Put You On Game”. Meanwhile, “Battle Scars” may sound radio ready because of the hook but Lupe doesn’t water down his writing as he did on mainstream hits on Lasers. Lastly, “Cold War” is a thoughtful and reflective ode to those he has lost on the streets and the struggles they endured in the Chicago projects.
Overall, Food & Liquor II, is an excellent collection of politically and socially heavy content created by one of the most intelligent and capable lyricists in hip hop, when he’s on his game. While the album has two to three weak spots, Lupe Fiasco far surpassed his performance on his last album, and regained a portion of the insight we heard on his first two legendary albums.