Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt1
- Despite that fact that Lupe Fiasco was once top of the world, he's one of the few rappers that have fallen from grace that I still have a little sympathy for. From a distance away, looking in, Lupe always seemed like a decent enough dude. The classic example of an artist nearly destroyed by his own fleeting success, constantly struggling to find that nearly impossible happy middle ground of keeping true to his own fresh self, whilst remaining marketable enough for Atlantic Records to stay off his damn back. After two, both killer and relatively successful records, you'd think the world would let the dude take a step back, have a couple of deep breaths and a minute or two of quiet self-reflection to help put his tumultuous mind at ease.
Well the world didn't give Lupe a even second, and despite his sophomore record, The Cool, being an absolute blast and a clear step forward for the young MC, it didn't seem to spawn enough chart topping hits, and before we knew it, Lupe was already planning on wrapping (sic) up his recording career with one last blast, a final record dubbed LupE.N.D., a record that, at the very least, might give Lupe's restless little heart some peace.
Well. just like most of the best intentions, LupE.N.D. ended up coming to nothing, an exit strategy shot down by the powers that be. Lupe Fiasco nothing more than a modern day Steve McQueen, a man with more heart than sense and seemingly little left to lose. Well, fictional (and sadly also actual) Steve McQueen lost his life, and Lupe lost his credibility: the openly unhappy rapper eventually bringing out his third, and definitely not final record Lasers, apparently a slightly awkward backronym for the almost too heartfelt title, "Love Always Shines Everytime, Remember 2 Smile". Let's be honest, it's a little queasy making. While I'm not going to dwell on it, that record was a bit rubbish - Lupe himself even slammed the final product, the result of two opposing forces failing to make either side happy.
If Lupe was feeling positive, which I really doubt he was, at least he had nowhere to go but up, and despite his threats apparently he'd prefer to try and burn out than simply fade away into the abyss. This fourth slog sees Lupe unleash the sequel to his debut record, a questionable attempt to regain some of that lost spark, years after the fact. He doesn't seem to have learnt the lesson about flowery album titles, this latest groaning under the weight of Food & Liqour II: The Great American Rap Album - Pt. 1, a record that already has a direct sequel in the works and also bears a plain black cover- a misguided attempt at some higher level creative message and another jab at Atlantic Records, the abusive father than Lupe can't seem to break away from.
A recurring theme for Lupe, recently, the story behind the music constantly threatens to push the actual tunes into the background, which would actually be half a shame, as despite the harsh love I'm doling out to the dude, this record is actually pretty decent. Sure, it's a little preachy and pretentious, and there's definitely a couple of chart crossover tracks that bring the record down a notch or two, but all things considered there's a fair bit to like here. Lead single "Around My Way" still bangs hard regardless of how shamelessly the beat was jacked from Pete Rock, and "Bitch Bad" makes a pretty good, but slightly obvious crack at the treatment of women in hip-hop, wihtout getting too bogged down in the message.
The best tracks here are the ones where Lupe isn't forcing the issue and allow the talented MC to do his thing without any gimmicks, guests or other distractions. This becomes apparent on some of the closing tracks here, a redeeming end to a record that starts off strong, gets a little lost in the middle and finishes pretty strongly once more. It gives me at least a little hope for Pt. 2 of this and a grand return of the Lupe of old. Hopefully by then he'll have sorted out the kinks.
- Jay Edwards.