By Rob Markman
Lupe Fiasco is a polarizing rap figure. Folks seem to either hate him or love him, but what can’t be denied is the Chicago lyricist’s knack for putting words together. Deeper than his Twitter-sprees or combative controversies is the message that he puts forth in his music and Lupe’s latest Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1, in stores on Tuesday, follows a rich tradition of politically minded rap.
Lu’s passion for politics isn’t dissimilar to strong cultural voices like Public Enemy, KRS-One, Ice Cube or Dead Prez, but these days, MCs seem less concerned with questioning the status quo. On “ITAL (Roses),” Lupe offers an alternative to the drug-infused trap rap that is so prevalent today. Instead he drops lessons, bucks trends and preaches fiscal responsibility, telling kids that Toyota Camrys are just as good as Ferraris and cost much less to maintain. “Watch that ho depreciate and then you’ll understand me,” he spits.
For all of Lupe’s eye-opening commentary it seems to be the rapper’s out-of-studio conflicts which make the biggest headline. Take the Pete Rock sample beef on “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” for example, more important than how Lu utilized Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s 1992 classic “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” is what he was actually saying. In a four-minute span Lupe drops jewels on the poverty-stricken Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where less than 10 percent of children graduate high school. The LP is littered with tidbits of this type of information, leading support to those that fight against injustice and educating those unfamiliar.
To suggest that Lupe’s purpose is solely about the message is a disservice however, because Food & Liquor II is musically sound as well. The 1500 or Nothin’-produced “Put ’Em Up” is a certified head nodder, while on the lyrically dense “Form Follows Function,” Fiasco flows as fluid as ever. Few spitters can match the intensity displayed on “Lamborghini Angels” or the storytelling exhibited on the polarizing “Bitch Bad.”
The album houses few pop moments but isn’t completely devoid of crossover selections. The Bilal-assisted “How Dare You” is as catchy and hopelessly romantic as his 2007 single “Paris, Tokyo” and the pain-stricken “Battle Scars” does more than describe a break-up; it likens love to a battlefield. “Arrow holes that never close, from Cupid on a shooting spree/ Feelin’ stupid because I know there ain’t no you in me,” he raps, attempting to best his broken heart.
In 1990, KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions coined the phrase “Edutainment” with an album of the same name. For all of the entertainment value that hip-hop holds today, the music has skimped on the educational aspect, especially in comparison to the 1990’s Afrocentric era in rap. Over the course of 17 tracks, Lupe Fiasco accomplishes two things: not only does he stand as a new age teacher, he also sounds damn good at the podium.