For all of his combative controversies, Lupe Fiasco has consistently opened crucial dialogue throughout his career, sometimes in the form of Twitter rants, most times in the form of well-tuned lyrics. While the social media tirades are a relatively new foil, Lu's latest Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1, in stores on Tuesday (September 25), follows a rich tradition of politically minded rap.
Lupe, who once suggested that President Barack Obama is a terrorist and who refuses to vote in the upcoming November 6 presidential election, unsurprisingly sets his fourth studio album off by questioning American ethics and socio-political agendas. "Now I can't pledge allegiance to your flag/ 'Cause I can't find no reconciliation with your past/ When there was nothing equal for my people in your math/ You forced us in the ghetto and then you took our dads," he spits on "Strange Fruition," a modern day take on Billie Holiday's 1933 racially charged recording "Strange Fruit."
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.
What is your favorite track from Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt.1? Let us know in the comments!