Oh, Lupe. You were the savior. You were the future of hip hop. You were the next generation. That was our fault—we apologize—it was far too much pressure. But hey, it made you rich, it made you successful, it put your dissenting face on Bill O’Reilly. For a minute you were sharing space with Kanye and Jay-Z—those were good times. You still put on a great show, because no matter what they say, you wrote a lot of good songs. We won’t talk about Lasers. You’ve certainly been responsible for more happiness than sadness. I still get excited when I hear you’re coming back around.
A sequel with far too much syntax: Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1. I don’t think Lupe is a guy who thought he would be making poetic follow-ups. I mean, he rapped about skateboards, a fresh cool young Lu. Take a gander at that ‘06 cover art: like charming, cheesy sci-fi, a phat boombox pasted on his chest like the world’s realest millennial. I wish he was still down with that; instead FL2:TGARAP1 comes bearing a grim, monolithic and indignantly important-looking pitch-black sleeve. Metallica, Prince and Lupe Fiasco. You could never call it a significant album, but it feels good, in a way that reminds you why this kid was a savior.
Fiasco’s about politics, not kickflips. He flexes radical on racism, terrorism and false prophets. That’s why the velvety strings come with song titles like “Strange Fruition,” or why he’s willing to flip Pete Rock’s legendary horn-loop with a “Crucifixes, racism and land grab /Katrina FEMA trailers, human body sandbags.” Big talk. I certainly won’t question his ethics. Do I think the “Bad Bitch” feminist-rap lecture adds much? I mean, it’s a conversation as old as time. But this dude wrote “Dumb It Down” back when he was vibing in worldwide grace. Yeah, Lu’s rhetoric has sharpened with the Occupy afterglow, but this is him, not mutated rave-rap overextensions. His voice is as clear as day.
I don’t like being preached to in my rap music, and Fiasco’s career has shown a stark inability to reign in his righteousness, but in his best moments, his rapping has made up for any infringing morality. I think that’s the best thing I can say about Food & Liquor II, a song like “Put ‘em Up” is aggressively no-nonsense in its execution—three verses of Lupe calmly disassembling every nook and cranny of a 1500 or Nothin’ instrumental. That’s the sort of thing we’ve been missing.
These aren’t particularly deep messages. Lupe treads water. On “Ital [Roses]” he literally says that he “raps about the same shit,” the same song where he tells us all to save our money. At best you could call Food and Liquor II a slightly above-average rap album, and you know what? I’m really happy to report that. Lupe Fiasco is allowed to be mediocre; every artist is allowed periods of mediocrity. But it also means that he’s out of the creative wilderness that’s plagued him over the last few years. Fiasco is focused, and results may vary. We’re glad to have him back.