Food And Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1

Lupe Fiasco

1st & 15th / Atlantic, 2012

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


This album, the long-awaited sequel to 2006’s Lupe Fiasco’s Food And Liquor, finds Lupe Fiasco reclaiming his crown as rap’s most outspoken, anti-establishment voice. That’s not to say that his last release, 2011’s Lasers, wasn’t solidly listenable. But dogged by label issues (the disc was held up for two and a half years by Atlantic, which demanded creative control and hit singles), Lasers ended up being released with a shiny pop sensibility that just didn’t allow Lupe to shine at the best of his ability.

Enter Food And Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1. Just by its title alone, you can tell that Lupe is fired up and ready to make waves. These songs were actually recorded during the hold-up of Lasers, and the material is an interesting intersection between the incisive wordplay of his earlier albums and the cleaner, more overt stylings of Lasers.

Starting from the opening notes of “Strange Fruition,” it’s clear that this is Lupe reclaiming his essence. With vigorous, incisive lyrics and an eerily muted, Auto-Tuned hook, it’s an ominous and assertive entry into Lupe’s vision of our world, for better or for worse (usually worse; this track is the definition of disillusionment, whether it’s with systematic racism and oppression or with the shallowness of hip-hop culture). However, as with some of the other songs here, the beats aren’t fleshed out enough, often taking a backseat to the wordplay. It’s nothing too detrimental, but I would have loved to see a little more variation, some more musical exploration to really match the creativity of the lyrics, especially since Lupe’s writing would shine nonetheless.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The momentum here is unrelenting, at least through the first half of the album (more on that to come). The saxophone-infused “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” is a breathless litany “of the extremes of America’s dream,” calling attention to everything from Ghana to Wounded Knee to South Central – to an endlessly replicating culture of suffering, a world gone mad. It’s all sobering to listen to, and Lupe’s delivery – often without too much inflection – has a way of worming its way inside your mind, making you digest the songs as more than just vehicles for a catchy hook. Just check out “Audubon Ballroom,” which explores the use of the N-word with a fascinating depth, along with some powerful instrumentation: rising synths paired with ferocious drums, all giving way to a trickling piano riff.

Still, that’s just a prelude to what I consider the album’s most interesting track, “Bitch Bad,” which deals with how gender roles begin to take root, ultimately morphing our sense of identity. In just one stanza, Lupe shows just how unparalleled he is in rap today – really, in all of music: “Disclaimer: this rhymer, Lupe, is not usin’ ‘bitch’ as a lesson / But as a psychological weapon / To set it in your mind and really mess with your conceptions / Discretions, reflections, it’s a clever misdirection.” “Bitch Bad” is just so unlike anything in our musical landscape that it demands repeat listens.

And that’s just the first half of the disc. The second gets a little patchier, though that’s generally the case when the runtime is a full hour and twenty minutes. “Heart Donor” (feat. Poo Bear) is all-out cheese, while “How Dare You” (feat. Bilal) sounds straight off Lasers with its romancing ways (the hook “You shine like the lights of Las Vegas” is all sorts of ridiculous, mongering for radio play in a way that it seems like Lupe would disparage). The only moment in which mass appeal actually overlaps with substance is “Battle Scars,” which gets an assist from Guy Sebastian; with a soaring, emotive chorus and Lupe delivering his verses from the heart instead of just going through the motions, it’s no wonder this song earned him his first number one single.

The album reaches its close with “Hood Now,” which celebrates black culture with a deceptively lighthearted tone and even reaches out to Lupe’s frequent target, President Obama (“The White House, you already know / It’s hood now”).

Despite an unfortunate patch of the disc in which all the less vibrant, rich material is lumped together, for the most part, Food And Liquor II is a largely cohesive statement from the ever-polarizing Lupe. His writing is nothing short of resplendent, tackling with passion and dignity areas of our culture that are often left resigned to the shadows. This is an album that demands to be thoroughly explored, questioned, and incorporated.  Keep your eyes out for Part Two, which is set to be released in 2013.

Rating: B+

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© 2012 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of 1st & 15th / Atlantic, and is used for informational purposes only.