Lupe Fiasco appears to be in a better place than he was the last time he came around pushing a proper studio release with Lasers. No public label disputes or New York City sanctioned protests organized by his rabid fan base were needed to secure a release date. No petulant outbursts about hating the album just weeks before hitting retail. Sure, there was a second President Obama flap, too many Chief Keef mentions, and another inevitable collision with a notable publication, but that’s beginning to feel like par for L-U-P-Enigma. Ever since Fiascogate, the Chicagoan’s tendency to drop on-wax wizardry and arguably off-wax word vomit has become his career’s sardonic narrative, juxtaposed like those food and liquor stores in the Chi. But Wasulu Jaco doesn’t cow-tow to the propaganda peddlers. For better and worse, he never has. On Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, Lupe Fiasco remains as resolute as ever.
Since Lasers, Lupe’s rhyming from a first-person perspective occurs more regularly. Where tracks like “The Cool” and “The Instrumental” (off his classic debut Food & Liquor) covertly invade the brain space like ninjas, here, the day-one Occupy Wallstreeter bogarts the human microphone stout in a “Words I Never Said”-type stance. Literally, the first bars on the album’s opening song, “Strange Fruition,” are “Now I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag / Cause I can’t find no reconciliation with your past,” delivered with a controlled aggression as if a Tupac-inspired Cornell Westside emerged through a cloud of self-inflicted controversy strapped with an AK-47 and government, materialism, corporate sponsored Hip Hop scribbled on his metaphorical hit list. “Depart from Martin [Luther King, Jr] and connect on Malcolm X tip,” he rips on the track that Pete Rock pissed on, “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” an instance of unfortunate irony. Coming from a cat who was infamously accused of disrespecting certain Golden Era icons, this one feels more like a subtle olive branch – contextually embodying the revolutionary spirit of Rap’s Greatest Generation while lyrically upholding “T.R.O.Y.’s.” timelessness. Somehow, Lu got it right and still got it wrong. Then on “ITAL (Roses),” he cagily doubles-down on his infamous position that the United States President is a terrorist, shows no remorse, then deads the issue:
“Called the President a terrorist / Corporate sponsors like, ‘How the fuck you gonna embarrass us?’ / Ain’t my fault / I was just repeating this Professor Emeritus / From America / But my tone was / Like an Afghani kid without a home / Blew that bitch up with a drone / An Iraqi with no daddy, Palestinian throwing stones / What the fuck you think they call him? / I’ma leave that all alone.”
Bridging the divide between Carrera Lu’s advice and actions can be a bit dizzying. He’ll preach that it’s better to have a Camry than the burden of a Ferrari (“ITAL Roses”) then boast that his Ferrari is “bout as ready as when Carrie was the prom queen” (“Put Em Up”). He’ll use the hook on “Audubon Ballroom” to remind Black people that “we’re not niggas ‘cause God made us greater than that” then open “Form Follows Function” with “First off / Gotta send shout outs to my niggas.” Lupe galvanized listeners by reveling at a deeper depth for over half a decade, conditioning his fanatical following to dissect seemingly every adlib. Now, whether warranted or otherwise, even the smallest inconsistencies seem to linger longer than necessary. All remain captivating lyrical displays, nevertheless. And, excluding “Put Em Up’s” retched hook, all are great songs.
The Guy Sebastian-assisted “Battle Scars” is another winner, oozing mass appeal without deteriorating into sloshy mainstream ball-tickling like the historically awful “Heart Donor” (featuring Poo Bear). Seriously, not only is the song the definition of corny, lathered in Pop swash, and noticeably redundant – considering “Battle Scars” and “How Dare You” (featuring Bilal) more compellingly fulfill the red-meat-for-radio quotient – but it just might be the worst four minutes in the history of Fiasco full-lengths.
But those moments are easily forgotten. With Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, Rap’s resident Judo master of juxtaposition sounds inspired again, dishing out shifting dichotomies through a scattering of deliveries without encroaching on petulance. “Unforgivable Youth” (featuring Jason Evigan) represents like Lu’s “Conflict Diamonds Remix”: simultaneously intriguing and educational. And The Runners’ triumphant “Brave Heart” rages like a lyrical middle finger rising out of the skyline, taunting like the Freedom Tower. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, [Hip Hop] must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. Lupe’s ironically been branded with both since his ’06 bum rush. But there remains something noble about Chi-town’s Guevara relentlessly waving his beliefs without fear of backlash. Someone has to shine a light on all the world’s ills, right? If not Lu, then who?