For better or worse, there aren’t too many emcees that
are remotely close in skill level to that of Lupe Fiasco. For better because of his incomparable lyricism that
could draw comparisons to what Jay-Z
may have been if it weren’t for the drug game. The double entendres, the knack
to flip his style at the drop of the dime and unique capability to tell stories
all could make Lupe the “Nerd Hova”.
But for worse because when someone is that far ahead of the game, it is
relatively difficult for the average person to catch up.
Food & Liquor
was the brilliant debut that showcased the better and the worse of Lupe Fiasco. Critically acclaimed yet
couldn’t put a significant dent in soundscan (and wouldn’t have sold what it
had if it wasn’t for the Kanye West
and Jay-Z cosigns), it was apparent
that Lupe was a tough pill to
swallow. Add that to the fact that he is
nothing like one would have thought him to be (i.e. the “Fiascogate” incident)
and you have what is called an enigma.
As complex as the makeup of Lupe Fiasco is, one must be curious if he unloaded all of his best
on his debut album. A year later, a “GQ Man of the Year” nod, a Grammy nomination and a title of “the
next big thing” all morph into The Cool
– the 2nd of Lupe’s trilogy. Is the hunger still there? Can he
duplicate or exceed his debut? Or was F&L
simply a fluke that can’t be done again?
Expanding on the concept of the song The Cool off of F&L, Lupe Fiasco‘s sophomore effort is
nearly flawless as a follow up to his astounding debut. Opening with his sister, Iesha Jaco, giving a spoken word piece on what some have thought to
be cool and an ode to his imprisoned confidant, Chilly, Lupe blows the
doors open with the double-time cadence of Go
Go Gadget Flow. The gloves are off and it’s evident that Lupe is on a mission. Whether you “get
it” or not is none of his concern. Either join the club or join the haters.
Those who side with lyricism and creativity in favor of today’s “club bangers”
will opt for the former.
While many artists are known to tone down their intellect
to sound more Mike Tyson than Michael Eric Dyson for mass consumption,
Lupe embraces his gift of gab and
releases a lyrical mindfuck titled Dumb
It Down – which serves as the perfect “fuck you” song to those who think
he’s too smart for his own good. Take
this display for example:
“Pimps C/see the
wings on the underground king
Who’s also Klingon,
to infinity and beyond
Something really stinks, but I Sphinx/Spinks like Leon
or lying/lion in the desert
I’m flying on Pegasus, you’re flying on the pheasant
Writer of the white powder, picker of the fire flowers
Spit, “hot fyah” like Dylan on Chappelle’s skit
Yeah, smell it on my unicorn
Snort the white horse, but toot my own horn – sleep”
It’s definitely not something that can be digested in one
sitting. Lu shows off some wicked
wordplay while eerily making a reference to the late Pimp C. Efforts like this are just cause to beat your rewind button
As far as narratives go, there aren’t many who can claim
the same space of storytelling superiority as Fiasco. The Cool plays out like a novel filled with short stories that
relate to each other in some way, shape or form.
praise of the late Underground King,
Hip Hop Saved My Life is one
ridiculous piece of work that combines Lu‘s
affinity for Houston emcees with an amazingly sharp tale of one’s attempt at
breaking into the industry. Intruder Alert features three accounts
dealing with the harsh realities of life while the Patrick Stump (of Fall Out
Boy) production titled Little Weapon
glows with its reference to kids in other countries who take up arms. Longtime
friend and hypeman, Bishop G, excels
next to Lupe as he comes correct
with a verse linking video games to violence. The show stealer lyrically is Put You On Game where Lu trumps his American Terrorist effort with something that simply has to be
heard to believe.
But it’s not all mindfucks and narratives – Lu knows how to have fun too. Paris, Tokyo is ironically a very Jungle Brothers like track that finds Lu spending moments with a lady. But
don’t think that a relaxed track such as this means Lu is taking a break from the lyrics. Making a coded reference to Jay-Z and Damon Dash‘s split with “They
want me to leave my Dame like a fella from Marcy,” it has to be
realized that Fiasco‘s gifts are
almost supernatural – as well as second nature.
Watch is simply the make-up of Fiasco
and what makes him tick. Everything from Street
Fighter II to Mont Blanc pens
get referenced here and does nothing but make it even more complicated to
figure him out. And I have a feeling
that Lupe likes it that way.
The production provided by Soundtrakk, Chris & Drop
and Ashlux makes The Cool unique yet digestible. Whether it be the snapping drums that drive Matthew Santos‘ vocals on the Chris & Drop produced Streets On Fire, the Linkin Park-esque vibe of the Ashlux produced and Snoop Dogg assisted Hi-Definition, or the grooving keys of Soundtrakk‘s Superstar, The Cool definitely
fits Lupe‘s persona to a tee.
The only conceivable reason that The Cool isn’t an instant classic is because of the tail end of the
album. After being slammed with brilliant song after innovative concept, the
latter part of the album isn’t as good as it started – although still far
superior than 90% of what other emcees have put out.
We all know Lu
loves rock and he goes hard with Unkle
on the dark Hello/Goodbye (Uncool). Although it is by no means a bad song, it’s
rock vibe provides an unnecessary speed bump that causes this high octane ride
to slow down a bit. The Die suffers
from an average beat and an equally average guest spot from Lu prodigy, Gemstones. And while Go Baby
is a solid track, Fighters may have
been better suited to close the album. But these issues are infinitesimal at
best and nitpicking at worst.
With Food &
Liquor as his Illmatic, The Cool follows up as his It Was Written – incredibly good yet slightly flawed enough to not make it an instant classic. But for an artist who
can only compare to himself, it’s quite difficult to outdo your introduction to
the world. The Cool proves that Food & Liquor was no accident and
it’s quite possible that the best has yet to come. If L-U-P-End – the final album of the trilogy – is as good as this and
he does in fact bow out, be prepared for the name “Fiasco” to be etched in the G.O.A.T. tablets in Hip Hop history. He’s just that damn good.