Food and Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Part 1 (released Sept. 24, 2012)
Real talk: It’s put up or shut up time for Lupe.
Lupe Fiasco’s monumental 2006 debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor, still reigns as one of the top three rap albums of the past decade. The follow-up, 2007’s Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, was another near-masterpiece. Rap seemed to have a new crown prince. But things went south with last year’s Lasers – despite a decent showing commercially, Lupe’s once-ravenous fan base was not satisfied with the abundance of uncharacteristic pop records. Lupe blamed the album’s shortcomings on meddling from his record label. Since then, there have been rumors of retirement, political ramblings and pointless beefs with upstart rappers and even magazines.
Who beefs with magazine writers?
Lupe’s in an unenviable position – he must prove to longtime fans that he’s still the savior of conscious rap while also trying to capitalize on the commercial appeal of his last album. Food and Liquor 2 tries to serve two masters – the backpacking hip hop fan and the MTV-watching hipster – and does a much better job than Lupe’s last album.
Lupe’s known for his mind-bending concept tracks and he adds to his calaogue with “B*tch Bad.” Lu puts the dreaded b-word under a microscope and flips it inside and out, forcing the listener to realize just how deeply those five letters have infitlrated our society. Peep the last four bars of the track as shows how divisive the word can be for a young couple:
Bad mean good to her, she really nice and smart
But bad mean bad to him, b*tch don’t play your part
But b*tch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way
But she think she a b*tch, what a double entendre
Even the ad-libs Lupe sprinkle throughout the song (“I’m killing these b*tches!!!”) are part of his ammo. What at first seems like typical rap cliches is an actual ATTACK on the typical rap cliches. It’s a return to the Lupe of old – one who isn’t afraid to use his words as weapons against society’s ills.
Lupe admittedly can come off as preachy but he doesn’t care. On “ITAL (Roses)” he reminds us that Lupe is “rapping bout the same sh*t/but that’s cuz sh*t ain’t changed.” Earlier in song he pleads with his peers: “Can’t we get a break from the cocaine and kilos?/Ain’t no future in the gang bang/ain’t no manhood in the ‘bang-bang.'” But for those who still want to hear that drug talk, just check out “Form Follows Function”: “Been in the stu all day cooking food for thought…might find sushi for your soul/we call that moving raw.” Now THAT’s dope.
Through most of the album, Lupe paints a pessimistic portrait of the American dream, which matches the eerily blank album cover. Lupe vividly lays out society’s ills on “Lamborghini Angels” and riding Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s old T.R.O.Y. beat on “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free).” This isn’t an album to throw on during a cookout or before you hit the club. It can be a heavy listen.
The album starts to sputter about three-fourths of the way through, when ventures into the dreaded Lasers territory. Lupe scales back his lyrical thunder for forgettable one-liners on “How Dare You.” The hook on the current single “Battle Scars” is so grating that you’ll eventually start tuning out Lupe’s lyrics. And if you see any track that says “featuring Poo Bear,” hit ‘skip’ on your iPod. These tracks may have endeared him to the mainstream last time out, but they stall the momentum of a solid project.
The album is also hurt by so-so production and a lack of diverse concepts, excluding B*tch Bad and the outro “Hood Now,” which paints an entertaining – and accurate – portrait of urban life. Another strong concept track or two would have really gone a long way.
Food and Liquor 2 is nowhere near as good as Lupe’s first two efforts but, thankfully, it’s much stronger than his last one. Forget all the drama and pointless beefs, Lupe’s rededication to his lyrics will remind you why he captivated us way back in 2006.
Best tracks: “Form Follows Function,” “B*tch Bad,” “Lamborghini Angels”
4 stars out of 5