Ranking the Best Lupe Fiasco Albums

Remember a few weeks back when everybody and their great aunt Erma were dropping top 50 lists ranking the best rappers of all time?

I couldn’t help but join in. Somebody gotta speak truth around here, might as well be me.

One of the most frequent criticisms I got was from fans of Lupe Fiasco, who felt I shortchanged him by placing him so far down my list.

Listen, I’m a huge Lupe fan. But even the biggest fan can admit that, despite his incredible lyricism and intriguing concepts, his career has had serious peaks and valleys. You never know what you’re gonna get from him. And that’s what makes being a Lupe fan such a frustrating, yet fascinating experience.

On his best day, Lupe is one of the greatest MCs to lay hands on a microphone – a man that has 5-star albums on his resume and typically outshines his peers with ease. His victories have often been clouded by both personal and professional drama, but when he’s good, he’s one of the best we’ve ever had. His creativity is boundless. And his wordplay? Incomparable.

Let’s look at the past 13 years of Lupe’s career, rating his LPs by quality, album consistency, and impact on the genre. We’ll be excluding his mixtapes this time around.

drogas light

7. Drogas Light (2017)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: Sigh. I get what Lupe was attempting to do here with the uncharacteristic poppy production and sing-songy hooks. He’s intentionally using contemporary rap styles and production to market his message to new listeners, almost using Drogas Light as a commentary itself on the state of modern hip-hop. But on this undercover mission, Lupe went in too deep and fell victim to the same mistakes as underachieving peers. The first half of the album is conceptually ambitious but by the end he comes off as a clone of inferior rappers. Did Lupe really “Dumb It Down?” Nah, but his attempts to please both Day Ones and mainstream audiences go off the rails.

Forgotten favorites: “Jump,” “Tranquillo”

lasers

6. Lasers (2011)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: Oh yeah, THIS album. Most of you reading this already know the story – Lupe was on a meteoric rise, his label wanted more pop-friendly material, Lupe balked and the slapdash Lasers was born from that chaos. And despite its reputation as the worst album in the history of the cosmos, it’s not THAT bad. Its biggest sin is that it’s just not Lupe. Look beyond the endless guest stars with grating hooks and you’ll find a few morsels (“All Black Everything” is one of my favorite Lupe tracks ever and incredibly relevant today). It’s just not the album that fans, nor Lupe, wanted.

Forgotten favorites: “All Black Everything,” “Words I Never Said,” “Letting Go”

food and liquor 2

5. Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 (2012)

Soul in Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: F&L II has become a bit of a forgotten album for Lupe, lost between the drama of Lasers and his Tetsuo & Youth revivalReviews were mixed at the time but it’s not a bad outing. The storytelling and concept tracks that built his career shine here in fine form, despite some so-so production and slight preachiness. It’s nowhere near the heights of Food & Liquor I, but it’s a step in the right direction after a tough previous year.

Forgotten favorites: “Form Follows Function,” “B*tch Bad,” “Lamborghini Angels”

drogas wave

4. Drogas Wave (2018)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: I’ve criticized a lot of albums in recent years for needless length – Drake, Meek Mill, Jacquees, and a ton more. And even though Lupe’s seventh LP is yet another massive undertaking, somehow it doesn’t collapse under its own weight. Maybe it’s because he has so much to say. Lupe weaves an ambitious tale of slave ships and revolution and people living underwater (it’s a LOT) but the prevailing narrative of bondage and freedom is what really hits home. When Lupe’s focused, he’s one of the best lyricists on the planet, and he really has his game face on here. It’s not an easy listen but it’s necessary.

Forgotten favorites: “Cripple,” “Happy Timbuck2 Day,” “WAV Files”

tetsouandyouth

3. Tetsuo & Youth (2015)

Soul in Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5

Read our review here

Edd said: By 2015 we all thought Lupe Fiasco’s best days had passed him by. Not that he hasn’t given us solid material in the past five years, he’s just been forever haunted by the specter of his Lasers album and many ill-timed social media rants. But in a world dying for social commentary, Lupe got his groove back. Tetsuo & Youth is a sprawling dialogue of America’s ills — from the plight of the heartbroken mother to inner-city crime so prevalent that you can’t even order pizza, Lupe weaved tales that hit home and allowed him to showcase his renowned wordplay. Need proof? Just listen to the eight-minute “Mural,” the best rap song of 2015.

Forgotten favorites: “Madonna,” “They.Resurrect.Over.New.,” “Deliver”

the-cool

2. Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool (2007)

Soul in Stereo rating:  4 stars out of 5

Edd said: I always love a good concept album, and Lupe’s sophomore release proves that when done well, they truly shine. Building upon a track of the same name from his previous album, The Cool features tracks that build to larger narrative. From fighting against mediocrity (“Dumb It Down”) to finding solace in music (“Hip-Hop Saved My Life”) and eventual fame (“Superstar”), The Cool forced listeners to think, relate and apply its themes to their own lives. That’s why it resonates so strongly.

Forgotten favorites: “The Coolest,” “Intruder Alert,” “Go Baby”

foodandliquor

1. Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor (2006)

Soul in Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Food & Liquor should have been Lupe’s Reasonable Doubt – a critically-acclaimed bedrock that would vault its maestro to mainstream success. Things didn’t quite work out that way for Lupe, but in ’06, he seemed on the verge of hip-hop domination. Much in the vein of albums before it (Kanye West’s College Dropout comes to mind) and many albums after it (Kendrick Lamar’s Section 80, among others), Lupe doesn’t pretend to be who he’s not. Instead of thug posturing, he simply observes his hood and relays his findings in the form of biting social commentary. Immigration, single parenthood and hip-hop’s own hypocrites are analyzed in compelling fashion. Few albums in the history of hip-hop can measure up to this.

Forgotten favorites: “Pressure,” “Hurt Me Soul,” “American Terrorist”

What are your favorite Lupe albums? Let us know below.

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