Review: Lupe Fiasco is back (hopefully for good) on 'Food & Liquor II'

Six years ago Lupe Fiasco released his critically-acclaimed debut album Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor.  In those six years Lupe is now regarded as one of the top lyricists of our time, has avoided the sophomore jinx with The Cool, and won a Grammy. It wasn’t all positive during this period for Cool Young Lu, though. His hardcore fans still remember the disappointing Lasers album, when he called our Commander and Chief a terrorist, and his several empty threats to retire.

In short, Lupe is complex. This time around the Chicago wordsmith gets our attention by delivering the long-awaited Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album pt. 1

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Originally intended as a double disc, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album pt 1 is split up into two themes, America and rap.  Not one to shy away from controversy, Lupe takes the “America” part of the album to touch on a variety of topics from his perspective, such as poverty, religion, politics, and corruption.

After a spoken word intro from his sister Ayesha, setting a tone reminiscent of his earlier and more celebrated work, he starts off the with “Strange Fruition,” a track that delves into how institutionalized racism plagues our country and how the result in turn reflects our community and hip-hop culture.

On “Around My Way” the emcee lays out his issues with government and our fixation on being a military superpower that in his eyes perpetuates the cycle of more violence and international hatred, and begs for peace instead. The highlight on the America-themed section is without a doubt the album’s second single, ‘B*tch Bad.’ A play on words, Lupe creates a discussion piece about power and perception that the word, often romanticized in hip-hop culture, has over children and the highly impressionable:

“Now as I wander through the city goin’ mad/ I see the fruits of planting evidence instead of grass/ A swindled generation with no patience, full of swag/ Man, they so impatient with the stations that they have/ As long as they look good when they be doin’ bad, then the separation from the truth is getting’ vast, fast”

The second half of the album trades in the social commentary slightly in favor of showcasing himself as the lyrical technician we’ve known him to be. This intent is quickly demonstrated on ‘”Form Follows Function.” Lupe removes the typical song structure of hooks and cadences, and spits free of any restriction, delivering one of the album’s strongest cuts.

“Cold War” finds Lupe in a deeply personal state reflecting on the loss of one of his closest friends, seemingly pouring out his pain and confusion over the track for the listener to digest. ‘Hood Now’ appropriately brings the album to a close with a light-toned celebratory record describing the ascendance of African-Americans and urban culture now being deemed popular or at the forefront of society:

 “First off gotta send shout outs to my ni**as/ Then shout outs to my inner demons that be creepin’ around my temple/ Ready to set me off like Vivica or make me cross like a crucifix/ or the legs on a Buddhist sitter deep in thought/ thinking as deep as the sea of salt/ and they sink in the same sea that we walk/ Not that we Jesus, we just don’t wait until it thaws”

Unlike Lasers, this album lacks the need to cater towards mainstream radio, providing Lupe the creative freedom to create an album that is arguably one of his best.

Obviously refreshed, Lupe makes good on pt. 1 of his last two albums on Atlantic records by creating a product that his core fan base will be proud and a casual listener can be proud of.

Filled with his anti-establishment remarks, stark view on society, and love for social uplift, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album proves that Lupe Fiasco is back… that is until he threatens us with his retirement again.

Chris Martin is a Brooklyn-based writer. He is a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University and co-editor of You can follow him on twitter at @SozeSays.