Lupe Fiasco returns with a much more focused effort than his 2011 album Lasers and it’s clear that on Food & Liquor II, that Lupe is free from his label constraints and the responsibility to be radio friendly in order to generate a commercially viable album like Lasers (which remains his most commercially successful album to date). However being radio friendly wasn’t what resonated with Lupe and Hip Hop fans alike, the politically charged content laced with social awareness that lived in his music was initially what catapulted the Chicago emcee to forefront of rap and gained him mass recognition as one of Hip Hops brightest contributors in the 2000s.
In the lead up to this albums release, Lupe stayed true to form being embroiled in a few controversial moments such as calling President Barrack Obama a terrorist. His recent single Bitch Bad that inverts the use of one of Hip Hop’s favourite expletives, in his attempt to start a conversation about language and its impact on the youth. He was also caught up in the new school vs old school homage argument, over his use of Pete Rock & CLs tribute song T.R.O.Y on his first single from F&L II Around My Way (Freedom Aint Free). His latest moment saw him demonise up and coming rapper Chief Keef and the culture the Chicago rapper represents which in turn lead to Fiasco alluding to retirement. So if Kanye West described his recent compilation album ‘Cruel Summer as a ‘sonic snapshot of music in 2012’, then F&L II is a social snapshot of cultural values and society in 2012.
Food & Liquor II revisits the same premises put forth on it’s predecessor, now 6 years later he pulls the curtain back on reality of the world we live in. The albums opener Strange Fruition doesn’t waste any time with formalities, Lupe clearly states ‘I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag/cos i can’t find any reconciliation with your past/when there was nothing equal for my people in your math/ you forced us in the ghettos, and then you took our dads. Fans who were disappointed with his last album will find solace 17 track social rap commentary. As the album progresses the content becomes more intense as Lupe explicitly delivers sensitive stories such as paedophilia within the church framework and attacks the credibility of Christianity on Lamborghini Angels.
He also remains rooted in his 1st person narrative as to not confuse his ideals with those he simply projects as appearance vs reality is an underlying theme that plays the background on F&L II. On one hand for example Lupe addresses his infamous statement directed at the president that received a huge backlash for his ‘anti-american’ comments, however on ITAL (Roses) he flips his comment onto it’s reality, likening it to the mentality of an child living in Afghanistan, the lines are as follows. ‘Called the president a terrorist/Caught responses like, how the fuck you gon’ embarrass us?/Ain’t my fault, I was just repeatin’ 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/The fuck you think they call him, I’mma leave that all alone. Lupe cleverly redeems himself but still keeps the essence of his initial statement alive within this social context that is a clear reality for some.
The production that remains mid tempo but lacks the soulful release that was delivered on Food & Liquor one doesn’t take away from the album instead it is a more accurate offering of the sonic shift within Hip Hop. Where in 2006 the frequent use of chipmunk soul samples was still very much the trend and Lupe used such to create some classic material for that era. There has been a notable shift in the way Hip Hop music sounds as of late. However at times he falls victim to the rich chords and twinkling piano driven melodies that can often overshadow the message he’s trying to put across. In other words the beats don’t match the content and distract from Lupe’s voice. Heart Donor is a prime example of where a very sluggish tempo, RnB esque beat and a subpar hook can easily prompt the listener to flick next with ease. However with Battle Scars his voice is pristine alongside the vocals of Guy Sebastian where he talks directly to his audience about more issues to do with war and socialism, he addresses classism on Form Follows Function and continues to poke holes in the system. Where it might feel as if the passion behind his lyrics and message is not as aggressive as the likes of Dead Prez, his conversationalist flow still works because Lupe Fiasco realizes that where the old heads will appreciate this album, he’s really trying to appeal to the younger generation with his food for thought concepts, questions and statements.
Food & Liquor II in its entirety is consistent and fluent. Even though at times Lupe Fiasco takes up the position of a ‘preacher’ by pointing fingers at all the ‘evils’ of the world and who’s to blame for what, on a more intricate level this album is a tool for learning. He’s challenging his listeners to investigate his claims, cross reference and ultimately be ‘active’ listeners. Not to say if you listen to mainstream Hip Hop you’re passive but in current culture there’s a gap between those who can listen and separate glitz & glam from reality and those that just accept the product as is (Y.O.L.O epidemic ?).
Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album is an album littered with age old issues (Bitch Bad), new age trends (Around My Way), uncomfortable topics (Battle Scars, Lamborghini Angels). I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to this album and it’s clear for all to see that Lupe Fiasco back in his element with his latest effort and let’s face it that’s where he shines best.
Album picks: Strange Fruition, ITAL (Roses), Around My Way (Freedom Aint Free), Form Follows Function, Cold War.
Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album is out now.