Lupe Fiasco has always had a lot to say -- so much so, in fact, that it rarely all fits on record. The Chicago native is a deft MC that makes the very most out of his couplets, but it's the things he says out of the studio that has traditionally had more traction than much of what he's said within it.
Whether by way of addressing leaked music, issues with his record label, questions about his background or an overt displeasure with the American political system, Fiasco's pull quotes eclipse his punchlines. Most recently, he exchanged words via Twitter with young Chicago upstart Chief Keef over Keef's reckless style of music, and then additionally with comedian D.L. Hughley and journalist Roland S. Martin over Fiasco's blanket anti-voting stance.
Calling attention to oneself with shocking declarations near an album release is a trick as old as time, but it's one that, for Fiasco, has only served to distract. It's especially sad, since he's allotted himself a full 16 tracks on his latest, "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1," to extol his (mostly negative) opinions of his country. Over lush production from the likes of pop behemoths 1500 or Nothing, The Runners, as well as longtime collaborator Soundtrakk, Fiasco turns "Food & Liquor II" into one long tirade -- everything sucks and no one's going to fix it. One hopes that Fiasco's societal outlook does not also seep into the quality of his latest album - which might be his last, if we are to believe his Twitter feed.
What are the standout tracks on Lupe Fiasco's new LP? Check out our track-by-track review of "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1."
1. Ayesha Says (Intro) - Like both "Food & Liquor" and "The Cool," "Food & Liquor II" opens with a poem from Lupe's sister, Ayesha. She delivers a state-of-the-hood address, articulating helplessness in the face of the problems Lupe himself attempts to address many times throughout the album.
2. Strange Fruition (Feat. Casey Benjamin) - The title of "Strange Fruition" is an interesting, if not confusing, play on "Strange Fruit," the Abel Meeropol poem (and then Billie Holiday song) about lynching victims. The message here seems to be that everything is terrible and it's wholly the government's fault. "You forced us in the ghetto, and then you took our dads," Lupe raps.
3. ITAL (Roses) - Lupe opens "Ital" speaking to the children directly, continuing a career-long crusade and advising them against the influence of rap videos. The second verse is for the adults who are raising these children, and the third is more or less for whoever is still listening to the song.
4. Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)
"Around My Way," which shares the sample source of Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's seminal "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)," was released early as one of first singles from the album. "Around My Way" sounds exactly like that classic cut, just without any of the character of the original.
5. Audubon Ballroom - The song's opening piano line betrays its energy, but the production is self-aggrandizing (we see you, tuba!) and the chorus' vocal distortion makes it that much more obvious that Bruno Mars has priced himself out of Lupe's recording budget.
6. Bitch Bad
Producer Audible's muted trunk patter is the closest thing on the album to something that sounds like what's on urban radio -- which is great, because the song references urban radio directly. Fiasco weaves a story about the confounding contexts of the modern usage of the word "bitch."
7. Lamborghini Angels
The sweet juxtaposition of ethereal imagery and outright materialism -- apparently, not everything bad is all bad and not everything good is all good.
8. Put 'Em Up - 1500 Or Nothin supplies production for a song that would have been better used as an intro. Fiasco goes into full battle-rap mode, rattling off empty couplets that are no less impressive for their frivolousness.
9. Heart Donor (Feat. Poo Bear) - In the album's strongest bid for empathy, the chorus claims him to be a heart doner because, "Everything I got, I give it all to you/My heart and my soul, I give it all to you." No one said being a politically aware rapper was going to be easy.
10. How Dare You (Feat. Bilal) - This is the album's own "Paris, Tokyo." Girl, how dare you come up in Lupe's world looking all good and distract him from enlightening the people!
11. Battle Scars - We have officially reached portion of the album that aspires for the pop charts by showcasing love trials. Guy Sebastian guests.
12. Brave Heart (Feat. Poo Bear) - "Brave Heart" sounds like something Rick Ross circa "Port Of Miami" would love to rap over. Fiasco really loses himself in the verses, but regardless of who's rapping on them, isn't that what these kinds of beats are made for?
13. Form Follows Function - The song opens with "Shoutouts to my niggas/then shoutouts to my inner demon," which is by now one of Lupe's mission statements. The MC is riffing here, another verbal exercise over poetry club drums and subtle sax line.
14. Cold War (Feat. Crystal Grant) - These late-album theatrics reflect the rapper most people thought Lupe was when he arrived on the scene. "Cold War" is great for its wordplay, save for when Lupe begins the second verse, "Now let me clarify the chorus/and where my cold war is."
15. Unforgivable Youth (Feat. Jason Evigian) - We were sure we had already traversed this part of the album, as "Unforgivable Youth" introduces a hero-making piano line carried by a marching drum and limp guitar.
16. Hood Now (Outro) - For the first time on the entire album, Lupe sounds like he's having fun. "Hood Now" is admirably casual, with Lupe chewing over the nation's ability to appropriate things for the hood. It's a fitting conclusion to "Food & Liquor II's" very sloppy manifesto.