The hope of the savior of the rap game Lupe Fiasco

The hope of the savior of the rap game Lupe Fiasco

“Food & Liquors”, a fresh wind in a lost Hip Hop

1st & 15th / Atlantic, 2006

“The mainstreaming of Hip Hop”

In the middle of the 2000’s, between 2005 and 2008, Hip Hop began to divide, a new evolution was underway. Some were ready for this evolution and accepted it willingly, or some simply jumped on the bandwagon of this new emerging generation. Others, especially the “old heads”, had already more or less given up by the beginning of the 2000s with the arrival of southern rap. The middle of the 2000’s was the final blow for a whole nostalgic generation that no longer found itself in Hip Hop.  If it is not the first revolution in Hip Hop, it is perhaps the one that was the most brutal, even the most transgressive.

Some have seen the beginnings of this evolution since the beginning of the 2000’s with the appearance of a more commercial rap, more R&B oriented, in a sense more radio-friendly. Hip Hop emancipates more and more from its confidential aspect, from this side reserved for amateurs, another category of people started to listen to Hip Hop. However, in the early 2000s, the emerging evolution still seemed acceptable from a musical point of view, the street side, being “real”, remained almost intact, especially with rappers such as 50 Cent, Ja Rule or Cam’Ron.

Although he was seen as a promising rapper/producer, very appreciated in his early days, Kanye West has gradually emancipated rap from its street side to get closer to something mainstream, especially with the back-pack rap. To a different extent and for different reasons, Eminem also contributed to this emancipation. Pharrell Williams also participated. The Pop side invaded more and more Hip Hop, and this evolution intensified over the years until its breaking point in 2007 with Kanye West’s Graduation, which marked the triumph of mainstream pop-rap over gangsta rap, especially thanks to the victory of Kanye West against 50 Cent’s Curtis. Nas had announced the death of Hip Hop a year before with Hip Hop Is Dead.

“The hope of the savior”

At the same time, Southern rap was starting to establish its power on the Hip Hop map, which made the old-heads even less enthusiastic, especially for its lack of lyricism and its too clubbing aspect. In this context, a young rapper, close to Kanye West and supported by Jay-Z, was seen as the savior, the one who was able to bring Hip Hop back on the right track, with the breaking point of Graduation in 2007 not yet reached, hope was allowed. However, this rapper from Chicago was not fundamentally street, at least he was not gangsta, but he had the pen to restore the image of Hip Hop, while addressing serious societal issues. I named Lupe Fiasco.

Discovered on Kanye West’s Late Registration album in 2005, shortly before Kanye’s breakup, Lupe Fiasco surprised fans on the track Touch The Sky with a sharp verse. Lupe Fiasco could take Hip Hop to a new era, a return to a more conscious rap while following the musical evolution, especially with the Soul sampling of Kanye West. Taken under the wing of Jay-Z who appears as executive producer next to the main rapper, Food & Liquors was awaited by all Hip Hop fans. September 2006, the long awaited holy grail arrives.

“Lupe Fiasco’s promising debut”

Wasalu Muhammad Jaco grew up in a tough environment, living near a crack house and among prostitutes, his father taught him how to use a gun to defend himself from drug dealers. Yet Wasalu received a rigorous education from his father, who was an engineer, a member of the Black Panthers and a karate teacher, as well as a drummer and a fan of black American music, as he himself stated in an interview:

“After school, my father would come and get us and take us out into the world—one day, we’re listening to N.W.A, the next day we’re listening to Ravi Shankar, the next day, he’s teaching us how to shoot an AK-47, the next day, we’re at karate class, the next day, we’re in Chinatown…”

Lupe interested in music at a young age, especially thanks to his father. He starts to record in his father’s cellar to become a rapper, an idea that does not necessarily please his parents. In high school, he joined several successive groups, including a gangsta rap group, but this artistic direction does not please him and he feels that it does not look like him. He prefers to concentrate on lyricism, he continues to record alone before being spotted by Jay-Z during his short-lived passage at Arista, the latter will help him sign a contract with Atlantic to record a first album. Several mixtapes will be released, the Fahrenheit 1/15, which will give him a visibility on the rap scene and this famous status of promising rapper before the release of his first album.

Unfortunately, like many albums of that time, it was leaked a bit before its release. Some interesting tracks, like the anarchist Spaze Out, or Hustaz Song on the back-pack rap were removed from the original version, replaced by more conventional tracks for a more radio-friendly audience.

“The musicality and the lyrics of the child prodigy”

Lupe Fiasco will identify himself in a hybrid style between the Hip Hop of Kanye West and his Soul-sampling and the orchestral side of Jay-Z’s Blueprint, while including some elements of Skateboard P, notably the slightly Rock aspect. But unlike the three mentioned, Lupe is going to be all the more lyrical with a political/social aspect. Even if Food & Liquors is not an introspective album strictly speaking, it will describe Lupe Fiasco’s vision on different aspects of society, with passages of his life and his experiences, especially his relationship with his father.

The title of the album is not insignificant and goes in this direction. Food and Liquors is a reference to the corner stores that can be found in Chicago, but it is above all a dichotomy between good, the food, and evil, the alcohol, a metaphor for the difficulty of choosing between good and evil in life in general but also in the disadvantaged environment in which he grew up in Chicago. The album starts with an introduction where he talks about his neighborhood in Chicago before reciting the first verses of the Koran. I’m not going to explain the meaning of these verses, as I don’t have the knowledge of Arabic to properly interpret this message, but it is indicative of his Muslim education and faith.  

The first track, Real, comes straight back to being “real” with his own definition of the term, making music that pleases its author, not disguising himself to fit into the codes or what the public might expect. Soundtrakk gives a slightly rock side to the track with its predominant electric guitar. Kick, Push is a new track where he presents us his vision through his passion for skateboarding. The construction of the track is prodigious, talking about his passion through different aspects of skateboarding to finally talk about his life and his experiences. The strings and the horns used on the song by Soundtrakk work together wonderfully. The Neptunian touch can be spotted without even looking at the credits on I Gotcha with a typical Pharrell beat, including his use of synth. The prowess here is perhaps the way Lupe glides over this beat with a flow full of versatility.

“A melancholic Soul for introspective and social lyrics”

Other songs much more Soul appear. Daydreamin samples beautifully Daydream in Blue by I Monster, on a Soul chorus from Jill Scott. Craig Kallman gives a lot of consistency in his production with an evolving track that keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way to slowing down the pace to let Jill Scott enter beautifully on the chorus. Kanye delivers electrified soul on The Cool with a melancholy sweetness where Lupe can express himslef beautifully on stories of neighborhoods and a poignant message about the afterlife. One of the highlights of the album comes with Hurt Me Soul, it’s hard to describe this track as it works beautifully on all levels. The little melancholic soul with a dose of drama from Needlz, the breathtaking flow from Lupe and the soulful chorus sung. Everything is perfect to support the exceptional lyrics of the rapper who offers us a sincere analysis of his neighborhood with a poignant poetry. A track that has the ability to bring tears to your eyes so much Lupe puts emotion and intensity.

Hurt Me Soul, Lupe Fiasco

« Now I ain’t tryna be the greatest
I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded
But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it
A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half
Omittin the word “bitch, ” cursin I wouldn’t say it
Me and dog couldn’t relate, til a bitch I dated »

Mike Shinoda’s Linkdin Park rock on The Instrumental also provokes its share of emotion with a gentle melancholy and a critique on obsession with television. The orchestral and electronic Just Might Be OK is probably the most raunchy track on the album while also being the most risky. It is not the most interesting of the album but it works in its style with a slightly epic and robotic side. Jay-Z’s appearance on Pressure with a new production by Prolyfic is just as electric as the previous one. 

Food & Liquor definitely works wonderfully with an atmosphere mixing Soul, Rock and the more classic elements of Hip Hop. The album sounds in its time without having an equivalent with a so particular aesthetic full of melancholy, drama and lushness. Lupe proposes clever wordplay and beautiful poetry that supports a poignant social message while incorporating many stories from his life. He is not afraid to hit the anthill by breaking the codes, while always remaining true to himself, to his own vision of the world and Hip Hop, which seems definitely important to him. Beyond the texts, Lupe proves that he is an excellent rapper capable of a lot of versatility and an exceptional control of his breathing, his flow sounds right every time while bringing emotion with a great capacity of interpretation.

Some would say that Lupe’s success is due to the perfect timing in this transition from Hip Hop. While it is hard to deny that he benefited from good timing, one cannot deny his qualities as both a rhymer and a rapper. Lupe may not have saved Hip Hop when you see the artistic void that the second half of the 2000s suffered, but he managed to bring a fresh wind with an album that goes back to the basics of Hip Hop, true lyrics while integrating a unique musicality. Yes, Lupe Fiasco managed a tour de force in Hip Hop in 2006 with this album. An album that deserves to be cited among the greatest. If other rappers had followed his model, the Hip Hop heads, of which I am a part, would not have denigrated so much the Hip Hop of this period.

By Grégoire Zasa

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