In his opening lines on “Touch The Sky” I became an instant fan of Lupe Fiasco. I obsessed over the “Food & Liquor” album as a teenage girl might her Facebook page. I treated “The Cool” like a scuba diver would his oxygen tank; I consumed everything Lupe as if my very life force depended upon it. So it was incredibly disappointing when “Lasers,” a highly commercialized affair filled with big name features and pop-rock rhythms, replaced the Lupe Fiasco I knew and loved with a man guided by record executives. It was a fine pop album, better than a lot of modern hip-hop, but it didn’t capture my heart.
So with the release of “Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1,” I was hesitant. I approached it with a much calmer mindset and I listened to it with caution, wondering if Lupe Fiasco could demonstrate the same unique and brilliant mind that I had experienced as a teenager.
The opening track, a spoken-word performance by Fiasco’s sister Ayesha Jaco, is the first sign of a return to form. Jaco’s poem captures the plight of the lower class in America with the same revolutionary tint that sits over most of Lupe’s music.
The album title is appropriate, as Food & Liquor II is simply a grown-up iteration of “Food & Liquor.” Times have changed since 2006, and America faces problems both new and old; Lupe has changed with it, maturing in his sound and vision. The youthful exuberance and hope isn’t as prominent here as it was in Lupe’s earlier days.
The beginning of the album sounds a lot like a simple follow up to “Food & Liquor.” He touches on many of the same issues as his earlier work such as sexism, racism, ignorance and violence. “B*tch Bad” is a clever shot at illustrating how the abuse of a word can alter the mindset of the next generation, and it would feel right at home on “The Cool” or “Food & Liquor.”
However, one can tell that the repetition is starting to wear on the rapper. This idea is most explicit on ITAL (Roses), where he says, “I know you’re saying Lupe rapping ‘bout the same [stuff], well that’s ‘cause [nothing’s] changed.” Indeed, his call for an intellectual and spiritual revolution amongst the lower class has been met with a constant progression towards more violence and crime, very notably in his hometown of Chicago where shootings are at a record high in 2012.
There is a clear departure toward darker territory at the midpoint of the album with “Lamborghini Angels,” a dark and biting commentary on the corruption of morality and the evils plaguing Americans in the modern day. From here, Lupe flexes his lyrical muscle before presenting a vignette of his fight for a woman’s love, ending with “Battle Scars,” the album’s most successful single, featuring Guy Sebastian.
“Brave Heart” and “Form Follows Function” show Lupe at his most confident, demonstrating his supreme lyrical wit and one-of-a-kind flow while he boasts about his talents and his come up from nothing to a rapping great.
This bravado is quickly quieted by the introspection of “Cold War.” The song serves as Fiasco’s memorial to his brother and it is the most honest and personal he has ever been.
“Unforgivable Youth” highlights Lupe’s version of American history – one of barbarism, first aimed at the Native Americans and then our own people – and ends with a vision of a future people finding our artifacts and misinterpreting the reality of our existence as a peaceful and organized existence.
The album closes with “Hood Now” which serves as a playful nod to Fiasco’s hometown and the people with whom he grew up, as well as the bits of the hood permeating today’s pop culture.