Lupe Fiasco: why it’s hard to like a good rapper

Lupe Fiasco is marking his impending “retirement” with the release of his fourth proper LP: Food and Liquor Pt. II: The Great American Album Pt. 1. It signals a muffled conclusion for an artist once touted as the game’s savior, the end of a seven year run of unwarranted promise and justifiably disappointed reception. His story serves as a warning for any rapper who recognizes their talent as superior to those flossing Ciroc and their bitches.

It’s sad, too, because when I first listened to “Kick Push” in 2006, I was floored. Only a year after contributing arguably the best ever guest verse on a Kanye West track, Fiasco made his grand debut by shamelessly sticking to an 808, sporting reading glasses, and telling a story about two skateboarding sweethearts. It was solid gold to anybody who cared anything about hip hop’s health: a deft wordsmith unafraid to approach unmarketable topics like robots and skateboards, all done without a curse. Lupe Fiasco’s first album, Food and Liquor, worked so well because Fiasco is a tremendous lyrical engineer, and its weak production and intellectual filler was ascribed to rookie mistakes. It was pretty clear from the onset, however, that Fiasco had the potential to outstrip fellow Chicago native Common as hip hop’s voice of reason, and if he surrounded himself with the right people, potentially one of the GOATs, or at least in the critics’ minds.

None of that happened. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact spot to explain his downfall (though the release of his third album LASERS is a good candidate) because Fiasco has been nothing but consistent. “Kick Push” remains a masterpiece, and it justified Fiasco’s meditations on his second album, The Cool. From the tracklist, it’s pretty obvious that Fiasco realized people were willing to listen to what he had to say, and he used that power as a megaphone for his tepid but well-intentioned philosophy. People loved Fiasco’s refusal to address the bitches and the drugs, but when it came to his social sermons, his music felt much less eventful than the innocent stories he poured out on Food and Liquor. The Cool was received with pedestrian reviews, and Fiasco all of a sudden has little credibility for artistic expansion. Still, he showed a verbal prowess unmatched by anyone in the Hot 100, as the second verse of his first smash “Superstar” shows. It didn’t warrant the pop debacle LASERS, but at least it showed why we started to like Fiasco in the first place.

Fiasco has been placed in a Nas situation: an undoubtedly talented MC with a career suffering from bad ideas and worse production. The edge lies in justification: Nas has Illmatic, probably the greatest rap album ever, while Fiasco has “Kick Push,” unquestionably a legendary song, but just a single noteworthy track in his arsenal. Fiasco’s new album sounds like more of the same: cause worthy but preachy editorials surrounded by tired instrumentals, the kind of album that merits one listen before a spot on a garage sale bargain bin.

We probably haven’t heard the last of Lupe Fiasco, and considering how much of an internet lightning rod he is (lightning rod may not be the correct phrase, it connotes power. Rain stick?), it may be worthwhile for him to slug through a few more albums before calling it a career. I’ll hardly expect him to meet in the middle like he should, where his wordplay speaks for itself without the burden of public consciousness to impress a generally uninterested listener. Some critics first wondered why Fiasco was rapping about robots and skateboards, and then second wondered why they enjoyed it so much. I miss those days.


1 Comment

  1. He is far from preachy and he quote unquote “fell off” , because of the label dispute and Lasers. Food and Liquor 2 is great is great and shows he has returned. I don’t know if he’ll touch his first 2, but The Cool is an amazing CD. He needs to stick with SoundTrakk and Pharreal as producers and tell stories

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