October 13, 2007

Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor (September 19, 2006)


Given all of the (mostly negative) press Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, whose porn name is Lupe Fiasco, has received on hip hop blogs and the like in the past few weeks, you would be led to believe that Lupe has somehow entered Jung's theoretical collective unconscious, where he sits between the Konami Code and the ending to the film The Crying Game. If that holds true for you, my two readers, then you will probably be shocked to learn that, GQ Man Of The Year award notwithstanding, Lupe Fiasco is still a non-entity in the hip hop galaxy. This fact is only partially proven by the fact that nobody actually bought his debut album, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor.




Like most honest bloggers who don't live in Lupe's hometown of Chicago, I had never heard of this guy until I picked up fellow Chicago citizen Kanye West's second album, Late Registration. My introduction to Lupe came with his guest spot on "Touch The Sky", which is still the best Kanye song that Kanye didn't produce. And just like most people, my initial impression was to believe that he was "all right". I was surprised to learn later that Lupe had some backstory; I just assumed that he was created in the Roc-A-Fella studio out of some spare parts that Jaz-O and Sauce Money had abandoned. It turns out that Lupe has actually been around since 2003, and has pushed mixtapes for his crew, 1st and 15th, for several years preceding the mainstream exposure.

He may have started out as your paint-by-numbers rapper who rhymed about bitches, violence, and drugs (as seen in his single, "Pop Pop", from 2003, which you've never heard of because nobody has heard it), but he soon reinvented himself as a paint-by-numbers "conscious" rapper, who rhymed about life, how rap music degrades women, and skateboards. The self-professed "nerd rapper" sought to build his audience by promoting himself primarily as the guy who didn't rap like the idiots on the radio, never mind the fact that had "Pop Pop" hit the charts, he would still be another ignorant rapper who would probably have more money than you.

His debut suffered from multiple leaks (possibly perpetrated by his own label as a marketing tool); the original version of Food & Liquor was so widespread that my grandmother somehow ended up with a copy. Lupe alternately took things in stride and wrote blogs showcasing his anger over the situation (yes, friends, Lupe's a blogger, too!), which would have made more sense as a general reaction if he had something worth protecting: the original leak of Food & Liquor was poor at best, with unfinished, unmastered tracks and a delivery that hardly proved that Lupe was the second coming of JT Money, let alone an actual good rapper. In a bold move, Lupe roped in Shawn Carter as an executive producer (and also threatened to include Three Six Mafia among its features, but that seemed to go nowhere) and retooled until the media was satisfied with the final product, so much so that Food & Liquor was heralded as the Best Rap Album in 2006 by numerous media outlets, Lupe Fiasco himself was praised as an artist ahead of his time, he was nominated for three Grammys, and he went on to sell zero fucking copies.

I don't recall how exactly I ended up with my copy of Food & Liquor, but I assume it has something to do with the alternative being the Ying Yang Twins or something. However, I don't remember anything about this CD, so this write-up should be interesting. I do remember, however, that in March of 2006 I found myself in the position of having to inadvertently drive over two hundred miles home, by myself. Luckily, to help pass the time, and to help me avoid counting tumbleweeds and stopping at every single gas station that also had multiple restaurants inside (I love that part when it comes to road trips!), I had my CDs, and I had purposefully packed some that I hadn't actually listened to yet. The first one I popped in was Lupe Fiasco's Fahrenheit 1/15 Part II: Revenge Of The Nerds, which was one of his early mixtapes. I thought it was hilarious to incorporate the theme song from Revenge Of The Nerds, but that was mainly due to timing; I had just recently watched the movie again. However, throughout that CD's 17 tracks, I found my attention drifting into the horizon; it was that boring. What that means for Food & Liquor, I don't know yet, but we'll see.

(Did you like how I made it through the introductory paragraphs without mentioning Fiascogate? Well, too bad, because here's my take. For the record, I can understand why Lupe would never have heard Tribe's Midnight Marauders, because he has a point; it's not like the album sold Thriller numbers. However, when you're a rapper, and you're a conscious rapper at that, it should be required listening, especially when you will be continually compared to Tribe throughout your entire career. Also, "Electric Relaxation" is one of my favorite fucking songs ever, and even hardcore gangsta rappers know the lyrics by heart, so Lupe really has no recourse for his actions, except, you know, to sit down and listen to the CD.)

1. INTRO
I tend not to trust rap albums that begin with spoken word poetry (unless it's a Roots album). This does not bode well.

2. REAL (FEAT SARAH GREEN)
An entire rap song where Lupe talks about how he's going to rap (that would be "real"). Rolling Stone would probably call this "meta"; I call it dull.

3. JUST MIGHT BE OK (FEAT GEMINI)
Meh. I know, right? So early on in the review, a meh? But it's true!

4. KICK, PUSH
The first official single. Truthfully, I never paid much attention to this song upon its initial release; I was apparently expecting more hard-hitting beats like Just Blaze's "Touch The Sky" instrumental. The beat is pretty calm, but in a good way; it's as relaxing as laying on a beach or having a three-way. While it's obvious Lupe is striving for lyrical substance, hoping to stand the test of time amid the sea of crap that people seem to like these days, the vocals provided here are only okay.

5. I GOTCHA
There was a lot of talk online about how The Neptunes (both Pharrell and Chad, not just Pharrell, shockingly) provided Lupe with a beat that rivaled early A Tribe Called Quest in quality. Well, it sure as hell does not sound like Tribe; that being said, this song is actually pretty good. Maybe Chad should get his reclusive ass into the studio more often?

6. THE INSTRUMENTAL (FEAT JONAH MATRANGA)
The beat reminds me of a less radio-friendly version Fort Minor's radio hit "Where'd You Go", which I suppose makes sense, since Mike Shinoda (a/k/a Fort Minor) produced it. The beat isn't bad at all, but the hook sucks ass; Jonah Matranga comes off as yet another self-absorbed rap-rocker who believes that whisper-singing everything makes it sound as if it actually contains substance, when in reality I've read poetry written by Cantonese first graders in Crayola that have more to say about man's inhumanity to man. Oh, and Lupe's on here, too.

7. HE SAY, SHE SAY (FEAT GEMINI & SARAH GREEN)
They play the shit out of this song on college radio in my neck of the woods. Personally, I don't see how rapping the exact same verse twice, with minor tweaks to show someone else's point of view, would somehow prove this album's Grammy-nominee-worthiness. But I haven't been nominated for a Grammy, so what do I know?

8. SUNSHINE
Not great, but not awful. Sorry, but that's all I got.

9. DAYDREAMIN' (FEAT JILL SCOTT)
This kind of rap song has been done many times before, by much better artists (Common comes to mind). I've always liked Jill Scott's "A Long Walk" and "Gettin' In The Way", so she saves the hook from irrelevancy, although I don't like seeing her reduced to singing choruses.

10. THE COOL
The character in this song, which was produced by Kanye West, will supposedly be resurrected for Lupe's second album, The Cool. I actually found this song to be pretty good, but like most rappers, Lupe doesn't seem to know how to write a hook.

11. HURT ME SOUL
A rap song about how you used to hate rap music. I understand where he's coming from, though: he hates how seemingly all rappers talk shit about women, but he then finds himself rapping those same lyrics about bitches because, dammit, they're catchy and funny. Kind of like a white guy from the suburbs who believes he isn't racist, but raps the n-word every time it pops up in one of these songs. However, this song sucks, mainly because of (once again) the hook, so his point is as moot as Rick Springfield's.

12. PRESSURE (FEAT JAY-Z)
The beat tries too hard to sound epic, like Lupe's trying to mimic Kanye's "Diamonds From SIerra Leone". Shawn Carter, the album's executive producer and the scene-stealer from "Diamonds", is actually outshined by the album's star; my guess is that Jay spent the day with Beyonce, and was feeling charitable that night in the studio.

13. AMERICAN TERRORIST (FEAT MATTHEW SANTOS)
I hate the hook, sung by Matthew Santos, since it sounds like he was singing to a completely different beat altogether. However, I don't hate this song. Take that for what it's worth.

14. THE EMPEROR'S SOUNDTRACK
I just heard this song, and I don't remember a goddamn thing about it.

15. KICK, PUSH II
Surprisingly, this is not a remix to the original song; rather, it's a completely different track, one with the hardest beat on the album.

16. OUTRO
A twelve-minute outro that doesn't feature any extra songs; Lupe just rattles off a list folks who were nice enough to help and/or provide inspiration for Food & Liquor. In the immortal words of Patrick Henry, while alongside Dwight D. Eisenhower battling the Tyrannosaurus Rex invasion in the space wars of 2004, "Fuck that shit!" This is exactly why liner notes were created, motherfucker!

FINAL THOUGHTS: Food & Liquor is built around Lupe's admittedly above-average rhyme skills and instrumentals that try to invoke the soulful feeling of Jay-Z's The Blueprint or the first Kanye West album; however, the problem is that those instrumentals mostly sound awful, and awfully derivative at that. In a point that I've made multiple times throughout the existence of this blog, the lyrics can be fantastic, but if the beats aren't up to par, then the song doesn't work; nobody buys acapella albums (for the sole purpose of listening to them, anyway). Food & Liquor is nowhere near the classic that anyone would want you to believe. That said, it appears Lupe may be on the right track for his follow-up projects: the Child Rebel Soldiers (CRS) project with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams has promise, and I just realized that I've listened to Lupe's "Dumb It Down" (a supposed track off of his second album The Cool) more times than I've listened to anything else Lupe combined; it's that good. So maybe the next go round will be better for Lupe; he just needs to learn how to write a hook that, you know, doesn't suck balls.

BUY OR BURN? I can't recommend a purchase, because Food & Liquor isn't that good. (The comment link is below: feel free to complain.) A couple of the tracks show some spark, but the rest would work better if they were loaded into one of those ambient sound machines you can buy at the Sharper Image. If you're looking for a good night's sleep, some Food & Liquor may cause severe drowsiness, headaches, and a complete lack of focus: do not operate heavy machinery while taking Food & Liquor.

BEST TRACKS: "Kick, Push II"; "The Cool"; "Daydreamin'"

-Max

24 comments:

  1. Man, this reminds me: You need to review some ATCQ albums. Maybe work backwards. I'd like to hear your take on them after they started working with J Dilla.
    I was kinda let down by this one too; I ended up liking the three singles and maybe 2 other songs.
    Lupe needs to get better production and improve his hooks if he expects people to buy the cool.

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  2. im not agreeing with you here on a lot of parts...although his hooks are GARBAGE the verses are pretty good on the majority of songs..

    the in-house production from Soundtrakk isnt fantastic either...so for The Cool to work, he needs better production, and have someone else write his hooks - or better yet, leave them out altogether..has anyone ever done an album w/o hooks?

    Also, the concept of "the cool" being the dead man from aforementioned song and the girl from "he say, she say"...he's not blowing up at all. you want to sell records? that's certainly not the way to do it.

    keep 'em coming - love the site!

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  3. Yep, Lupe's debut was pretty rubbish. I've been saying it since it came out but a lot of people seem to think he can do no wrong.

    There's only maybe 3 or 4 good songs on this whole album for me.

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  4. "I've read poetry written by Cantonese first graders in Crayola"
    Great taste and well travelled. Oo la la.
    I have to agree with Andrew though, I thought the lyrics were pretty good and will no longer share crumpets and tea over you blasting him. I do however, agree with everything else. If you spend that much time over your lyrics and you aren't deaf, than say you don't like the shitty beats they give to you first. I also thought Jay didn't sound thirsty at all for his verse but any song with Ms. Scott is coo wit me. Have you checked her new joint? She talks about penises and boobs.

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  5. You're an asshole. And a hater.

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  6. Well, I am an asshole, and I suppose I could be boxed in to the textbook definition of "hater", but if that's simply because I didn't love your precious album, then your argument is pretty thin. Thanks for reading!

    And normaly I wouldn't care about this, but I like crumpets and tea, so I'm not sure where thi srumor that I hated Lupe's lyrics started. That 'Cantonese first graders' line was aimed directly at the loser on the hook, who comes off sounding like he's auditioning for a Hoobastank or Linkin Park song (which is NEVER a good thing); however, I agree that Lupe's lyrics are above-average on most of the songs; I even say so in the 'Final Thoughts' section.

    The beats still suck, though, and the overall product still isn't any good. And I will check out that Jill Scott joint, if only because boobs are great.

    -Max

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  7. this is defiietly the best album of 2k6. i'm havin trouble finding any artist's debut lp that's on the same level as "food & liquor" in 2000+ era, maybe because there is none. "american terrorist" - when i heard that track, only one thing came to my mind - the competition is none

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  8. Not a fan of Lupe, don't hate him, just don't like his music. I just had a comment about the last track. I can understand why he did that and I think your review of it actually explains it. You are right, that is what liner notes are for but I am willing to bet 90% of the people who "own" this CD have downloaded it. While you may get the front and back cover, you rarely get a scan of the liner notes...
    I'm just sayin' though...

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  9. the letter d - You know what, that actually makes sense. It's still obnoxious as hell, though.

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  10. I disagree with you saying the album isn't any good. I especially disagree with a lot of the things you said in this review.

    I ,however, do agree that this album was not a classic album...that's because he released at least three mixtapes that were better than this completed and twice delayed studio album. Between 6-8 other songs couldn't make this album due to sample clearance issues, among them some of the best songs Lupe ever recorded/spit on.

    I HATED "Daydreamin'" and I abhored the video. I thought "The Emperor's Soundtrack" was dope as hell and it's one of my favorite Lupe tracks. No mention of "Carrera Lu" or "American Terrorist"? I just wish his album was as good as the version of it I created for my iTunes is.

    One.

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  11. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessDecember 03, 2007

    Agreed, this album isn't that great but Lupe showed me enough on it that I now check for new material by him. I got a mixtape called Da Exam that has several very good songs on it. One of the is "And He Gets The Girl". Another one is all about his mindstate while writing songs but he makes it work. Unfortunately, I have no clue what it's called.

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  12. I really disagree with this review. I feel like your preconceived notion of Lupe has interfered with your review. There are so many incredible tracks on this album such as "The Cool" and "Kick, Push" which you so carelessly dismiss. This is an incredibly impressive first release which had me asking, "Where the hell did this guy come from?" when I first heard it. Unfortunately, Lupe's second album really misses the mark and feels synthetic and commercial. Hopefully, he will return to the persona & creativity of this release.

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  13. I totally disagree with most of this review, the only song I didn't like was sunshine.

    But to each his own.

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  14. This is one of your few reviews I (italics) TOTALLY (/italics) disagree with.

    I had no idea who Lupe was when I heard this album, and was blown away by "The Instrumental," "The Cool," "Daydreamin," and "American Terrorist." I also dug "Kick Push," "I Gotcha," "Emperor's Soundtrack," and "Sunshine." And the rest of the album was alright - some "meh" tracks, but nothing bad.

    I agree with the feedback that your preconceived notion of Lupe hurt the review. Only Lupe mixtapes I've heard are Muhammed Walks and the bootleg of L&F, and I thought this was was a very good album. Not a classic, but also not as soporific as you make it sound.

    To me, Lupe's one of the great new MC's. I'm pretty floored you don't think so because 90% of the time, I agree with your reviews.

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  15. well, this is one opinion out of many, so i can't really say you're fucking retarded for not appreciating the full value of this album.

    i do, however, think you set your standards a bit too high for this album. or maybe i set mine too low. i don't know. i don know that i enjoyed this album thouroughly. except for the emporor's soundtrack. i'm right there with you on that one.

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  16. I disagree with about 60% of what you said. Two points stuck out: The Emperor's soundtrack isn't memorable (true), Lupe's "all right" (false). Keep in mind that you're biased before you write down, y'know, the bulk of what you say.

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  17. Dude, I only skipped through this review, im a mainly heavy metal kind of guy. but when i noticed your comment about Jonah Matranga i felt the urge to comment on.

    Have a look at jonahs discography, i dont know if your a fan other of genres. but he has aload of good stuff, hes an awesome artist. check out his old bands "Far" and "Gratitude" Really Good Bands :)

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  18. AnonymousJune 19, 2009

    your reviews are witty and smart...however I disagree with some of what you say, Lupe's biggest draw are his lyrics (he is one of the few artist I have heard who can make a whole song a metaphor).

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  19. wow did you just say hurt me soul sucks? im sorry but either you have terrible taste in music or are incredibly bias...lupe is probably one of the best lyricists out now and you call him just above average...

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  20. Respectfully I disagree, this is one of the better albums I've heard. Much better than Lupe's follow-up. Oh well.

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  21. lol worst review ive ever seen.

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  22. Most time I can take your criticisms with only mild discomfort.

    But for dissing Hurt Me Soul, this website's getting moved down my bookmarks list, dammit.

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  23. What? This album did NOT come out in 1996, as you wrote in the title.

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    Replies
    1. Great job noticing an error on a post I wrote over five years ago! I'd send you a prize if I cared enough.

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