December 7, 2008

Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's The Cool (December 18, 2007)


Usually, whenever I hear the phrase "hip hop concept album", my mind recalls the gold standards of the sub-category: Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves, Kool Keith's Dr. Octagonecologyst project, and Yung Berg's Almost Famous: The Sexy Lady EP. To that impressive list, we can add one of the major label's most recent contribution to the cause, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool.

After the moderate success of his debut, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, Lupe Fiasco decided to act out in the second most pretentious way a rapper can: he announced that his follow-up would be a concept album. (For the record, the most pretentious thing he could have done at this point was announce a double album; not wanting to feel left behind, Lupe recently announced that his third (and allegedly "final") disc, LupEND, would be a triple album, so, apparently, everybody that isn't a fan of Fiasco can suck it.) Specifically, he mentioned that the album would expand upon the character of The Cool, who was first introduced on the debut's "The Cool", which was produced by Kanye West, who had jack and shit to do with this album. In fact, Lupe eschews pretty much any name brand help that was probably available to him for his second go-round, choosing instead to work with his fellow weed carriers, vocalists who have remained in the studio since Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, hoping for a break (or at least a bit of food and direct sunlight), and, most consistently, producer Soundtrakk, who also contributed heavily to the debut.

The story also introduces two new characters, The Streets and The Game, and describes how their actions and influence affect The Cool's life. Obviously, somebody informed Lupe a bit too late in the recording process that there was already somebody in hip hop that was known as The Game, and, in what I can only assume to be an attempt to possibly hold onto those fans of The Game that accidentally pick this disc up, Lupe moved some shit around and announced that Lupe Fiasco's The Cool wouldn't be a straight-up concept disc: only about five songs would address the theme directly. (It probably didn't help that Lupe's teaser single, "Dumb It Down", had absolutely nothing to do with the story.) However, this disc is much darker than the previous one: during its recording, Lupe lost both his father and one of his fellow rappers, Stack Bundles, who was murdered in a senseless act of violence, and his business partner/mentor/friend Charles "Chilly" Patton was sentenced to forty-four years in prison in relation to a 2003 case regarding heroin that he was tied to (which, allegedly, Lupe may have also been tied too as well, but Lupe was able to skate from the charges, probably using his custom board).

Lupe also chose to address many uber-serious themes on here, making Lupe Fiasco's The Cool not the most obvious album to listen to when you're trying to get ready to go out on a Saturday night. Regardless, he managed to move over half a million copies off of the strength of his actual radio singles (in particular "Superstar", which even received regular play around my way). I personally doubt that anybody is truly sitting around, one year removed from this disc's release date, still enthralled by the "story" tracks, but that won't stop Max from writing up his commentary.

1. BABA SAYS COOL FOR THOUGHT (FEAT IESHA JACO)
A spoken word intro? On one hand, this is a Lupe Fiasco album, so I shouldn't really be surprised. On the other hand: What. The. Fuck??

2. FREE CHILLY (FEAT SARAH GREEN & GEMSTONES)
Lupe doesn't even really appear on this track, which is an interlude (awkwardly placed right after the rap album intro) dedicated to Lupe's mentor/business partner who was mentioned above. Get used to the sentiment in the title, as you're going to hear it multiple times throughout Lupe Fiasco's The Cool.

3. GO GO GADGET FLOW
The first actual song on Lupe Fiasco's The Cool. Lupe spits over some truly boring production that was originally rumored to have been provided by Just Blaze, but is credited to Soundtrakk. Admittedly, though, the actual verses aren't terrible, even if Lupe's just trying to master his own impersonation of fellow Chicago veteran Twista.

4. THE COOLEST
Sounds overproduced. Also, Lupe has this borderline-annoying trait of placing a heavy emphasis on certain words, usually the last word in each bar, as if he were trying to prove that his chosen word is much more important in the English language than all of the ones previous. (Has he always done this? I haven't listened to Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor or any of his mixtapes since I wrote about his debut disc, so I truly cannot remember.)

5. SUPERSTAR (FEAT MATTHEW SANTOS)
The first actual single, which picked up enough steam in my locale for radio listeners in my area to call in and request Lupe Fiasco as if they were lifelong fans and had collected all of his mixtapes. The song itself isn't that bad, although I may feel this way because of overexposure, which has a way of making bad songs sound moderately good. Still, this isn't awful. As an added bonus, Lupe shouting "Superstar!" at the end of the track brings back memories of Mary Katherine Gallagher.

6. PARIS, TOKYO
Two months before the release of this disc, Lupe Fiasco brought on unwanted attention by completely fucking up a performance of A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation" while the legendary (yeah, I said it) crew was being honored by VH-1 for their place in hip hop history. By itself, it's not a big deal (although "Electric Relaxation" is still one of my favoritest songs ever), but then Lupe had to throw salt in the wound by telling the world that, not only had he never listened to A Tribe Called Quest, they didn't mean shit to him, because he was a gangsta, and Tribe never appealed to him like that, as they never sold billions of albums like, say, a MC Hammer. In defense of Lupe, it isn't a requirement for rappers to be familiar with their elders in order to carve out a career for themselves. That said, Lupe came off as a fucking idiot, because, at the very least, he should have taken all of the criticism he received (mainly, that an artist whose sound closely resembles that of Tribe should at least become a bit familiar with their work) and just sat down and fucking listened to their albums instead of opening his mouth and basically trashing Tribe, which led to Q-Tip revealing that Tribe had never asked Lupe to perform with them anyway, that he was forced upon them by VH-1. Why does any of this matter? "Paris, Tokyo" is, by far, the most Tribe-esque song Lupe has recorded to date, and it is a good song, although Q-Tip does a better job with this type or material. I even like the video, which has a mid-nineties vibe, as Lupe is supposedly filmed in all of these exotic locales, but continues to rap no matter where the camera catches him, whether it be on a plane, a train, or hitchhiking. Inevitably, proving there was no true bad blood, Q-Tip (along with Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes) appeared on this track's remix, but nothing could top the original's laid-back exterior. Fuck, this commentary was long.

7. HI-DEFINITION (FEAT SNOOP DOGG & POOH BEAR)
The hook is pretty awful, and the beat completely switches up after a promising intro. Sigh. Although it's pretty obvious that Snoop recorded his verse in a different galaxy, he still sounds like he was trying to impress Lupe during his verse: um, Calvin, you realize that you've been in the game much longer than Lupe, right? Shouldn't he be trying to impress you?

8. GOLD WATCH
The beat on here is actually pretty cool. Definitely a different sound than what a lot of folks may be expecting from a Lupe Fiasco song, which makes this track pretty damn enjoyable.

9. HIP HOP SAVED MY LIFE (FEAT NIKKI JEAN)
This song wasn't so bad. Some of Lupe's lines are funny as shit, and the hook, provided by Nikki Jean, doesn't come off as cheesy as you would think, considering the song's title. Still, there's something about this song that comes off as too preachy for a recommendation from Max.

10. INTRUDER ALERT (FEAT SARAH GREEN)
The hook is both lazy and relaxing: figure that one out. With its slow-moving, piano-driven pace, this song truly shouldn't work, but for the most part, it's alright.

11. STREETS ON FIRE
This also sounds overproduced (thanks to the "Amen, Brother" drums mixed in with the strings), but I fucking love this shit. Even though the song is all about AIDS (and helps further the tale about The Streets, lest you forget this was supposed to be a concept album), this shit helps me calm the fuck down, and the singing on the hook is light years ahead of anything else on Lupe Fiasco's The Cool. My favorite track on here by far.

12. LITTLE WEAPON (FEAT BISHOP G & NIKKI JEAN)
Patrick Stump (of Fallout Boy) produced this song: with this and "Birthday Girl", the Roots track he was featured on (that was ultimately deleted from their last album, Rising Down, due to a lack of interest from the blogging community), I feel he should perhaps stick with his own lame-ass pseudo-emo bullshit, or at least help take care of Pete Wentz's poorly-named newborn or something. I found myself liking Bishop G's contribution much more than either of Lupe's verses.

13. GOTTA EAT
I didn't care much for this track.

14. DUMB IT DOWN (FEAT GEMSTONES & GRAHAM BURRIS)
As I mentioned at the end of my write-up for Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, I really like this song. Lupe fails to actually say anything of merit or substance for the four minutes it takes for this track to play out, but the basic concept works, and the hooks are still pretty funny today. I seem to remember Gemstones being credited originally as Gemini, though, so I'm fairly certain the name change has to do with another rapper using the same name.

15. HELLO/GOODBYE (UNCOOL) (FEAT UNKLE)
Lupe couldn't get Pink Floyd (a group he was really lobbying for) to appear on Lupe Fiasco's The Cool, so he settled for...UNKLE? The hell? UNKLE had a much more interesting sound when DJ Shadow was still a part of the team, so it should make sense when I mention that the music here was simply loud and boring (and recycled: I don't believe UNKLE actually had shit to do with the song itself, since all this appears to be is Lupe rhyming over their "Chemistry", with some drums added for good measure). Sadly, this also isn't a cover of the Beatles classic.

16. THE DIE (FEAT GEMSTONES)
What's wrong, Lupe? Couldn't afford Twista, so you got your weed carrier to whip up a serviceable imitation because you were too exhausted?

17. PUT YOU ON GAME
Meh.

18. FIGHTERS (FEAT MATTHEW SANTOS)
There isn't much to this song (drums don't even bother to make an appearance), but for what it is, it's alright.

19. GO BABY (FEAT GEMSTONES)
The beat is celebratory, in a "Hey, we finally reached the end of Lupe Fiasco's The Cool!" kind of way, which basically means that this shit sounds like a last-minute addition to help alleviate the tension created by the previous eighteen tracks. The lyrics, which mostly suck on here, are truly beside the point.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Lupe Fiasco's The Cool is actually a marked improvement over Lupe's debut, although he still makes a lot of the same mistakes (overproduced music, poor hooks, taking himself waaay too seriously). This is a much darker album, but that aspect of it actually helps, and Lupe's writing seems to have only gotten better. Lupe Fiasco's The Cool is too long of an album, and runs the risk of losing the patience of casual listeners, but overall, this isn't bad. It helps if you elect to ignore the "concept album" comments and lust appreciate the music for what it is, though.

BUY OR BURN? With five great tracks and a couple of good ones, this album is actually well worth your money. You may want to set aside a day to digest all of the shit Lupe piles on, though. Fans of radio-friendly piffle will want to look elsewhere, as your attention span will be severely challenged here.

BEST TRACKS: "Streets On Fire"; "Dumb It Down"; "Paris, Tokyo"; "Gold Watch"; "Superstar"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor

23 comments:

  1. Mark me as doubly disappointed when I found out that neither Jayceon Taylor nor Mike Skinner were going to be on this album. Still, I didn't find it half bad, although I find myself listening to his Fahrenheit 1/15 mixtape series more than either of his retail albums.

    HOWEVER, speaking of Skinner, as well as hip-hop concept albums, ever think about reviewing an album by The Streets? His music does toe the line of hip-hop and UK electronica, but "A Grand Don't Come for Free" is probably the closest thing to a well-made and compelling hip-hop concept album since "A Prince Among Thieves".

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  2. Max, there actually IS a rapper named "The Streets" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Streets) as well, so along with The Game, Lupe has both covered.

    I agree with this review. Looking back on this album, it's amazing how quickly Lupe fell off (to me). I enjoyed Food and Liquor, bought this one on the day it dropped, listened to it once, and haven't listened to it since then. It wasn't a bad album at all, but for some reason, I became completely disinterested in Lupe shortly after. I may check out LupEND whenever it releases, but I have a feeling that with three discs, it's going to have a lot of crap on it between the few good songs.

    I also agree with you on the facts that it was overproduced, and too long. And yes, Lupe really does take himself too seriously.

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  3. I actually forgot about The Streets, which is doubly embarassing because his debut has been in my "to-do" pile for at least a full year now. Oh well.

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  4. Max I severly disagree with your review. People need to give modern albums more props. This is the closest out of any album to get to a classic status out of last year (not counting the Blu & Exile joint). People need to recognize modern classics while they are still happening. Honestly you could always go back to "classics" from the golden-era and nit-pick them to end. For example most of Paid in Full, while undoubtedly very influential in its time, sounds heavily underproduced to modern ears (My Melody for example) but you along with the rest of the community called it a classic.

    SMH @ ignorance

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  5. You Know (or Don't, So Let me say), I actually agree with this review thorughout. My favortite tracks on here are Paris Toyko, and Gold Watch. Funny How you reviewed this album almost a year to release date. Lupe Does show improvement over his first album, so hears hoping his third jam is his plateau.

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  6. Solid review - glad we agree on the greatness otherwise known as "streets on fire"

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  7. In addition to what Anonymous said... You've GOTTA review that Blu & Exile album. So awesome.

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  8. Jos-B:

    I just heard The Streets 'A Grand Don't Come for Free' recently and must say I agree the cd kicks ass and would love to see a review of it on the site.

    On 'The Cool' I agree on the point it is too long I am a huge fan of Lupe and think there is a great album in here with a little trimming down and not so much singing on all the hooks.

    Looking forward to the final album but thinks its funny that his 'last' album is three discs. Obviously he loves to write and produce music, why then is he retiring? Doesn't really make sense to me but what do I know.

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  9. While you are at it, do take a look at Obie Trice - 2nd Rounds On Me.... in keeping up with the theme of sophomore efforts. The guy's got a way with words but I havent been able to really figure out what he really needs to change.
    [p.s- following this blog since a long while but this is my first comment, so holler!]

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  10. Wow, while I agree with many of your sentiments about Lupe, I have to say I feel like this album was a step down for him. I personally thought his first album was far better and that there was very little on this album that was worth while. It's interesting how you think Gold Watch and Dumb It Down are two of the best tracks on the album because I see them as two of the worst. Dumb It Down does have an interesting concept, and it would probably work better if he himself didn't dumb it down to the point where it just makes no damn sense. He could have just made a skit with the hooks and it would have been a MUCH better song.

    That said, it was still an interesting review and a pretty good read.

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  11. Hip Hop Saved My Life is about Slim Thug for those of you who didnt know

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  12. How can you say Lupe takes himself too seriously when he put "Gotta Eat" on the album?

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  13. This shit is like the new illmatic for the new millenium. You'll see... ninjas are gonna look back on this shit and be like damn how the fuck did we miss this

    The Cool > Any CD out of the last year hands down

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  14. jeez, this blogger who wrote up the review takes himself too seriously. this album has high replay value, and all of the songs are good imo. I figured you woudln't really give this album too good of a review after you didn't like the spoken word intro. just to be clear, i hate spokenword poetry, but the message in this one was "deep" and true.
    lupe was a beast on this album, its too bad you think otherwise.

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  15. I think you are really messed up, or at least your music taste is. All the tracks on the album were good. I think you were being nit picky. You could do that with any album. I think you just really don't like Lu. Whatever, this album is gonna be the next Illmatic IMO. Your seriously messed up dude.

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  16. Aaron James JrDecember 29, 2008

    You guys are fucking stupid. Your bashing one of the best albums in years. The word play is just phenomenal and his deliverly is on point. You faggot ass bitches need to recognize true mcs, Im sorry you guys are probably the ones listening to all these wack rappers. You can't name me 5 mcs besides the old schoolers who are obvious that are better than Lupe. As a matter of fact give me five albums this year that was better. Thats some real shit. You so-called reviews and critics are talking out of your asses.

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  17. hej just want to support the ask for a THE STREETS review... do it now, man ;-)

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  18. AnonymousJuly 29, 2009

    Agree with most of the album review, except for track 17. Put You on Game is easily my favorite track on this album. The lyrics pretty much blew me away. You should listen to that one again with an open mind.

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  19. i support canis lupus in making his LupEND album so that i never "have to" listen his music anymore. this album is just plain h.o.r.r.i.b.l.e.

    lupe is so clever that he had already announced his retire at his 20's omgwtf an another jay-z with last albums every year :(

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  20. After reading your review, Max, after reading the comments and after reading the reader review and the reader review comments, I thought that this album was something good, something special.

    Yesterday I boughgt it (because I found it on discount: 50 cent and the disc became mine) and my expectations were high...

    Well, I played the album 2 times from front to back and I still can't find something good about it. It's horrible, a waste of time.

    Why is this Lupe rapping? Why does he get a record deal and others don't?

    I don't intend to be bitching on anybody in here, but 'The Cool' is sooo damn whack.

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  21. Another terrible review. It seems like the reviewer despises anything different. However, i was most appalled at the clear misinterpretation of Streets On Fire - It was about crime not AIDS - listen to Pills (Real Recognize Real) for an overview of what Lupe was actually talking about. You're clearly unable to interpret the allegory presented in this concept album. Your abhorrence for poetry betrayed you in this review.

    "Rap is Rhythm and poetry" -Rakim

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  22. Re: the whole "Free Chilly" nonsense. Lupe ought to remember that "Chilly" was slinging fucking heroin. What exactly did Lupe and "Chilly" think would happen if (when) he got caught?

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  23. Just watched the Lupe performance of Electric Relaxation, he really did fuck it up, however nobody said anything about Common singing the chorus wrong: 'Relax yourself Girl be so clear' he sings, but I guess he did make up for it on the previous track 'Bonita Applebum', which is like the EASIEST track ever to follow lyric for lyric, so if Common messed that up then...

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