Lupe Fiasco’s recent announcement that his new album The Cool marks the beginning of his...
DJBooth Album Review
Drop three albums and retire, apparently that’s been the Chicago MC’s plan from the beginning. Whether or not his departure actually happens, the mere threat gives The Cool an increased air of rarity and significance. Lupe’s alternately been embraced as the savior of hip-hop or dismissed as a self-involved intellectual, but regardless of where you fall on the Fiasco love/hate spectrum, you have to appreciate a man with the integrity to stick by a self-imposed retirment deadline. Think about it; if the world would only hear three things from you, what would you say?
Lupe’s always had a message, but what separates him from mere preachers is his ability to weave his philosophy into story. The Cool features a rotating cast of characters that personify elements of urban life, with Lupe adopting different flows and production styles for each. Streets On Fire soars against a softly driving beat and intimate vocals from longtime collaborator Matthew Santos, the perfect stage for Lupe to spin the story of the goddess The Streets, an urban siren who lures people to walk her blocks in search of money and fame. Some rappers wouldn’t know a metaphor if it drank their Patron, metaphorically speaking, but Lupe’s an absolute master: “No pill, can heal, the ill of this, sickness, some are still in doubt of its existence.” The Cool is full of lines likes these, you may want to get out some pen and paper. Put You On Game continues the theatrics with the introduction of The Game (not to be confused with the Game), a skeleton with dice for eyes that’s the embodiment of the lust for money and power. It’s eerie to hear the usually nerdy MC inject his vocals with a sense of menace and dread, particularly when he’s putting together rhymes like, “tell ‘em that you played my game, I hope your bullet holes become mouths that say my name.” Lupe’s calling card was always his lyricism, but tracks like these prove he’s more than a dope rapper – he’s an incredible artist. Period.
On the flip side Lupe’s insistence on conceptual density has caused many hip-hop heads to avert their ears. Lupe’s heard the criticism too, apparently he doesn’t give a f***. Dumb It Down hovers over a stripped down electronic beat while Lupe takes a few minutes to respond to the critics, from the record executives only interested in record sales to video directors trying to get him to “pour champagne on a b****.” The pencil-slim rapper ends the track with a defiant, “I flatly refused, I ain’t dumbed down nothing,” after all it’s hard to bribe a man who’s genuinely not interested in material wealth. If Dumb It Down is Lupe’s refusal of fame, than Superstar is the reason why. Superstar’s piano melody and melancholy chorus has a decidedly English rock sound, setting the scene for Lupe’s introspective rhymes about the price of fame: “I wanna believe my own hype, but it’s too untrue.” It’s the same struggle for sanity in the face of the cult of celebrity that Kanye’s been having for five years now, only Lupe hasn’t flipped out at any awards shows…yet.
With all this talk of philosophy and sociology it’s easy to overlook the heart of The Cool, a profound desire to simply experiment. Go Go Gadget Flow has Lupe spitting his quickest Twista-style rhymes with surprising efficiency, the Neptunes produced Paris, Tokyo is a sweetly romantic track with a decided mid-90’s influence, and Lupe enlists rocker Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame for a darkly explosive Hello Goodbye. All that variation makes The Cool the most expansive hip-hop album of the year, and Lupe’s ability to sound at home on each track is the true sign of his talent, but that also means the album takes some work to fully enjoy. There’s a legitimate discussion to be had about Lupe’s refusal to cater to the masses, and the corresponding charges of elitism, but don’t let that stop you from at least giving Lupe Fiasco your ear for an hour. He may not be around for much longer.
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Dec 17, 2007
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