A Moral Obligation: Lupe Fiasco and The Great American Rap Album

Joseph Coleman’s death, a drive by shooting allegedly stemming from the rivalry between Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples, wasn’t just another killing on Chicago’s south side, one of hundreds that will happen this year. It demonstrated the main problem with hip hop today. A glorification of the gang lifestyle, perpetuated not by those who live it or are near it, but by white suburban kids who purchase the albums, that then forces up and comers to adopt the lifestyle that sells. Kids turn to gangs because they offer a chance to be fed and housed in exchange for controlling territory and selling product. The rap game does the same thing.

When rappers like Chief Keef are making a name for themselves by spitting lines about their crews (see: 3hunna or Keef’s twitter- filled with hashtag “300”) and gain fame through songs as mediocre and repetitive as “I Don’t Like,” hip hop starts to look like a shallow and bleak landscape, like a Chicago food desert.

Which is why Food and Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Part 1 is the most important rap albums for the time.

Much like the gangster rap coming from the city’s south side, Lupe Fiasco’s tracks all show that the west side rapper knows exactly what he’s talking about. Lupe is still rapping about gang banging, drugs, money and bitches, but instead of glorifying objects and demeaning women, he goes after biting political commentary. The second single, “Bitch Bad,” is the best defection from the normal rap lexicon in favor of thinking critically. The song, a criticism of using the word “bitch” to refer to women, speaks beyond a straight moral objection to the word, but how young boys and girls grow up glorifying it and having future morals become muddy because of it.

In the third track, “ITAL (Roses)” Lupe pulls off a line that would be awkward for anyone else, save for a parody wrap from an econ professor. While encouraging young men to get a Toyota Camry, he explains himself by saying “That’s called being fiscally responsible/don’t let these lying images in hip hop conquer you.” But Food and Liquor 2 isn’t all social commentary. In the same song, Lupe reminds us of his strong leftist political stance, recalling the recent past: “Called the president a terrorist/corporate sponsors like/how the fuck you gon’ embarrass us?”

This leads into the album’s second single, “Around My Way (Freedom Isn’t Free);” a laundry list of issues ranging from Pine Ridge to FEMA to the Iraq war- and that’s just the first verse. Lupe steers through quick lyrics over a sample from T.R.O.Y. never stumbling over complicated rhymes, even when they include phrases like “planned obsolescence.”

Musically, the album is solidly produced in classic Lupe fashion. More akin to The Cool than Lazers, the album incorporates kick drums almost as heavy as Fiasco’s lyrics, full instrumentation, and the use of vocals as an instrument. This is made especially clear in the albums weakest track, “Heart Donor.” Despite being passible lyrically, the hook- a sappy, almost clever play on heart donor- incorporates actual sha-la-las and a repeated “yeah” warping down in the background. A rare miss, “Heart Donor” is good for a laugh and a break before getting towards the radio friendly “Battle Scars” and the freestyle feel of “Form Follows Function.”

Food and Liquor 2 ends with “Hood Now,” a tongue-in-cheek exploration about the infiltration of hip hop culture into the mainstream, poking fun at Three 6 Mafia winning an Oscar and offering the lines “You know me/ I don’t vote/ but the White House/ you already know/ it’s hood now.”

Over all, Lupe Fiasco’s new album is more than just an infectious, lyrically driven, more than listenable album. It’s a political and social plea to address issues that we tend to sweep under the rug or ignore. Everything from using a critical eye while examining all politicians to making sure that kids in the ghetto still get fed, to respect being a top priority. This is exactly what hip hop, and all of us, need.

(Food and Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Record Part 1 drops 9/25)

Album Tracklist:

1. Ayesha Says (Intro)
2. Strange Fruition Ft. Casey Benjamin
3. ITAL (Roses)v4. Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)
5. Audubon Ballroom
6. B*tch Bad
7. Lamborghini Angels
8. Put ‘Em Up
9. Heart Donor Ft. Poo Bear
10. How Dare You Ft. Bilal
11. Battle Scars (with Guy Sebastian)
12. Brave Heart Ft. Poo Bear
13. Form Follows Function
14. Cold War Ft. Jane $$$
15. Unforgivable Youth Ft. Jason Evigian
16. Hood Now (Outro)
17. Things We Must Do For Others

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