Lupe Fiasco, DROGAS Light | Album Review
Lupe Fiasco returns with his sixth album DROGAS Light, an effort which has its moments but also falls short of his best work.
At one point, Lupe Fiasco was considered to be one of the hottest MCs. A socially-conscious rapper, he delivered incredibly meaningful rhymes. He’s maintained his social and political edge, but at times has deviated in favor of commercial fare (Lasers comes to mind). Following the success of Lasers, his popularity waned. His 2015 effort Tetsuo & Youth debuted modestly at no. 14, matching his previous career-low start (The Cool). The question is, can his new album, DROGAS Light, spike more interest in the talented rapper? The album itself is respectable, but not without its share of flaws.
Fiasco sets the tone on intro, “Dopamine Lit.” The flow is crazy, with Lupe going H.A.M. over a sick beat. Lyrically, it’s a lot to take in, but the spirit of the performance speaks for itself. He follows up superbly with “NGL,” an acronym for n*ggas gon’ lose. He’s assisted by the ubiquitous Ty Dolla $ign, who proves to be a perfect fit given his distinct vocals. Lupe keeps it 100, rapping about numerous ways society – specifically black society – is falling short.
“Ayy, ayy, disproportionate convictions / Especially when it come to our case / You seen the movie, they killed the n*gga / Why you still wanna be like Scarface?”
“Promise” is out of character for Lupe, without question. The style is a clear 360˚ from “NGL,” which features more lyricism throughout. The production is solid, but quickly grates given its repetition and lack of evolution. The hook falls flat, finding the promises of the rapper to be empty AF.
“Made in the USA”
The redemption for Fiasco arrives on the stellar “Made in the USA,” featuring Bianca Sings. “Made in the USA” shouldn’t work – it too is out of character for the MC. Even so, the change of pace is effective here. This is good enough to turn up to, along with learning geography.
“All my heroes from Hollywood / Put Tony Montanas all in my hood / This rap shit came from New York City / My momma came from Mississippi.”
Gizzle guests on “Jump,” which keeps in step with pairing Lupe with turn-up beats. The production is top-notch (Soundtrakk), further building on the intensity established by “Made in the USA.” Even more than the song it follows, he crafts a compelling narrative through his rhymes. No, the tale isn’t prodigious or incredibly profound, but it is worthy of spins. “City of the Year” follows, slackening the pace. The record keeps DROGAS Light interesting, particularly considering its reference to Chicago. It also reminds the listener that the record (and album) are more contemporary, temporarily stimulation as opposed to a classic.
“High” is characterized as an interlude, though it falls just short of the four-minute mark! SIMON SAYZ guests, contributing the hook. The contributions are a bit annoying, given the high-pitched, repetitive vocals. It also hurts that the rhymes by Fiasco fail to allure. Thankfully, two highlights serve as atonement.
“Tranquillo” and “Kill” are among the crème de la crème of DROGAS Light. “Tranquillo” features Rick Ross and Big K.R.I.T. While the record is approached like a clubby, turn-up rapper, “Tranquillo” actually has a stronger message:
“Cause I got chillin’ by the million, tranquillo by the kilo / N*gga, n*gga, what, and I got kilos by the speedboat / And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout them drugs / I’m talkin’ bout that love / For myself and all my n*ggas / All my b*tches and all my thugs, what’s up?”
On “Kill,” Lupe, Ty Dolla $ign, and Victoria Monet are murdering the club – the strip club. Ultimately, the kill comes from the dollar bills being given to the stripper. Superbly produced, the tone of “Kill” changes at the end, transforming from the club to the church, literally. Easily, the switch-up at the end of “Kill” is one of the more clever and creative moments of DROGAS Light.
“Pick Up the Phone”
Beyond “Kill,” DROGAS loses some of its luster. “LAW” is romantic, with the acronym ultimately standing for Love All Ways. The results are okay, but “nothing to write home about.” “Pick Up the Phone,” an early single featuring Eric Turner, is a surefire miss. The pop-oriented single features excellent production ideas, namely the synthesized pizzicato strings. The problem is that everything doesn’t work together seamlessly. Clearly, this is an aim at pop success but fails to be as effective as the rapper’s best pop crossover hits (“Superstar” or “Show Goes On”).
“It’s Not Design” is an up-tempo, danceable record. This definitely is uncharacteristic of Lupe – a bit hard to digest. Still, the groove can’t be denied. On “Wild Child,” he is assisted by under-the-radar artist Jake Torrey. Torrey does a fine job singing, even if “Wild Child” arguably arrives too deep in the album to be as effective as earlier gems. Much like “It’s Not Design,” the groove is infectious. “More Than My Heart,” featuring Salim and Rxmn concludes DROGAS Light.
All in all, DROGAS Light is an album that has its fair share of moments but is by no means a classic. This album simply doesn’t always sound like a Lupe Fiasco album. Sure, he’s allowed to switch up his style and embrace modern hip-hop, but DROGAS Light is far from being a tour de force in his discography.
Gems: “NGL,” “Made in the USA,” “Jump,” “Tranquillo” & “Kill”