Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor II | Album Review
‘Food & Liquor II’ is another strong album by Lupe Fiasco that relies more on critical success as opposed to commercial aspiration.
Lupe Fiasco as a musical artist is both predictable and unpredictable. He is predictable in the sense that listeners can expect cerebral and socially conscious lyrics. Often, his lyrics are indiscernible upon an initial listen. Lupe Fiasco is certainly slated in the intellectual rap sub-genre. Also unpredictable is the type of album you can expect from him as of late. Returning with Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, it’s another strong album by the MC, but relies more on critical success as opposed to commercial aspiration. It’s not an album that you will totally understand upon the first listen. At nearly 70 minutes, it’s certainly difficult to digest without isolating it into pieces. This exhaustive length might be what hurts the lot of the album more than its socially-conscious material.
The album begins socially-conscious (big surprise, right?) Lupe’s sister, Ayesha Jaco delivers her poetry that incorporates every social issue, most notably Jim Crow, Traevon Martin, and “…the west side of Chicago/where food and liquor stores still occupy the block…” It is well written, setting the tone of Food & Liquor II.
“Strange Fruition,” featuring Casey Benjamin, serves as the first full-length cut. It plays true to its strange title. Produced by Soundtrakk, “Strange Fruition” is well produced, incorporating a lovely sample and hard drum programming. The chorus is mysterious featuring illy decipherable lyrics:
“Many things, strangest things you ever seen/oh, look a how they swing/embedded they go, no eyelids gone low/or gone by sundown/they’re dodging 5-0.”
Again, the strangeness all plays like a tone poem, which ultimately makes “Strange Fruition” effective.
“ITAL (Roses)” has less of a mysterious vibe, with standard hip-hop production work. The hook is chocked-full of words and filled with social references:
“May we have some roses for the ladies/a little appreciation for the gentlemen/and here’s some kisses for the babies/some peace and inity for the whole wide-wide-wide world…”
Lupe’s second verse is pointed for sure:
“I know you’re sayin’, ‘Lupe rappin’ bout the same shit/Well that’s cause shit ain’t changed bitch/and please don’t excuse my language cause I would hate for you to misrepresent…”
Dense though cerebral, none can deny he’s good at what he does, even if the roses are a bit hard to digest here.
“Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)”
“Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” the first single, is anchored by old-school samples. Lupe’s flow is incredibly agile on the verses with his best lyrical reference materializing in third verse. Here, he alludes to Wu-Tang Clan: “Cash rules everything around these n*ggas…” The hook is wordy, but plays well into his antiestablishment mindset as he throws punches at the media:
“Live from the other side what you see/ A bunch of nonsense on my TV/ Heaven on earth is what I need/ But I feel I’m in Hell every time I breathe… /Rich man, poor man, we all gotta pay/ Cause freedom ain’t free, especially ‘round my way…”
It requires analysis like everything else on Food & Liquor II, but “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” is a highlight.
“Audubon Ballroom” continues ‘The Lupe Manifesto,’ with notable punchlines to alleviate some of the heaviness. Amongst the cleverest punchlines include “But it’s so Titanic to be iced out,” “In other words, lyrical Zuckerbergs,” and “Black panthers, black anthems, black blues.” If that wasn’t enough, there’s a racially-charged hook:
“Now white people, they can’t say n*gga/so I gotta take it back/now black people, we’re not n*ggas/God made us better than that…”
“Bitch Bad,” the second single, is arguably the album’s best cut and most controversial. The hook is one of the simplest of the effort, but the meaning transcends simplicity.
“Bitch bad, woman good, Lady better, they misunderstood (I’m killin’ these bitches).”
As usual, everything has double and sometimes triple meanings with Lupe. The initial read one gets upon hearing “Bitch Bad” is that Fiasco is scolding parents for promoting free ‘endearing’ use of a formerly derogatory reference towards women. At the same time, he plays on the word. “Bitch Bad” is incredibly clever, even it its title might turn off some.
Remaining on ‘autopilot,’ “Lamborghini Angels” continues to pack a punch. “Lamborghini Angels” contains more commercial fodder than say because there is more of a ‘sensationalist’ edge. The hook attracts:
“I see diamond flooded demons/ Lamborghini angels…halos down with the doors flapping when they come through.”
Even so, it’s the content of the verses that are most characteristic of Lupe, particularly the socially-charged final verse. His flow continues with great agility.
“Put ‘Em Up” continues to keep things rolling alone, most notable for the malicious production work. The hook is catchy, at least by the end, which is welcome. On “Heart Donor,” Lupe brings Poo Bear along for the ride, riding a beat courtesy of The Runners. Poo Bear delivers. Ultimately, it’s a lovely cut, though it doesn’t eclipse the heavyweights.
Bilal steals the show on “How Dare You,” while Lupe Fiasco sounds less electrified than the indie-R&B star, who is on fire. He regains his swag with a little help from a soulful Guy Sebastien on the exceptional “Battle Scars.” Lupe easily atones for any miscues, while Sebastien shines. Soulful, nuanced, and pitch-perfect, Lupe and producers made the right move to consider Sebastien as an equal entity as opposed to ‘featuring’ Guy Sebastien. Follow up “Brave Heart,” is a downgrade. Poo Bear reappears, but is less effective here.
Thankfully, the top-notch, soulful “Form Follows Function” gives Lupe Fiaco another dynamic solo spot, sans collaboration. “Form Follows Function” reminds fans of the soulful-productions that graced his debut. Socially conscious, agile, and confident, he slays here. Follow-up “Cold War” finds him agile, though more casual. Jane $ $ $ delivers the hook that unsurprisingly provides the listeners with a history lesson:
“Said it’s a cold war/ain’t nobody win like the government/in the U.S.S.R.”
“Unforgivable Youth” features Jason Evigan (frontman of After Midnight Project) , whose hook performance is quite casual:
“This world, my heart my soul/ Things that I don’t know/ The icicles hey grow/ They never let me go/ Scars are left as proof / But tears they soak on through/ Things I’ve done/ My young, my unforgivable youth.”
With the standard pop/rock thing that Lupe features on every album going on, the cut is solid, not exceptional. The closer, “Hood Now (Outro)” is too long, but certainly enjoyable. It’s more relaxed than many of the heady cuts.
Overall, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. I is very much a Lupe Fiasco effort. There are multiple messages, double and triple meanings, and more than enough socio-political messages to ‘float a boat.’ Cerebral, enjoyable, overstuffed, and brilliant would all be adjectives to describe this effort. Essentially, it would’ve benefited from another edit, which would have made a ‘solid’ album a truly ‘great’ one.
Gems: “Strange Fruition,” “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” “Bitch Bad,” “Lamborghini Angels” & “Battle Scars”