The Quotable Reviews: Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor

I'm only a year and a semester late with this review.

No excuse.

I mean, how do I explain not reviewing the album that I damn near spent 3 months personally hyping leading up to its September 2006 release? Lupe Fiasco's mixtapes and underground releases were so impactful on The Company Man that it became urgent for me to spread the good word like a sidewalk preacher on a soap-box, just so all (who I encountered in my little world) would have the opportunity to hear this spectacle-wearing-emcee-from-the-Chi. Just to make them aware. In fact, Lu-Emperor is the reason you're even reading this review right now. The Quotable is the direct descendant of "Lupe Fiasco's Daily Quotable" - my back-in-the-day, daily blast email to the world containing Lupe's latest dope lyric.

Its like that.

So 9 month's and one leak later, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor finally drops, and The Company Man was floored. I couldn't believe my ears. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I couldn't believe what he was saying. And I couldn't describe it. Literally. I mean everytime I listened to the album I heard something different - something more - and I couldn't put it into words.

So I waited.

I waited until when I felt like I adequately consumed all of its intentions, and intricacies, and similes, and metaphors and could actually convey them to Quotable Nation without sounding like a rambling stan. I waited and waited and that day never came.

Now. Here we are, 2 days before the release of Lupe's sophomore Lp, The Cool (cop that on Tuesday, December 18th. Its a moral imperative), The Company Man still has the review outstanding...and its time to put somethin' on it. Whether or not it turns out the way I think it should is another story. The point is...if any album deserves my attention (as fleeting as its been lately...notice the extended gaps between posts. Apologies to Quotable Nation. The Company Man just got promoted on his 9-5 and is (unfortunately) turning into an actual company man. Another of life's irony) its this one. So without further adieu...

The Quotable Reviews: Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor

"I mean, I had a dream that God gave me flight. / Too fly for my own good, so God gave me plight." - "Real": Lupe Fiasco; Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor

The "Intro" to Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor is a spoken word poem by Lupe's sister, Iesha Jaco (at least I think its his sister. Wikipedia doesn't list her name, and someone jacked me for my actual CD so I don't have the album book in front of me. Initially I was pissed about getting got for my ish, but then I realized that if I had to I'd steal this album too. Its that good). Lupe then steps in and introduces the album's premise ("I think the world and everything in it is made up of a mix of two things: You got your good and your bad. You got your food and your liquor."), setting the stage for whats to come.

From there its on to "Real," where Lupe opines on people wanting substance in their lives, while subtly alluding to organizations (governments, gang-related, or otherwise) distorting reality as a means for control. "The Game is not to give them nothin real. / Nothin' that they can use, nothin' that they can feel. / Give 'em a bunch of lies and teach 'em that its real. / So thats all they'll know. So thats all they will feel" he kicks over Soundtrakk's (First & 15th's in house beat-maker) hopping snare drums and bass-heavy production.

The anthemic "Just Might Be OK" follows, where Lupe abstractly paints a picture of the environment and circumstances that led him to become the Emcee he is today:

"Then he leaves the house that love built, / that HUD renovated, / that section 8 pays for. / Well lets pray for him. / Let the beat play for him. / Put his struggles on display for them. / Cause he gotta go and face the drama / with a different from the one that he use to face his mama. / If you look close, you will see it consists of a smile that hurts an ice-grill and a trace of trauma. / Little bit of his father / and other criterian thats no different from a young Liberian."

On "Kick Push", Lupe simplistically delivers an in-depth story about a kid finding love, friendship, and acceptance through skateboarding - all over Soundtrakk's horns and bass drums. This is the type of song that just makes you feel good. F&L's second single "I Gotcha," comes next; where Lupe rides The Neptunes bouncing snare and piano keys to perfection. The Emcee's cleverness is front and center here, using nothing but soap and cologne analogies to describe how fresh he is on the mic:

"They call me Lupe. / I'll be your new day. / They wanna smell like me, they want my bouquet. / But they can't. / They accented like the UK. / Turn that Ode Lupe into Pepe' Lepieu spray. / Flagrantly fragrant / and they can't escape it. / My perfume pursued them everywhere that they went. / You don't wanna loan, leave my cologne alone. / Its a little too strong for you to be puttin' on. / Trust me. / I say this justly. / I went from musty to musky and yall can't mush me. / I warned yall corn-balls / I hush puppies. / The swan's in the pond called my duck ugly. / But now they hug me / because its lovely. / They love the aroma of a roamer of the world. / Got the shakers, and the skaters, and the players, and the girls. / Keep the fakers, and the flakers, and the haters in a twirl."

There's so much going on in that verse its mind numbing! Its so simple yet so complex at the same time. From the over-arching concept of how fresh he is, to the running cologne analogy, to the Pepe' Lepieu reference from Looney Toons, to the ugly duckling example, to the alliteration of "aroma of the roamer of the world" - Lupe corners the concept and owns the square. Seriously, whats the rapper whos next in the cypher suppose to say to top that level of simple complexity? This muttaskutta is on a-whole-nother-level. Think about it, we're only 4 tracks into F&L, and so far he's delivered (lyrically, and sonically) on a social-leaning track, a personal track, a 3rd person story, and a cypher cut...thats crazy diversity! Most rappers today can't reach that range of subject matter over an entire album! Think about that the next time you listen to Curtis. Back to the review.

Linkin Park keyboardist/Hip Hop Head Mike Shinoda lends the beat for "The Instrumental" - another simplistically complex cut from Lupe. This time, Lu kicks a narrative about a man who is obsessed with a "box." The box is a metaphor for TV, or iPods, or computers, or any of today's media controlled avenue's for communication and the song's protagonist just "sits and watches the people in the boxes. / Everything he sees he absorbs and adopts it. / He mimics and he mocks it. / Really hates the box but he can't remember how to stop it" all while "the doctors jot it all down with their pens and pencils / the same ones that took away his voice..." Making The Band season 1 vet, Sarah Green and First & 15th crooner, Gemini, provide background vocals on "He Say She Say" - where he tells the story of a mother and a son talking to the absentee father. More simple complexity abounds as Lu spits the same verse for both perspectives, changing only the pronouns ("he" for the mother, "I" for the son). Lu-Emperor shows some love to the ladies on "Sunshine", a first person narrative of his first encounter with a beautiful girl. The songs outcome? He gets her number. Not head. Not some wild-West-Coast-Productions-style-threesome. Just her number. The outcome of most first encounters for most of us most of the time.

F&L's third single "Daydreamin" catches Lupe day dreaming about a project building robot coming to life:

"Now theres hoes selling holes like right around the toes. / And the crack heads beg at about the lower leg. / Theres crooked police thats stationed at the knees / and they do drive-bys like up and down the thighs. / And theres a car chase going on at the waist. / Keep a vest on my chest. / I'm sittin in my room as I'm lookin out the face. / Somethin' to write about. / I still got some damage from fighting the White House."

Fellow Chi City Emcee Kanye West is enlisted for production on "The Cool." Arguably the most visual song on the album, "The Cool" is the story of a dead hustler who digs himself out of his own grave and gets back into The Game. Ye's suspenseful sound scape provides the perfect backdrop for Lu's imagery:

"Not at all nervous as he dug to the surface. / Tarnished gold chain is what he loosened up the earth with. / He used his mouth as shovel to try and hollow it. / And when he couldn't dirt spit, he swallowed it. / Working like a...hmm? / Reverse archaeologist / except his buried treasure was sunshine. / So when some shined through a hole that he had drove it reflected off the gold and almost made son blind. / He grabbed onto some grass and climbed. / Pulled himself up out of his own grave and looked at the time / on the watch that had stopped 6 months after the shots that had got him in the box / raining Henney out his socks. / Figured it was hours because he wasn't older. / Used the flowers to brush the dirt up off his shoulders. / So with a right hand that was all bones and no reason to stay / he decided to walk home."

(Oh yeah, yall are getting the full Quotable today baby!)

That verse is so intricate, so detailed, and there is no question as to what the character is doing. The over-arching theme is more complex ("hustler for death, no heaven for a gangster") while the basics of the story are so direct (a hustler digs himself out of his grave and gets back on the block). The language is small; he's not using obscure, 6 syllable words or anything. But at the same time the similes are big ("working like a reverse archaeologist accept his buried treasure was sunshine") and perfectly timed. The song itself "The Cool" is the setup for Lupe's sophmore Lp, Lupe Fiasco's: The Cool, as it is loosely based on the main character (along with the little boy from "He Say She Say" and The Streets and The Game from the F&L bonus track "The Pills", or "Real Recognize Real" if you copped the leaked version of F&L). Lu puts so much thought into every detail and as a result the songs become more cinematic. I'm gettin' chills right now.

"Hurt Me Soul" is the most introspective track on the album. The artist recounts his initial issues with Hip Hop ("I used to hate Hip Hop because the women [were] degraded. / But Too Short made me laugh [and] like a hypocrite I played it") only to fall in love with genre and start writing himself ("Gangster rap based films became the building blocks for children with leaking ceilings, catching drippings with pots. / Coupled with compositions from Pac, Nas' It Was Written, intermixed with my realities and feelings / Livin conditions, religion, ignorant wisdom, and autistic vision / I began to jot").

Then the unexpected happened.

Lupe outshines arguably the greatest rapper of all time, Jay-Z on a track together. "Pressure" finds Lu using a mean sewing analogy to describe his rhyme style:

"And so it seems that I'm sewing jeans. / And First & 15th is just a sewing machine. / So I cut the pattern and I sew its seams / and button in this hustlin and publicly I'm Buddy Lee. / Theres no bustin' him and cuffin' him is like ushering in a regime. / They want me to make Prince pants / but I withstand. I ain't gotten in to that. / A little BIG in the waist / 2Pac-ets on the back. / Call them LuVy's - OGs covered in blue dye."

I could write a thesis on this track alone, but the first half of the first verse is enough to analyze. Again, more simple complexity; this time using sewing as the analogy. Yes, he's sewing a pair of jeans, but whats impressive about them is the detail put into the picture. I mean, not only is Jay on the track so you know Lupe has to bring it (as should every MC everytime they're on a track with anyone else) because he knows Jay always brings it. So he uses this sewing analogy as if he's putting together the pieces of fabric that make up a dope MC ("button in this hustlin' / and publicly I'm Buddy Lee / theres no bustin' him" (allusion to the Lee Jeans commercials)), leaving out the bull-ish that most rappers feel forced to do and say in order to gain commercial success ("They want me to make Prince pants / but I withstand I ain't gotten into that" - translation: "I'm not showin' my ass to succeed"). Then he gets into the finished product - "A little B.I.G. in the waist / 2Pac-ets on the back. / Call 'em LuVy's / OGs covered in blue dye" (a little Biggie Smalls and 2Pac in his style). Finally the point is made clear once you sit back and look at it from a higher level - Lu's on a track with Jay Z, CEO of Def Jam Records and owner of Roc-a-fella records and clothing line Roc-a-wear. He spends the first half of the first verse making a pair of jeans playing off Jay-Z's Roc-a-wear association on a track with Jay-Z while comparing his own style to Biggie and 2Pac! So simple yet so complex! He goes in even deeper later in the song by bringing in pirates, rocks, Wheel O Fortune, and Sly and The Family Stone references to play off of the presence off the "Roc" on the cut. Too much for any one guest appearance to follow.

Don't get me wrong, Jay-Z certainly doesn't disappoint ("So the pen is mightier than the sword my lord. / My first picture was on a line up, now I'm on the Forbes. / And I still remain an artist through this all. / If you force my hand I'll be forced to draw"). Its just that Lupe seized his moment to shine. He recognized the opportunity and went for his. He spits the perfect verse with the perfect flow and used a 2-verse-to-1 advantage to snatch the W. Bravo.

Lupe then introduces soon-to-be-in-demand-crooner Mathew Santos on "American Terrorist", the most overtly political track on F&L. Over Prolyfic's (another First and 15th in house producer) bass beat and calypso-esque horns, Lu speaks on terrorism's two-way street ("Now if a muslim woman with a bomb on a bus with the seconds running gives you the jitters, / Just imagine an American based Christian organization planning to poison water supplies to bring the second-coming quicker"). "The Emperor's Soundtrack" is another ill cypher rhyme over more anthemic Soundtrakk production. "Kick Push II" follows in the same vein as its predecessor, but this time painting the picture of what happens when you kick push down that other block ("A little hurt from the rail that he took into the ribs. / Right past the pushers who couldn't under dig. / 'Whats the use in pushin' if you ain't pushin' none of this? / 'If I kick it wit yall I'm just pushin' for a bid"). And F&L wraps with "Outro", a 9-minute long shout-out (to what seems like everyone he's ever met in his life) over the same Chris & Drop beat from "Intro". Initially ending the album this way seemed like an overkill. I mean, a 9-minute long shout out??? Is that ever necessary? But then I realized that this track acts as the 'Thank Yous' since there were none included in the album booklet. Plus the beat is on point. And ironically the track as a whole grows less offensive after repeated listens (I can still clean the house to it without running to skip to the next song). It feels like his victory lap (he even interjects "Its mad long right?" with a chuckle). And after putting together an album like F&L, he's certainly deserving of it.

There are three bonus tracks at the end of F&L ("Tilted", "Carrera Lu", and "What It Do") but by this point homie is just braggin'. F&L's biggest disappointments are the tracks that didn't make the final released album. The leaked version of Food & Liquor contained some of Lupe's best material to-date (most notably "Make Sure", "Game Time" and "The Intro"). But honestly thats a great problem to have. So it doesn't count as a flaw. Furthermore, Lupe detractor's biggest qualm is that sometimes he goes too deep into his songs. That sometimes he makes too many obscure references, linked with too many allusions, running inside too many analogies back-to-back-to-back and ends up loosing his audience.

And I hear ya.

Carrera Lu is not the average, easily-digestable, Emcee. I mean, I listened to F&L in some form or another for nearly two years now and I still stumble across new meanings and metaphors hidden inside his narratives. If you're looking looking for an album (or an artist) that you can swallow on first (..or fourteenth...or forty-ith?) listen, then look elsewhere. Lupe is playing games, within games, within games on this album and you have to pay attention to it to just to keep up. I guess most people don't like thinking while listening to their music...

...But The Company Man is not most people. And when he hears something this creative - this on-point-on-all-levels-with-this-much-replay-value - he must acknowledge it. Attention Quotable Nation, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor is The Quotable's first classic album!

Peace. And much love to ya.

Rating: QQQQQ

Carry On...


Anonymous said...

You speak truth.

J Day said...

This is my favorite album review of all time.

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