Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lupe Fiasco - The Cool

Disclaimer: I’m going to attempt a rational and unbiased review of this album regardless of the artist’s continual blatant disregard for my all-time favorite musical piece of work. I have a preconceived notion of what to expect from the songs I’ve heard and my knowledge of his thematic ethos, but I’ll throw all of that out of the window and listen with an open mind. Here goes nothing.
To become a successful mainstream Hip-Hop artist while simultaneously going against the grain is a daunting task analogous to swimming upstream. Your label wants you to mimic whatever the present radio climate dictates, most of which has become catchy ignorance. Lupe Fiasco continues to throw all caution to the wind and march to the beat of his own drum, as he is determined to reach minds through carrying the flag for Kris Parker’s concept of edutainment. The Cool is Lupe’s sophomore effort following last year’s critically lauded albeit commercially disdained Food & Liquor.

The Cool serves the dual purpose of weaving a gang of random songs around the story of the character from his debut album’s song bearing the same name of this project. "The Coolest" could be interpreted as displaying what one of today’s “coolest” rappers would sound like spitting bars full of substance, as Lupe employs a flow and cadence that is eerily similar to that of Lil Wayne. Everything about the song rings dramatic from the piano and background vocals to the first person tale of Michael Young History. The heavy mood is tempered by "Paris, Tokyo" which is (what a song from A Tribe Called Quest might sound like in today’s day and age) about performing and traveling the world. "Hi-Definition" is the closest the album comes to a club banger or radio smash, but much like Food & Liquor’s “I Gotcha” the verses are too complicated for mass consumption. Lupe may wind up sneaking his figurative medicine into the applesauce with "Gold Watch", as the soulful guitar is destined to capture ears while he name drops a gang of materialism and nerd culture, leaving the audience wondering if the song is self-satirical or if he’s serious. "Hip Hop Saved My Life" is also easily digestible as he uses a seamless flow to tell the story of an aspiring MC from Houston. Welcome changes from his generally somber state come in "Go Baby Go", a fun N.E.R.D takeoff of sorts and "Fighters", the album’s emotional centerpiece where Lu presents himself to the audience as a vulnerable human being discussing his place in Hip-Hop and eulogizing family members.

For all of his efforts to bring us into understanding his world, the second half of The Cool still manages to alienate with topic matter more suited for arthouse cinema than a Hip-Hop release on a major label. "Streets On Fire" tells the tale of HIV’s impact on our community, and while "Gotta Eat" is lyrically brilliant Lupe comes off as trying too hard as he personifies fast food and details its effects on man. "Dumb It Down" is the account of his struggle to maintain strong lyrical content and reach people, but ironically it will likely succeed in polarizing the average listener. It is equally odd how he expects to achieve mass acceptance with "Go Go Gadget Flow" and "The Die", as he only serves to do the Midwest proud rapping in the same vein of Chicago veterans Do or Die and Twista. Lupe has trouble drawing the line between creativity and a bad idea as "Hello/Goodbye" is a rock number that will be received with open arms by the MTV2 audience and likely shunned by people drawn to the rest of the album.

Lupe Fiasco is to be commended for attempting to bring an alternative view to today’s mainstream, as The Cool finds him dropping many moments of genius over a wide range of hitting production. The downside is that his music runs the perpetual risk of preaching to the choir, as the means by which he delivers his message may go over the heads of those who need it most.

Rating: @@@@ 1/4

Afterthought: The album is far from the conceptual piece that the press release promised. My one listen heard only two songs telling the story of Michael Young History, and one of a character The Game.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mini-Reviews Part 1

As we approach the end of the year too much music is coming out (or leaking, if you will). In my quest to stay on top of whatever I'd consider fresh, here is brief rundown of what I've bumped recently.

Saigon : The Moral of The Story - This is the mixtape that's dropped before his long awaited debut The Greatest Story Never Told which is still without a set release date from Atlantic. Sai is the next coming of what Pac's conscious thug character represented, but he actually puts thought into his bars and he has a great ear for beats. - @@@@ 1/4
South, The West, The East Coast
Saigon Meets Just Blaze

Busta Rhymes & Mick Boogie : Dillagence - It's Busta doing what he does, if you don't care for him then you probably won't dig the rapping on this mixtape. The added thrill is it's in tribute to Jay Dee, using a lot of beats that you've probably never heard before. It fell short of the @@@@ 1/2 mark because Busta chose some beats to rock over that were a bit too left field, and I wasn't feeling guests like Rah Digga (she's fallen far from her Dirty Harriet days) and Cassidy. Get the whole thing here. - @@@@ 1/4

Kidz In The Hall & Mick Boogie : Detention - If you don't know by now you should, producer Double O and rapper Naledge have gone from Rawkus to Duck Down and are about to put out their sophomore release The In Crowd this March. Hush is the kind of music I need right now, grown man material over beats that are killing. A track from this mixtape has earned its way onto my Best of 2007 mix dropping later on this month. Not to mention the cover is incredible. Get the whole thing here. - @@@@ 1/2

6th Sense & Mick Boogie : Go For It - Dude asked me to check his material and I'm not mad. He has beats (He did "Think About It" off of Snoop's Blue Carpet Treatment), and he can rap too but I'm not crazy about his voice. His crew also leaves a little to be desired, but overall this is a highly ambitious project. Get the whole thing here. - @@@@

Bishop Lamont & Black Milk : Caltroit - I'm sorry, I'm a Black milk supporter but this was too n*gg*rish for me to sit through. Possibly I'm biased against the West Coast and whatever movement they're attempting to rebuild but I didn't get through more than 6 songs on this mixtape.

I'll be back with a part 2 to this later on in the week, because there's plenty new stuff I haven't checked for yet. I'll also attempt full write ups of some other new albums that are floating around.