For #MusicMonday, I decided to repost my first album review, written in 2006, for your reading pleasure. Plus, I’m in a Lupe mood.


The year is 2005.  Kanye West‘s 1st single for his upcoming album, Late Registration, is exploding over airwaves, and over my home stereo system (my dad’s old analog receiver he bought when he was 17 coupled with my black ipod classic).  It was during this time of Kanye-dom that I was up late one night on, and I found a link to a re-dux of Kanye’s new single, “Diamonds are Forever”, called “Conflict Diamonds” by a young Chicago MC named Lupe Fiasco.  Lupe spoke eloquently on the topic of blood diamonds in West Africa, and elaborated on the civil wars and murder that loom behind the image of “bling” in hip-hop culture. 

About a young shorty in Sierra Leone
or other conflict countries that people call home
I figured I would never go to Angola
so it never did affect me that made me indirectly
that my necklace was funding a rebellion or a military coup
started by millitias that don’t believe
in following none of Geneva’s rules
I was brushing of the haters, trying to be cool
Didn’t have a clue that the rapper was helping the rapers,
raiders of the villagers, pillagers of the schools
Shooters of the innocent, torturers of the witnesses,
burners of the businesses
And my bracelet was the fuel…

This cat caught my ear.  In the NYC activist scene, conscious would-be emcees are a dime a dozen, but few speak truth and knowledge with a precise flow, sophisticated rhyme schemes, and excelled delivery.  Being well intentioned doesn’t make you a good emcee.  Lupe has obviously honed his craft.

That brings us to Food & Liquor, his debut release that was plagued by an early leak (my godbrother had a copy).  It has sold 82,000 copies despite that leak.  We’ve all heard “Kick Push” & the Skateboard P produced “I Gotcha.”  As singles go, they’re aight.  The kid is a skateboard loving, martial arts practicing, robot loving, anime watching, conscious, self-described nerd. So, what is it about this brother that attracted Jay-Z to executive produce his first album?  He’s an excellent lyricist, master storyteller, and strong flower.  The area in which he needs the most work is breath control (much like a younger Talib Kweli on the Black Star album). Lupe describes the concept behind the album title as an expression of the dichotomy in this world that has been articulated by various traditions as Good & Evil, Healthy & Unhealthy, Positive & Negative, Yin & Yang, Shiva & Shakti, Male & Female, and in this case, Food & Liquor.

The first song, “Real”, begins with a strong guitar riff, and Lupe’s vocals: My man said he wanted something real/something he could recognize/something he could feel.  This is the cornerstone of the album.  Lupe made a choice in his career to create content that was true to himself, and not true to what trends exist and simply what radio and the streets demand.  He dictates what’s real with content that both the streets & the burbs can relate to, and is himself, uncompromisingly, without succumbing to the fear of being ignored.  We find this on “Just Might Be Ok”

It’s fixin to get heavy as heaven
I am Atlas at this, manage to balance massive masses
uupon my back, without tilting my glasses…
my conception wasn’t immaculate, I ain’t master no calculus
a good addition to the rap audience
I back-flipped on the mattress they slept on, me on
whaddup Joe – knowing is half the battle
fighting temptation, have a apple…

Lupe maturely articulates through this album that the streets and the burbs intersect, overlap, and contradict.  Life isn’t black & white.  He tells the story of a fatherless child from both the perspective of the mother and son on “He say, She say” by using the same lyrics in both verses and interchanging pronouns.  It is an unusual tactic, but it works.  The other track that displays this kind of internal conflict is one of the stand out tracks of the album, “Hurt Me Soul.”  This is Lupe at his finest, most potent, most vulnerable, and most honest.  This track is FULL of quotables, including:

Now I ain’t tryna be the greatest
I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded
but Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it…

I had a ghetto boy bop, a Jay-Z boycott
’cause he said that he never prayed to God, he prayed to Gotti
I’m thinkin godly, God guard me from the ungodly…

What constitutes a prostitute is the pursuit of profit…

And a hard hitting final verse:

so through the Grim Reaper sickle sharpening
Macintosh marketing
oil field augering
Brazilian adolescent disarmament
Israeli occupation
Islamic martyrdom, precise
yeah, laser guided targeting
oil for food, water, and terrorist organization harborin
sand camouflage army men
CCF sponsorin, world conquerin, telephone monitorin
Louis Vuitton modelin, pornographic actress honorin
string theory ponderin, bullimic vomitin
Catholic priest fondlin, pre-emptive bombin and Osama
and no bombin them
they breakin in my car again, deforestation and overloggin and
Hennessy and Hypnotic swallowin, hydroponic coughin and
All the world’s ills, sittin on chrome 24-inch wheels, like that

They say I’m infected, this is why I injected
I had it aborted, we got deported
my laptop got spyware, they say that I can’t lie here
but I got noooo place to gooo
I can’t stop eatin, my best friend’s leavin
my pastor touched me, I love this country
I lost my earpiece, I hope y’all hear me
’cause it huuurts meee soooul

The follow up track, “Pressure,” is his much awaited collab with the Jiggaman himself.  The track is filled with metaphor upon metaphor. Lupe describes how he is literally sewing up the game, and compares his company, 1st & 15th, to a sewing machine and himself to Buddy Lee.  Jigga paints himself a sketch artist and architect, and yet again uses his “draw” metaphor.

There are three more PHENOMENAL tracks on this album, one being “Daydream” featuring Ms. Jill Scott.  Lupe satires video culture on the second verse in a manner reminiscent of The Roots classic “What They Do”:

Now come on everybody, let’s make cocaine cool
we need a few more half naked women up in the pool
and hold this MAC-10 that’s all covered in jewels
and can you please put your titties closer to the 22s?
and where’s the champagne? We need champagne!
Now look as hard as you can with this blunt in your hand
and now hold up your chain slow motion through the flames
now cue the smoke machines and the simulated rain…

The last track that I will post lyrics for in this review is my personal favorite on the album, “American Terrorist”.  Lupe creates vivid images through strong metaphors that sting with a powerful message.  The song speaks for itself.

From Verse 1:
We came through the storm
nooses on our necks and a smallpox blanket to keep us warm
on a 747 on the pentagon lawn
wake up the alarm clock is connected to a bomb
Anthrax lab on a west Virginia farm
shorty aint learned to walk already heavily armed
and little children is especially harmed
camouflaged Torahs, Bibles and glorious Qurans
The books that take you to heaven and let you meet the Lord there
have become misinterpreted, reasons for warfare…

From Verse 2:
Now the poor Klu Klux man sees that we’re all brothers
not because things are the same because we lack the same color
and that’s green, now that’s mean
can’t burn his cross cause he cant afford the gasoline
Now if a Muslim woman strapped with a bomb on a bus
with the seconds running give you the jitters
just imagine a American-based Christian organization
planning to poison water supplies to bring the second-coming quicker

Lupe creates something very unique in this song that is contrary to the normal rap song formula in he includes a bridge that brings us full circle to the title of the album, and plays on the words.  This displays his brilliance, courage, and dedication to using his talent to talk about something more substantial than sneakers, cars, ass, or any variety of rocks.

They give the black man food, give red man liquor
red man food, black man nigga
give yellow man tool, make him railroad builder
also give him pan, make him pull gold from river
give black man crack, glocks and things
give red man craps, slot machines…

Other tracks that are noteworthy on the album are the Kanye West produced track, “The Cool”, which tells the tale of the death of a gangster, “Kick Push II,” which digs far beneath the surface of it’s radio friendly predecessor. Musically and lyrically, “The Emperor’s Soundtrack” bangs hard. The remaining tracks are all solid, punctuated by the hidden track, “Theme Music to a Drive-By.”

The overall production of the album matches Lupe’s energy and creates a unique sound.  It is also the most controversial aspect of the album, as some tracks have alternative influences and deviate from the traditional boom-bap.  Lupe in many ways lives up to being labeled a “breath of fresh air” and the herald of a new energy in the culture.  The comparisons to Nas & Jay have already begun, and this album has solidified his own identity.  He’s the only Muslim MC who explicitly states that he does NOT drink or smoke, go clubbing, or any of the other [stereo]typical hobbies of most rap stars.  He tackles everything on this album from skateboard culture to how the very nature of popular hip-hop contradicts his religious values.

Food & Liquor makes my list of the top 7 albums of the year [2006]. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you’re missing out on quality music, and a significant part of the movement to create balance in hip-hop.  Cop that disc!  [I bought 3 copies that year]

Pro-Rating: 4.5/5 Headphones