Lupe Fiasco has been just that – a fiasco as of late because we’ve seen a drastic double side of his personality that a lot of people hadn’t gotten used to. You see, there are the ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’ (The Year of Christ) eras in Christian history. In Hip Hop history (just for comparison’s sake), and in Lupe’s particular case, you have Before Lasers & After Lasers, because that’s where the switch really happened and probably until this particular album, no one was sure if that Lupe of old (who was less of a political extremist and more of a street poet) would return to surface and grace the presence of that rapper we (including myself) came to know and love. Food & Liquor 2 was an album that people slowly returned to wrapping their brains to accept that Lupe didn’t really go anywhere, because he’s always been one of the best lyrical rappers of our generation. It was more so about if he could create that impactful music with substance that we could vibe with – also while laying down some serious bars in the meantime (Bitch Bad and Form Follows Function being the standout tracks from F&L2 that come to mind). The question was – what am I looking for? What expectations did I have of Lupe Fiasco on his upcoming 5th album? In this After Lasers era, I really don’t know. It’s been well documented about his battle with Atlantic Records, and when it was announced that they were finally going to let Lupe put out the album that he wanted to put out, that gave me some hope that he’ll come with artistic growth, and at least a full rounded project that would tie it back to the potential that seemed to have vanished after The Cool, leading into Lasers. Off of the album’s cover art, there was no real significance behind it, other than the fact that it’s like walking into a museum or gallery, and you stand in front of a piece for a few minutes and try to determine what the album is saying to you. It reminded me of Kanye’s artwork for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy because it was just a piece of art – abstract, and nothing really to tell you what would encompass the album. Music is a form of art, but what Lupe was aiming for (much like Kanye did with said aforementioned album) was to create a masterpiece that the every day listener would interpret. The best part was, he would be doing it his way.
I like how the album, just off of the tracklist, was divided by seasons. Summer starting it off, then Fall, Winter, and ending with Spring. Summer is the overall favourite season, and for good reason: it’s warm, half-naked women, the sun’s out longer, cooling out in the pool, etc. For other reasons, depending on where you live, it’s also the most violent time of year because people don’t know how to act when a little heat wave approaches. There are definitely the advantages and disadvantages of the season, but that’s for every season, which is common sense. The different seasons on the album reminded me of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons pieces, which have been used in popular culture for a long time. Being that it’s classical music, which is relatively synonymous with paintings from that era of time, it ties into what Lupe’s doing on his album, and as the seasons change, the theme of the songs change with it. And we begin.
“I prefer my pictures in word form” is just one line out of the endless that was on Mural, and I can’t begin to come to understand what it is that I’ve been listening to over and over again. Lupe has showed off excellence when it comes to his wordplay, and for that alone, it’s a reason why he’s one of the best to do it. But this right here was something exceptional that you don’t possibly listen to with a blank look on your face. The constant scrunching up of the face may bring early wrinkles in your life, but I promise you it’s worth it. Once he started going, I didn’t think he would stop. Someone compared this to The Game’s version of 300 Bars & Running, and it’s not farfetched, it’s just light years better in complexity. How he switched from one word to different topics and used alliteration, and flipped homonyms all over the place, it was incredible.
I prefer girls to reign all over the world
And not rain like, rain man or rain like rain dance
Or rain like a slight chance of rain when it’s raining
Or rein like deer slaves to Santa Claus sleigh man
But reign like Queens that reign over made man
And not Queen like Queen killer, rhapsody bohemian Queen
But Queen like white glove wave hand
And not wave hand like it’s a heat wave
So you make a fan by waving your hand
I’m talking wave like you saying, “hey”
That’s just one example out of many, but it was my favourite part that he flipped from one to the other to another. It’s a true skill to be able to wrap words together so seamlessly and have them flow like a river running rapid raging through a canal like Helm’s Deep, but I’m not Lord of this Ring, the ri – see, now Lupe’s got me wanting to rhyme. Incredible. It’s as if Lupe heard all of the slander towards him and said, “you thought I fell off? Let me break you off something right quick.” And break something off is just an understatement. He bent it back and shattered it with a sledgehammer with full force. It’s very understandable if this song stays on repeat before you’re able to move on to the rest of the album. I truly understand.
However, there is the rest of the album to dissect like a lab frog, cutting into the flesh and bones to examine just what makes this thing breathe (there I go trying to be poetic again). The last time Lupe & Guy Sebastian came together on a track, was on F&L2 (Battle Scars) and the reunion on Blur My Hands presented Lupe with his opening statements to walk us through the process that he’s gone through with his battles as an artist from his perspective. The appreciation of Lupe Fiasco seemed to have dwindled because of the crazy stuff on social media or his questionable outfits that made people (including myself, no lie) clown him and think that he’d just lost his mind, but this project is one of reassurance that the Lupe that we’d imagined still remained, returned.
My return means like blockbuster with a tape
And I ain’t kind but I don’t hit
So you starting at the end, that’s the part where you begin
I skip the bullshit so we can start it where we win
There’s still that shroud of mystery that hangs around Lupe, and sound wise, there will be folks who’ll perceive this as having a commercial sound (radio single), but I did enjoy it because as he continued to display the wordplay and lyrical structure, it was still intriguing to listen to. It’s like a constant puzzle trying to figure out what certain bars mean as he puts them together (or just go to Rap Genius and all of your answers will be there). There’s definitely a night and day affect when you line it up right up against Mural.
Now, Dots & Lines is where I felt iffy about, because the hook wasn’t to my particular taste, but what I liked about this song was about the lifestyle of what it’s like to be a big time artist (dots & lines = dotted line = contracts) while the pursuit of materialistic things is the be all and end all of a lot of aspiring artists, instead of the overall love of creating music (or overall art) itself just for the passion. Because of the heavy drop off in sales for artists over the years, the goal achievement for sales has been shifted so that they don’t have to ‘push’ themselves to aim for Platinum standard anymore.
“Numbers govern our young religions
Dead levels making plum decisions
Perpendicular to the undivision
That’s bad curricular to the unconditioned”
Being true to yourself as an artist is always the advice that’s passed down, but for many, being true to self doesn’t always equate to monetary success, which is where most face the pressure, which leads them to ‘selling out’ to make the hits, bring in the money, and overall lose their sense of self. Record labels are enablers of promoting hits instead of competent and concrete substance that’ll overall turn into better quality. That’s why the independent route has been flourishing as of late, and why Lupe is finished with Atlantic. It makes sense. This chase for fame and small (potentially large) fortune isn’t just in the music business, but it’s the one industry where the most examples come out of how labels snake artists out of their integrity, and very few can just say “alright, enough of this.”
As we transition from the Summer to the Fall, this is where the leaves change, and the weather starts to get a little cooler. It’s also evident in the instrumental interlude that the mood is about to get a little darker in tone, as it’s more melodic and somber (blame the Bass for that). The first example of the change in pace comes with Prisoner 1 & 2. Imprisonment in the United States is, has been, and will forever be a main issue when it comes to race relations, especially when it comes to Black men. And with the continuation with police violence against unarmed Black people, which spark protests, the jail cells are going to fill up. I like that the song shows the perspective of a prison inmate, and a prison guard who are both imprisoned in different ways, whether physically or mentally. There’s a strong racial tone that plays into this song overall, and that’s highlighted by the spoken word piece by Ayesha Jaco. The way the beat & flow switches up for Prisoner 2 is more authoritative. I’m not the biggest fan of the sound of Prisoner 2, but I do appreciate the purpose of having to perspectives to bring through the mental state of the prisoner and the one doing the imprisoning, although they’re both mentally in a state of imprisonment that Lupe highlighted well.
For the most part, the production of this album has been solid thus far, and there’s more to come. Body of Work is one of my favourites tracks, not just for production, but song content overall. The ‘body of work’ that is played as a double entendre: his career, and also his own body (hence the skeleton-in-closet reference in the hook). This being his fifth album, he’s seen a lot of the industry and he himself has had his share of dark tales that have come to be when it comes to his growth as a person. A lot of that isn’t to be revealed, so he wears the burden on his chest for the world to see.
“Closet full of bones
Just don’t try to put’em back together
And I’ll just bite my tongue
So wear it like a scarlet letter”
Now, when it comes to biting his tongue, Lupe doesn’t know what that is (go check his Twitter feed and his confrontations with Azealia Banks & recently, Kid Cudi), but what he does open up about is the current status of hip hop (or rap, whichever) and the fact that its luster has washed away and has (no pun intended) seemingly ‘dumbed it down’ through his career, in his eyes. The materialism has taken over, and he pokes at that.
Limo to the limit, fill it till the brim get in it
You can’t get it, if you gotta ask
In that case I want two masks
Bottom class, dollar cast
Poppin’ tags, droppin’ trash in shopping bags
Till Akeem take our pocket cash
It’s also dope how in the first verse as he was talking about the women who had the drugs sewn inside of her, she too would be a ‘body of work’ since ‘work’ is the street term for drugs. The different parallels in the song have different meanings, so again, it’s like a painting – you interpret how you hear it just like you interpret a piece of art as you see it. For Terrace Martin to send off the track on a jazzy note, as he’s been known to do with TDE artists, Kendrick Lamar & Ab-Soul, it was a nice touch that brought more musicality to the song itself.
Speaking of ‘jazzy’, Little Death had that feel to it as well, right down to the vocals of Nikki Jean. It’s as if the album continually gets better as each song goes by, because it has really gained a lot of momentum, and it hasn’t been an urge to skip, yet to sit down and take in what’s being said. There aren’t a lot of artists out capable of forcing you to still do that, so I’m happy that Lupe brought that out of me. This song covers a lot of topics, from:
Sam marrying Sam
Band pushed upon the finger of Sam’s hairiest hand
If that sickens you, you a bigot
If it doesn’t well you’re wicked
Such is life
To the high cost of food that’s hunted or poorly killed (fish, chickens, etc.)
What of the chicken? what is it missin’, is it dry?
Did it die in some inhumane conditions so it didn’t go relaxed
And attention from its demise pulled all of the flavour from the fat
And made it flat and rather lifeless
Well there’s a place that has a stunning turbot
And more mercifully murdered Pisces
But barbaric are still the prices
And also the injustice of the ‘justice’ system.
Where is the glamour in collapse?
Where in the shatter of the facts shoves one back to a pattern of stab wounds
Swoon ridden goons consumed and driven mad soon
The attended years slowly fills with baboons
That other monkey business
Where killers go free cause a junkie’s a funky witness
Runny mascaras from the cunning mask wearers of death
The term ‘petit mort’ or ‘Little Death’ also refers to an orgasm, because it’s said that your heart briefly stops as you experience it (knowledge everywhere), so there’s another element in the song that could tie in a more intimate bond between Lupe & Nikki as she sings on the hook. Animal instinct, difference of opinion, and roles that assume dominance or submission are also traits when it comes to relationships, and how that ties in so vividly without even knowing initially, it makes your brain hurt for a second, but it’s yet another thing that adds to the depth of the album that Lupe’s presenting.
The beauty and pain that comes with relationships has sparked inspiration for creating art since the very beginnings of humanity, and there are constant examples of that. The pieces evoke such high intensity of emotion from any form, and there’s never not any album or piece of work that doesn’t have the element of heartbreak or love of another evident. It’s interesting how No Scratches comes right after ‘Little Death’, which was perceived as having such a strong connection, but here we see an example of when the ties are severed between two people and it can go either one of two ways: major heartbreak, or mutual parting. Now, being a Seinfeld fan, I know that mutual walkaways are a thing, but it’s not something that happens commonly, so the compromise for Lupe & Nikki to walk away ‘scratch free’ to prevent further damage to themselves, it’s a mature and different outlook on how most people don’t usually deal with break-ups.
“So before we hit a wall, heartbreak and it crashes
Just walk away no scratches”
I like how the song was compared to a car; you initially have love for each other, everything is giddy, running smoothly, but the road becomes a little slick, at times bumpy, and instead of swerving to a crash, sometimes you just have to pull over.
See first they had patience
And the nigga had energy
But not weak, he finna leave
Pedi to the petal, you finna speed
You remind me of… of my Jeep
What’s not to be forgotten is the after effect of a break-up. There are the lingering memories that cloud your head, there’s still that physical desire to want the person intimately, and then you try to compensate by over-sexualizing your life just to take your mind off, but that doesn’t always help. Heartbreak being used in the same words as a car crash makes sense, because people will literally keep themselves cooped up for days on end in paralysis. It’s not fun, but doesn’t always render to be fatal.
Now Fall was the transition to more deep and intimate conversations, as the tracks leading up to Winter deal with a more ‘love’ connection as well as incarceration of mind, body, and soul. Lupe has this element of freedom; he’s finally ‘free’ from the shackles of labels, and this is his declaration of that. It’s been enjoyable to listen to over and over to grasp understanding.
It’s time to up the ratchet a bit, because it’s a painting that flows in different directions, and for the final phase of this piece, it gets to it’s ‘darkest’ point where violence is now at the forefront, getting back to his hometown Chicago roots. Chopper was an unexpected track, primarily because it’s as long as it is (time limit? Lupe doesn’t need a stinkin’ time limit). This is definitely that ride around in a ski mask under frigid temperatures looking for some hoodrat stuff to do, type of music. I’m all here for it. Now, for the people who have been following Lupe for a while, I understand if they look at this track as a contradiction to Dumb It Down, because it sounds like just any other Trap song that you’ll hear frequently in the club. With an ensemble of features (I only recognized Trouble & Trae the Truth), each one gets right into their elements – talking about the hood and all of the socio-economic issues that come with it.
“You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth so don’t critique
Look at me nigga, just a young hood nigga tryna get this cake
I don’t need to be givin’ out how school gon’ educate” – Billy Blue
“To the nigga that was tryna say somethin’
Some people, listen, you could be predisposed or be preconditioned
Or speak with the preacher, been preaching be the person
To be some process in your progress or be the prevention” – Buk of Psychodrama
“RIP to the homies but long live the killas
It’s why I look at God kinda odd
Cause these are the cards that he deal us
Ramen can’t fill us, Medicare can’t heal us
And the mamas can’t stop us
And these choppers might kill us” – Lupe
The final portion of this album may be more relatable to more people than other tracks because these deal with issues that encompass their environment, especially in the States. The fact that Lupe gave everyone each a full length verse (and then some) to share their own stories, then Lupe getting into his Chicago side that’s edgy, and also not to mention the greatness that is DJ Dahi, the track serves as a knowledge bomb for most, but the hook itself will amp anyone to turn up with their respective surroundings.
Deliver is another one of my favourites, and it’ll probably rotate often as being the favourite because, for one, Lupe’s flow for the entire song is crazy, and if in fact you do live in a hood, you know about the rules about pizza delivery. There are certain places where they don’t deliver because of robberies, and I even know of times when pizza delivery workers were robbed at gunpoint or just rushed. So, with that, they either wait in the lobby of apartment buildings, or you have to be outside. It’s that serious. The story of the ghetto is an interesting one, because as Black Milk once said,
“Don’t realize you from the ghetto ’till you get a little older”
And Lupe has the same narrative in his first verse as he applies the word ‘ghetto’ to emphasize that it’s not just another neighbourhood, but yet it’s its own entity that is structured to not prosper, which leaves so many people struggling to survive or simply just to get by (word to Kweli).
“I always wondered where the ghetto from
Cause I’m from the ghetto, the never ghetto come
Buzz you in if the bell of my ghetto rung
And if the ghetto lose, that mean a ghetto won
That’s how they do the ghetto, that’s how the ghetto done
They keep it, they never bring the ghetto none
What make the ghetto tick, make the ghetto run
What make the ghetto sick, make the ghetto dumb”
If you’re not from the ghetto, don’t come to the ghetto is the rule that has been in place in Hip Hop for going on almost 4 decades, and there are realities that dwell in there that people not from the ghetto won’t understand much about. Now, there’s a grave difference between a hood in America and one in Canada, but the fact is that we have it as well, so let’s just dispel that notion that we don’t know what it’s like on our side as well.
The ghetto was a physical manifestation
Of hate in a place where ethnicity determines your placement
A place that defines your station
Remind you niggas your place is the basement
White people in the attic
Niggas selling dope, White people is the addicts
I currently live in the Midtown region of Toronto, and before that I lived in the upper-middle class area of Leaside with my mother. Just across Eglinton going eastbound is an infamously known low-income region called Flemingdon Park, and if you head down Overlea a little westward, you’ll hit Thorncliffe Park. In a small sample size, you get that stark difference of privilege and sufferance based on location. There’s also the drastic transition from the Jewish community on Bathurst & Eglinton to Little Jamaica at Dufferin. That’s about 2 blocks. These are things that people don’t seem to realize is a real thing, and even the set up of a ghetto in comparison to a ‘nice, white & tidy neighbourhood’ is reminiscent of the lines that Lupe spits here. But meanwhile the same product that has been said to destroy the Black community is the same product that’s being sold in these white neighbourhoods, and that’s where the connection happens.
“Can I get delivered from the sin?
Get a little slice of Heaven, I can enter in again
Or maybe just imagine that I’m living in a mansion or a palace and my pizza gets delivered in a Benz”
Lupe also stated that ‘Peace of Man’ could be an alternate saying on the hook, and it makes sense when you listen to the third verse when it gets into it spiritually. We all know the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” with the evil in this case being the repercussions of living in the hood. We all have sins that have been committed, so living in the hood is like a punishment that there seems to be no sign in sight of forgiveness from. Like barring people access from getting their pizza delivered. It’s unfortunate that the ghetto is an endless cycle from which people continue to have to reside there for circumstantial reasons, and what I commend Lupe for doing is not making excuses, nor glorifying it. Simply being real about it.
I can’t be the only one who thought that Madonna (And Other Mothers In The Hood) sounded like Kanye produced it with a dash of Travis Scott. I know I can’t. When I first heard this song, I didn’t like it too much. Steadily listening to it, and appreciating the Madonna and Child art reference (Catholicism playing its part here) made me give it more praise. It’s one thing being a parent, it’s another thing being a parent in the hood (especially if it’s just you alone), and being a product of a single parent home, this hits for me. When you’re struggling and the temptation of diving into petty crimes just to get ahead and provide, the parents are either the contributors to leading them in the right direction or turning a blind eye as long as bills are being paid and food is on the table.
“And it’s hard when these niggas steal mama
When you ain’t got, got a meal still mama
Living off a meal deal mama
Can’t stunt with them lil wheels mama
Need a real purse real heels mama
How dem liquors and them pills feel mama, lil mama”
The imagery that Lupe brings when connecting Mary & Jesus to a regular mother from the hood and her only son, it’s symbolic in a way that is seen as a religious because so often (and you can look at Mike Brown & Trayvon Martin as examples) the biggest fear is that a parent’s only son will be murdered at a young age, and when it’s an obligation for mothers in the hood to keep their sons out of jail and alive (never mind getting a good job) that’s the difference between living in the hood, and living outside of it. The priorities shift, and yes the colour of your skin does matter at that point. But, yes there are times when even the rough kids who do involve themselves in that lifestyle aren’t exactly the angels that their children appear to be in their eyes, and it’s a narrative hat has been seen commonly, so I’m glad Lupe spoke to those degrees as well.
“Mama said my son never been no killer
Mama said my son never been no gangster
No drug dealer, no gang member
Mama said my son never been no trouble”
The Adoration of the Magi is told as the time (depicted in classic art) as the time when Mary & Jesus where visited by the 3 Wise Men (or Magi). It’s when the people come to know about Jesus as a baby, and thus that’s what the hook relates to with the baby references. What’s wicked about the hook is that he used album covers that show babies (Ready to Die [Biggie], Tha Carter 3 [Lil Wayne], Nothing Was The Same [Drake], Nevermind [Nirvana], Born Again [Black Sabbath], and Illmatic [Nas]. I won’t lie, I caught the Biggie and Nirvana references, but I didn’t know that he went through those other albums, and I simply just had to say wow. The other ‘wow’ factor came from the 3rd verse, which is likely my favourite verse of the entire album, and that’s pretty difficult to say because there’s just…a lot to choose from.
“Can’t be eyes closed when you side scroll
You not the first person
The first person from your first cursin’
To your first cursive
And your curse words is in the curve version
It occurs virgin is the word version
That refers perfect to the first person
In the third verse, who’s really me
In the third person but prefers the first one, that’s me”
There are not many times where I go to my iPod, stop, rewind a verse, and listen to it multiple times over. This is the track where I had to do that because I felt like my brain exploded several times, and that was just one portion of the whole verse. The process of this album really is from birth to death (or death to birth, depending on how you look at it), and this track is the adoration for another reason outside of the fact that you simply ‘adore’ the wordplay (if it hadn’t impressed you throughout, already). Religion was really a key staple on the album, and on this track he even combined video games with that concept.
“Yeah, lots of options, now up is down, two player
Now A is jump and B is punch
You seein’ somethin’ that weren’t there
To find friendliness in a nemesis, it’s a old test
3 buttons, see somethin’
That’s emphasis on genesis”
Old testament. Genesis. Sega Genesis. Man…this guy, Lupe. He’s something else. Best track on the album to me, I can’t even lie.
The final track on the album (long album, seriously) comes with a feature from Ab-Soul, whom the two collaborated on World Runners on Soul’s These Days album (I wasn’t a fan of the song). A lot of people consider Ab-Soul to be the one to carry the torch after Lupe is done with, in terms of who will be the next to have the ‘best lyricist’ title. His wordplay is the best of the TDE bunch, and there’s no denying that (go listen to his Battle with Daylyt), so this would be very exciting for fans who were waiting patiently for the bars so they could dig up their hidden meanings on Wikipedia (just saying). This song also carries the video game aspect of it, as They Reminisce Over New creates the acronym, TRON, the popular video game from back in the day. This is the ultimate end, in what has appeared to be like a video game for Lupe’s career to this point. Atlantic is like the final boss you have to play in a game, or a stage that you have to clear in order to move on, and with this album, this is his goodbye from one chapter to another. There’s more to play, but this is the end stage for him. I like how the album as a whole was just a complete ensemble of different themes to come together as a portrait. It’s how music is supposed to make you feel. I know that there are the “if you don’t like (insert artist here) you just need a higher level of intelligence to understand” stuff that goes around, but really…it’s Lupe Fiasco, and then there’s everyone else in that regard.
Well, you’ve made it this far, so there’s nothing left for me to say – I joke. This album is in the mix of his Top 3, and I know that people will be having discussions as to if it’s his best work to date. It’s his best work since The Cool, that’s for damn sure, and I won’t be the only one to tell you that. What was embodied on this album was an open book of religious details that blended with not only Lupe’s story of friction with Atlantic, but also when it comes to everyday societal issues that many artists on his platform haven’t talked about them, or just haven’t given it the time and dedication like this in a form that is rare to see. Pure, unfiltered, unadulterated poetry that requires you to pay attention. It’s not just filler music to throw on into the background, but it’s music that has the same level of going to a school lecture for a history class. I think this album is a statement that will essentially reenergize his career so that more quality product will come with it. Only time will tell, but as we’ve been privileged enough to have Lupe ‘deliver’ this album to us, it’s worth taking the time to appreciate, like the work of art it is. You don’t have to guess that of course I recommend this album to any and everyone, but at the end of it all, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX