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Something so appealing, you can’t fight the feeling

I love how unpredictable hip-hop is. It constantly smashes my expectations (good and bad) and makes me reevaluate everything. A month ago, I was feeling like it might just be a wrap for rap. Within the space of a couple weeks, things have shifted, and I’m feeling damn near hopeful again. [1] And Lupe Fiasco is a big part of that. Food & Liquor, which dropped this week, is a remarkable album.

To begin with, the production is spectacular. The soundscape is vast and expansive and evocative. And Lupe’s delivery is casual and effortless; his wordplay is clever and engaging. But Food & Liquor’s brilliance is bigger than aesthetics.

Lupe is simultaneously both too ordinary and too extraordinary for the current hip-hop climate. On the one hand, dude is about as average it gets. There’s no drama to his backstory. He hasn’t been shot. He hasn’t gone to jail. He doesn’t have a drug problem. He’s not a playboy. He doesn’t beef (or if he does, he turns around and apologizes). He doesn’t hustle. Instead, he skateboards and listens to jazz and writes a blog. Lyrically, his music concerns itself with subjects most people can relate to: family, friends, the insane world we live in, who we love and don’t love, the things that hurt us, the person we are trying to be, the life we are trying to build.

And yet, Lupe comes at a time when the market is so thugged out and hyper-masculine that something as simple as sporting flip-flops can make a rapper appear soft—let alone taking emotional risks. And Lupe takes big risks. Lupe may rhyme about day-to-day life, but his observations are often deeply personal. His debut chronicles his own growth—the slow and arduous process of trying to become a better man. It’s a rich, fulfilling smorgasbord of a meal that serves up sadness and joy, hope and frustration, morality and hypocrisy, connection and loneliness. And it makes a lot of other hip-hop look like fast food in comparison.

As such, Food & Liquor manages—without ever being even remotely didactic—to redefine what hip-hop is, and what it should be. It works because it’s a critique born of love, not hate. It’s utterly disarming.

Thing is, we’re so used to not having nothing real, that we don’t know how to act, we don’t know how to feel. So I’m not convinced that Lupe will get the reception he deserves. I’m going to suggest that we all go out and cop Food & Liquor, so that Lupe can do his numbers and the industry can see that people are hungry for hip-hop that has heart. [2] I’m going to buy it, anyway.


[1] Now, if I can just get a Kingdom Come, a Hip-Hop is Dead, and a Hell Hath No Fury, I’ll be over the moon.

[2] I’m not the first to say this, of course. Shout out to Eskay.

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