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Lupe Fiasco Balances Bars and Ballads on ‘DROGAS Light’

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1st and 15th Entertainment
1st and 15th Entertainment

In a lot of ways, Lupe Fiasco has become one of hip-hop’s last conscious crusaders. He has had a rich, well-documented history of fighting against crooked record label jurisdiction, keeping lyrics respected whilst also campaigning for important philosophies that hip-hop was built on. On paper, Lupe should be every hip-hop purist’s favorite new generation rapper for the aforementioned reasons and although he has some notable classics under his belt, his past few releases haven’t been as critically acclaimed as albums like Food & Liquor.

Plus, his in-retirement/out-of-retirement dichotomy has left fans with an apprehensive taste in their mouths, ultimately making the lead up to his sixth studio album, DROGAS Light, lukewarm. However, the music put forth on this LP actually manages to bode fairly well when compared to his entire catalog.

Before critics could get in their album reviews for DROGAS Light, Lupe hopped on Twitter to declare his own self-appraisal of the album in which he scored himself a 7/10. This self-given mediocrity is strange because the album is definitely better than that. He describes it as a sequel to 2011’s Lasers with a lot of the music on this album coming from “the vaults” — meaning that it’s certainly not his most recent work despite being his most recent release. Nevertheless, Lupe humbly doesn’t give his old self enough credit as the music itself is of a substantially high quality.

Not unlike Lasers, lots of songs on this album have focused verses from Lupe and large scale, sing-along choruses from featured guests, which both helps and hinders the overall listen. On one hand, it’s nice to hear Lupe rap over concentrated production and structured patterns but it renders the 14 tracks a little too similar. Luckily, songs like “Promise” and “Jump” break the mould with their bizarrely beautiful instrumentation produced by Soundtrakk. On the former, Lu raps with a refined Migos type flow that comes across clean, genuine and original – just proving how versatile Lupe is on the mic. Other than that pair of cuts though, the beat work on this album falls flat of infectious.

It doesn’t take conscious crusader Lupe very long to appear on the album as he comes equipped with an arsenal of socially woke dialogue and positive messaging, especially on “NGL.”  He asks questions like “disproportionate convictions/Especially when it come to our case/You seen the movie, they killed the nigga/Why you still wanna be like Scarface?” that are meant to deconstruct the systematic inequality that plagues the Black community.

Lupe has always been a directional rapper that almost never makes a song that doesn’t have a clear purpose or topic. That quality doesn’t vanish on this album; in fact it’s where he shines brightest. “Made in the USA” is a backhanded ode to America that runs through some of the country’s most notable commodities, like KFC and AR15s. Another example of this careful rhythmic attention to detail is “City of the Year” which serves as a vivid snapshot of Chicago but “Pick Up the Phone” is the crown jewel in micro-storytelling. The very pop-rock beat and chorus assisted by Sebastian Lundberg, which sounds like it should be on an Ed Sheeran album, plays background to Lupe’s quasi-love song that doubles as an intricate describing of one’s interaction with our increasingly vital cell phones. “Who knew Russian Roulette involved answering the phone?/Until my signal dwindles or my channel is in roam/Or my cell phone dies or it’s cancer in my dome” is just one example of Lupe delivering us a harsh phone-obsessed reality.

The back half of DROGAS Light might not be a die-hard hip-hop head’s favorite portion but will undoubtedly draw in a wider audience. “It’s Not Design,” “Wild Child” and “More Than My Heart” all have overwhelming guitar-led pop frameworks and choruses which leaves a more lasting impression than the above average raps Lupe dishes out. After a third and fourth listen it becomes clear why Lupe placed this album in the same category as Lasers; the majority of the songs are oozing with grand song structures that might just have the stamina to cross over to the pop world.

Although Lupe claims his forthcoming DROGAS album is by far the better project, this project has enough catchy hooks and clean raps to tide fans over in the meantime.

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