Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
For better or worse, there aren't too many emcees that are remotely close in skill level to that of Lupe Fiasco. For better because of his incomparable lyricism that could draw comparisons to what Jay-Z may have been if it weren't for the drug game. The double entendres, the knack to flip his style at the drop of the dime and unique capability to tell stories all could make Lupe the "Nerd Hova". But for worse because when someone is that far ahead of the game, it is relatively difficult for the average person to catch up.
Food & Liquor was the brilliant debut that showcased the better and the worse of Lupe Fiasco. Critically acclaimed yet couldn't put a significant dent in soundscan (and wouldn't have sold what it had if it wasn't for the Kanye West and Jay-Z cosigns), it was apparent that Lupe was a tough pill to swallow. Add that to the fact that he is nothing like one would have thought him to be (i.e. the "Fiascogate" incident) and you have what is called an enigma.
As complex as the makeup of Lupe Fiasco is, one must be curious if he unloaded all of his best on his debut album. A year later, a "GQ Man of the Year" nod, a Grammy nomination and a title of "the next big thing" all morph into The Cool - the 2nd of Lupe's trilogy. Is the hunger still there? Can he duplicate or exceed his debut? Or was F&L simply a fluke that can't be done again?
Expanding on the concept of the song The Cool off of F&L, Lupe Fiasco's sophomore effort is nearly flawless as a follow up to his astounding debut. Opening with his sister, Iesha Jaco, giving a spoken word piece on what some have thought to be cool and an ode to his imprisoned confidant, Chilly, Lupe blows the doors open with the double-time cadence of Go Go Gadget Flow. The gloves are off and it's evident that Lupe is on a mission. Whether you "get it" or not is none of his concern. Either join the club or join the haters. Those who side with lyricism and creativity in favor of today's "club bangers" will opt for the former.
While many artists are known to tone down their intellect to sound more Mike Tyson than Michael Eric Dyson for mass consumption, Lupe embraces his gift of gab and releases a lyrical mindfuck titled Dumb It Down - which serves as the perfect "fuck you" song to those who think he's too smart for his own good. Take this display for example:
"Pimps C/see the
wings on the underground king
Who's also Klingon, to infinity and beyond
Something really stinks, but I Sphinx/Spinks like Leon
or lying/lion in the desert
I'm flying on Pegasus, you're flying on the pheasant
Writer of the white powder, picker of the fire flowers
Spit, "hot fyah" like Dylan on Chappelle's skit
Yeah, smell it on my unicorn
Snort the white horse, but toot my own horn - sleep"
It's definitely not something that can be digested in one sitting. Lu shows off some wicked wordplay while eerily making a reference to the late Pimp C. Efforts like this are just cause to beat your rewind button into submission.
As far as narratives go, there aren't many who can claim the same space of storytelling superiority as Fiasco. The Cool plays out like a novel filled with short stories that relate to each other in some way, shape or form.
Continuing the praise of the late Underground King, Hip Hop Saved My Life is one ridiculous piece of work that combines Lu's affinity for Houston emcees with an amazingly sharp tale of one's attempt at breaking into the industry. Intruder Alert features three accounts dealing with the harsh realities of life while the Patrick Stump (of Fall Out Boy) production titled Little Weapon glows with its reference to kids in other countries who take up arms. Longtime friend and hypeman, Bishop G, excels next to Lupe as he comes correct with a verse linking video games to violence. The show stealer lyrically is Put You On Game where Lu trumps his American Terrorist effort with something that simply has to be heard to believe.
But it's not all mindfucks and narratives - Lu knows how to have fun too. Paris, Tokyo is ironically a very Jungle Brothers like track that finds Lu spending moments with a lady. But don't think that a relaxed track such as this means Lu is taking a break from the lyrics. Making a coded reference to Jay-Z and Damon Dash's split with "They want me to leave my Dame like a fella from Marcy," it has to be realized that Fiasco's gifts are almost supernatural - as well as second nature.
Elsewhere, Gold Watch is simply the make-up of Fiasco and what makes him tick. Everything from Street Fighter II to Mont Blanc pens get referenced here and does nothing but make it even more complicated to figure him out. And I have a feeling that Lupe likes it that way.
The production provided by Soundtrakk, Chris & Drop and Ashlux makes The Cool unique yet digestible. Whether it be the snapping drums that drive Matthew Santos' vocals on the Chris & Drop produced Streets On Fire, the Linkin Park-esque vibe of the Ashlux produced and Snoop Dogg assisted Hi-Definition, or the grooving keys of Soundtrakk's Superstar, The Cool definitely fits Lupe's persona to a tee.
The only conceivable reason that The Cool isn't an instant classic is because of the tail end of the album. After being slammed with brilliant song after innovative concept, the latter part of the album isn't as good as it started - although still far superior than 90% of what other emcees have put out.
We all know Lu loves rock and he goes hard with Unkle on the dark Hello/Goodbye (Uncool). Although it is by no means a bad song, it's rock vibe provides an unnecessary speed bump that causes this high octane ride to slow down a bit. The Die suffers from an average beat and an equally average guest spot from Lu prodigy, Gemstones. And while Go Baby is a solid track, Fighters may have been better suited to close the album. But these issues are infinitesimal at best and nitpicking at worst.
With Food & Liquor as his Illmatic, The Cool follows up as his It Was Written - incredibly good yet slightly flawed enough to not make it an instant classic. But for an artist who can only compare to himself, it's quite difficult to outdo your introduction to the world. The Cool proves that Food & Liquor was no accident and it's quite possible that the best has yet to come. If L-U-P-End - the final album of the trilogy - is as good as this and he does in fact bow out, be prepared for the name "Fiasco" to be etched in the G.O.A.T. tablets in Hip Hop history. He's just that damn good.