Food & Liquor II leaves listeners hungover

The entertainment world constantly regurgitates formulaic and uninspired ideas. The film industry is supersaturated with half-hearted continuations of franchises. The music industry, too, has franchises of its own.

Lupe Fiasco released the first Food & Liquor in 2006 to mostly positive reception. The debut was full of social commentary. It was a vibrant call to action. Though its overall message was powerful, its strongest track “Kick, Push” dealt with skateboarding, not injustice. Lupe’s next two discs (The Cool and Lasers) marked a sharp decline in his prowess as a rapper; uneven production and lackluster beats diluted his lyrical content.

The subtitle of Food & Liquor II is “The Great American Rap Album.” Lupe takes the pretentiousness of that moniker to new levels with the album art: it’s completely black. This minimalist approach may have worked for the Beatles, and Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE, but for Lupe it seems unnecessary rather than symbolic.

The album’s opener “Ayesha Says” unmasks the social ills the record gravitates around. It adds some context to the record, but when it’s followed by “Strange Fruition,” a haunting examination of the same issues, the power of its message becomes trifling at best.

Lupe’s instrument of choice is a horn section, whose brass stabs on “ITAL [Roses]” accompany auto-tune and stadium-grade hand claps. Saxophones serve as the irresistible backbone to “Around My Way [Freedom Isn’t Free],” an upbeat critique of the digital age. “Form Follows Function” retains this jazzy vibe as Lupe spits game on a track that calls to mind a Broadway musical’s pit band. The histrionic score clashes with images of homophobia and Buddhist ideology.

“B*tch Bad” stands as the best example of social commentary on the album. Modeling a hook off his contemporaries, Fiasco raps on the ridiculousness of Internet culture, and he claims he’s relaying “not a lesson / but a psychological weapon.” Even though a satirical tone downplays his ideas, the track exhibits more depth than the average radio hit.

It wouldn’t be a proper album without some shameless love songs. On “Heart Donor,” guest crooner Poo Bear belts the hook with John Legend’s R & B earnestness. “Battle Scars” is this year’s “Airplanes”: a ballad Bruno Mars probably wishes he had penned, served honest and heartsick.

Regardless of Liquor II’s standouts, the majority of the album is as inconsistent as its predecessors. “Put ‘Em Up” takes on spacey synths, but ominous instrumentals cloud its message. Poo Bear returns on the mediocre “Brave Heart,” where Lupe enunciates every syllable amid a laughable Sean Paul-esque chant. Dreamy keys highlight the soulful Bilal on “How Dare You,” which would feel more at home on an Alicia Keys release.

Although it isn’t the “Great American Rap Album” it professes to be, Lupe’s intentions on Food and Liquor II mirror those of his debut. But this time around, it’s more of a Fiasco.


Published October 4, 2012 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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