For Lupe Fiasco, inspiration is attained amongst high altitudes. Sometimes literally––the avant-garde MC has been known to climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro for both charity and clarity––and other times, in the figurative form of great men’s greater work. Philosopher and linguistic scholar Noam Chomsky, scribe supreme James Baldwin, historian Howard Zinn, religious activist Malcolm X, have all contributed to the worldly perspectives of the man born Wasalu Muhammad. Yet, no icon has lent greater influence to the 30-year-old orator’s latest work than Baldwin. Jimmy’s masterful writings and truth unfurling documentaries like “Take The Hammer” supplied motivation for quite possibly Lupe’s definitive album, Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album.
In Lupe Fiasco’s world, the greatest art is the purest art. Thus after a colorful six-year career, which wrought three studio albums––the lyrical dissertation Food & Liquor (2006), its thematic successor The Cool (2009) and controversy-drenched LASERS (2011)––as well as much tension between MC and label (Atlantic Records), he’s created an album solely for his soul. With the spirit of aforementioned influences––brilliant thinkers, impassioned activists, unapologetic rebellions––this selfish masterpiece was birthed in the vein of opus standards like Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides and Nas’s It Was Written. In an ironic nutshell, F&L2 backseats Lupe’s occupation to feed his essence: rap––in the purest sense of the word––artist. “What I’ve learned is not to take anybody’s advice,” says Lupe. “Because if you rely solely on your fans it sets you up for the downfall on the industry side and if you rely on what your label is saying it will disconnect you from your fans.”
Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album is much more than a mere sequel; instead equal halves American history documentary and honor roll rap skill exhibition. Your average Hip-Hop album features a tall guest list and short stack of truth; F&L2 offers a welcomed imbalance of features to facts. While the sound bed for “Lamborghini Angels” zips like nightlife, true tales, brilliantly woven together, hold your attention captive. Though the “Unforgivable Youth” track rocks, its content’s comparison of present prison systems and slave trades provide the real hardcore. From pedophilia to US soldiers photographing mutilated prisoners, Lupe uses his latest to spotlight historic ugly made in the USA. “I tried to find the great American experience and reflect on American phenomenon, American history, American mythology, American cultural movements,” says Lupe. “It’s a completely biased endeavor because it’s one man’s point of view. So what I did was focus on general themes that we can all agree upon. A majority of them are hideous, but because they’re historically documented, it can’t be refuted.”
Lupe’s fourth studio album was born to give Hip-Hop a deeper look inside a nation that often views it as a black eye. It’s also a return to his original M.O. Since wheeling into the rap game in 2006 with the Native Tongue-refreshed and eventually twice Grammy-nominated “Kick Push,” the martial arts expert has maintained a mission to be the most proficient with pen and mic. Still feeling that the lyrical density of his early greatness “Failure” remains unmatched, Sir Fiasco further distances current competition as “lyrical Zuckerberg” on the alarming “Audobon Ballroom” and The Runners-produced “Braveheart” (“Took wood from a slave ship to furnish my abode…now that’s a house of pain/plus I use nooses to hang up all my clothes”).
The Muslim wordsmith’s unwavering attention to craft has inspired a most committed fan base. In 2010 when Lupe’s label refused to release LASERS, the Fiasco faithful picketed outside Atlantic Records and drew a 16,000-signature online petition. How did the rapper respond? He traveled to Africa to clear his mind and climb the Motherland’s tallest mountain to raise money for water wells. Then he returned home and did what he’s done since teaming with Jill Scott on his first LP (“Daydreamin”) and Mathew Santos on his sophomore effort (“Superstar”): he made a couple hit records (“The Show Must Go On,” “Words I Never Said,” featuring Skylar Grey), scoring his second consecutive Gold album. While F&L2 boasts mass-appeal performances from soul stars like Bilal and Jamaroquai, Lupe has zero interest in appeasing radio programmers. He’d much rather speak his experiences through the resurrection of Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s classic “T.RO.Y.” for his first single “Around My Way [Freedom Ain’t Free].” And if he must target female ears, it’s not to seduce, instead empower with the enlightening “Bitch Bad.” “I don’t necessarily have an idea of success, and I think that’s what makes things so problematic for me when I have to deal with [commercial demands],” says Lupe, before widening the lens on his perspective. “This world is immaterial. God showed me all these things––you wanna know what it feels like to perform for 80,000 people? Here. You wanna look at your bank account and not have to worry about anything? Here––and then took it away so none of that shit moves me. Now all I wanna make is social commentary and good-feeling music.”
It makes sense that a rapper who can be in Cairo riding a camel on one day, and in Los Angeles, whipping one of his many Ferraris, the next is ready to broaden Hip-Hop minds. It’s no surprise that an MC who doesn’t leave home without the Autobiography of Malcolm X has constructed one of rap’s most nutrimental albums. All one has to do is ingest Lupe Fiasco’s James Baldwin praises and Wasalu Muhammad’s big picture appears in HD: “His point of view was unrelenting…he would not let America apologize half-ass. Then to be so against the rules, it was almost like he was writing the rules, dictating them. Yet he fully understood everybody’s points of views and side of the story.”