Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lupe Fiasco / "The Cool"

When Lupe Fiasco's debut arrived in 2006, he was a definite emcee to watch. His delivery was confident, his rhymes and similies were unique, and it was an all-around solid album. Championed by Kanye, and riding success with both critics and fans, he was in place to prepare to deliver on his promise.

Fast forward one year, and he finds himself in trouble for comments made regarding A Tribe Called Quest (read the details here). The controversy, as trivial as it was, distracts attention from Lupe releasing two outstanding singles in preparation for his sophomore album. However, with "Fiascogate" (the trend of using the -gate suffix needs to end, but that's beside the point) all-but-forgotten and the album having had a chance to settle in, the results are less climactic than the events preceeding them. "The Cool" is by no means a bad album or a glaring disappointment, but it's not going to put Lupe in any position to move to the forefront of 21st century hip-hop either.

The album opens with an introductory track, more or less amounting to many of the world's bad deeds done in the name of being "cool". It's followed by another Fiasco-less track before leading into the uneventful "Go Go Gadget Flow". It's not until track four, "The Coolest", that he offers up anything at par with his earlier work. It's a great track, and also demonstrates the maturation of Lupe hinted at in "Dumb It Down". The theme is again dirty deeds done in the pursuit of being cool, but it comes across as much less preachy than on the introduction. Lupe's delivery and storytelling are remarkable, and it's one of the albums best surprises. After the stellar single "Superstar" (featuring Matthew Santos), he unfortunately fails to ignite much over the next three tracks (even a Snoop Dogg guest spot can't save "Hi-Definition"). He returns to form with "Hip-Hop Has Saved My Life". It's a story told in a hundred songs: kid goes from the streets to superstardom by chasing his rap dream. Fortunately, Fiasco, along with a catchy hook from Nikki Jean, give it enough originality to avoid coming across as a retread.

He follows it with "Intruder Alert", a song about trust issues, misconceptions, and troubled individuals. It's a fine song, but almost twice as long as it needs to be. It's followed by another Santos number, which (unlike "Superstar") fails to ever take off. It's certainly not Lupe's fault. He delivers well-written rhymes without falter. It's just that the production is, quite frankly, boring. It also suffers from over-length, like so many other tracks.

In fact, that's the album's crippling flaw as a whole. By the time you get through the six-minute lackluster "Little Weapon" to the album's highlight ("Dumb It Down"), you're too tired to get through the rest of it, and only a couple of the remaining tracks ("Hello Goodbye [The Uncool]" and "The Die") even warrant getting to in the first place. Sure, a lot of things are exceptional about this album: Lupe's rhymes are better than ever, he's addressing real issues with a greater sense of maturity (surprising for someone who apparently knows little about politics), yet he hasn't lost the originality and flair that made him endearing to begin with. Unfortunately, because of production that fails to even surpass that from his debut, and a running length of 19 tracks stretched out over 70-plus minutes, it's a little bit disappointing. Sure, it's for the best that he hasn't "dumbed down nothin'", but it's sure exhausting that he elected not to cut out anything either. Shorten this album down to the dozen best tracks, and you could've added a full point to my rating.

Rating: 7.6

1 comment:

The_Janitor said...

still the best rap album of the year.