Chicago MC Fiasco has touted this sophomore album as “a concept record” so the alarm bells were ringing before the CD went into the tray. Truth be told, not many genres hold as much weight in coupling parable and narrative as hip-hop with recently, Ghostface Killah (Drugs), Clipse (Drugs) and El-P (New world dystopia) exemplifying such traits. Fiasco doesn’t pull off the concept, but he does extend his craft considerably on The Cool.
Fiasco had his fair share of off-stage drama while recording the album. His father and a close friend died while his mentor and co-owner of his label, 1st + 15th, Charles Patton was sentenced to 44 years in prison as police considered him one of the biggest underworld drug lords in the Chicago. So he’s got plenty of material to infuse the album with a darker mood. The result is an album that outshines its predecessor Food and Liquor. The scope is broader, his flow is ambidextrous and the music (largley produced by Soundtrakk) is more vital and individual. Fiasco talks braggadocio like fellow Chicagoan Kanye yet has his foot firmly in the conflict of street theatre.
The allegory is played out in three physical manifestations: The Cool, The Streets and The Game. These characters were referred by Fiasco before the album came out but it’s easy to ignore these conceits. At the very least, it explains what the album artwork is about.
Single ‘Superstar’ benefits from rock singer Matthew Santos sweet croon in the hook. Santos, signed to Fiasco’s label is one of a handful of guest stars here (also including Snoop Dogg, Gemstones, Nikki Jean) and pops up again on ‘Fighters’, the real emotional denoument here. ‘Go Go Gadget Flow’, the first song on the album after the brief hymn to his incarcerated and deceased brethren, ‘Free Chilly’ finds Lupe flexing his vocal muscles with rapid-fire rhymes while ‘The Coolest’ introduces the concept but it is more appreciable for its string-drenched warmth.
Over the course of the album, the tone becomes less autobiographical as Fiasco examines other topics including video game violence (‘Little Weapon’, produced by Fall-Out Boy’s Patrick Stump), the significance of hip-hop (‘Hip-Hop Saved My Life’), rapper expectations (‘Dumb it Down’) and curiously, utilises UNKLE’s ‘Chemistry’ as the basis for some dark thoughts (‘Hello/Goodbye’). All this serves to mark Lupe out as differential to the current crop of misogynistic rap hoodlums, so much so that he places himself in the camp of conscious rappers as a positive role model to hip-hop naysayers.
The annoying trend of 80-minute, 19-song hip-hop albums is continued here and as a result, there are a few duff tracks. Yet, If you shave off these songs and discard the ham-fisted concept of The Cool, under the bubble-wrap of grandeur, you’ll find a wonderfully engaging and surprisingly solid hip-hop album.
Lupe Fiasco – Superstar
Lupe Fiasco – Dumb it Down