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Taste of Chicago

BY ANTHONY BABER

Published September 18, 2006

Ever since his guest verse on Kanye West's single "Touch The Sky," the public has been craving more Lupe Fiasco. The Westside Chicago MC has been poised to release his first solo album, Food & Liquor, since the beginning of the summer, but because of leaks and extensive bootlegging of the unfinished album, he chose to withhold the final product. After releasing videos to both his singles "Kick Push" and "I Gotcha" and an upcoming video for "Daydreaming" with Jill Scott on the way, the album finally sees daylight. But many questioned if Food & Liquor could live up to the hype, and after a few listens, it's obvious all of those nay-sayers should be kicking themselves right about now.

This is one of best albums to surface from the backpacker scene, even the contemporary hip-hop scene in general, and it will almost surely sell on the level of leading light Kanye West. The explicit creativity and clear imagination of Lupe Fiasco hasn't been seen in many MCs since the golden days of the Biggie. The album is a spectacular voyage through urban Chicago neighborhoods, drug-infested street corners and the intricate mind of its narrator.

It commences with a female voice reciting a poem that begins "Food and liquor stores rest on every corner," and continues with a grim view of the ghetto. "The days of Malcolm and Martin have ended / Our hope has descended." But alas, "God has another solution that has evolved from the hood."

You guessed it: Fiasco. It's a bit grandiose, but from the pen of a practicing Muslim it carries a bit more weight than coming from, say, 50.

Unfortunately for Fiasco, the media has chosen to focus more on his religion and his love of skateboarding than his lyricism. Those are certainly important aspects of his artistry; in fact, he said "I was born Muslim, so Islam plays a part in my everything I do, to a certain extent." And he does speak a few lines of Arabic in the intro, but that's not the most impressive, or even the most interesting aspect, of Food & Liquor.

That would be the brilliant imagery Lupe provides through his lyrics. The mental agility of Lupe Fiasco inhabits the mind so well that you can envision a music video for each song on the album. In "Sunshine" you can visualize the conversation of the two characters from chatting inside the club, to daydreaming in the car. On the track "Kick, Push II" he follows a young man trying to make money to feed his little sister, avoiding the temptation of drug dealing for quick money and eventually escaping by way of the music industry.

The album's production is nothing short of astounding, with every instrumental just as breathtaking as the lyrics that follow them. Except a few songs, including "I Gotcha" produced by The Neptunes and "The Instrumental" produced by Linkin Park's MC Mike Shinoda, most of the beats are done by producers on Lupe's record label, 1st & 15th. The album mainly features Lupe on his own, except for one verse featuring executive producer Jay-Z and vocals contributed by Jill Scott, Gemini and Sarah Green.

His range extends beyond the usual scope of most MCs. Witness the touching longing of a father's love in "He Say She Say" or the zombified post-life of a gangster in "The Cool." Still, the most stunning song on the album is "American Terrorism," where Lupe gives his view on America's destructive treatment of minorities, immigrants and foreign countries. He comes out blazing from the beginning saying "We came through the storm / Nooses on our necks / And a smallpox blanket to keep us warm / On a 747 on the Pentagon lawn / Wake up! The alarm clock is connected to a bomb."

A debut album reaching the apex of commercial and socially conscious hip hop, getting the kind of universal exposure that greats like Mos Def, Pharaoh Monch and Talib Kweli deserved, is pretty damn impressive. Lupe Fiasco has established himself as an incredibly bright star. Maybe even a savior.

Lupe Fiasco
Food & Liquor
Atlantic

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars