Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
Lupe Fiasco's return to his stellar debut took just two intervening albums—the very good The Cool and mediocre Lasers—with the gothic, hyper-political Food & Liquor II emerging from a prolonged label dispute over creative control. The record's opening verse on "Strange Fruition," delivered over a piercing string sample, sets the mood: "No I can't pledge allegiance to your flag/'cause I can't find no reconciliation with your past/There was nothing equal for my people in your math/You forced us in the ghetto and then you took our dads." Lupe's sharp-tongued pessimism pervades the album, save a very uneven pair of love songs at its center: the clever healthcare allegory "Heart Donor" and "How Dare You," the record's low point.
Food & Liquor II couldn't be much more tonally different from its predecessor, substituting dystopian visions, harsh realism and self-seriousness for the earlier record's playfulness, imaginative alternate worlds and optimism. "That was Lupe number one/now this version number four/and I still feel like a virgin me versus the globe," he raps over military drums on "Battle Scars." Not surprisingly, the album's highlights pair adversarial doom-and-gloom lyrics with subdued or seemingly upbeat instrumentals, like the jazzy "Around My Way," the cascades of synths on "Lamborghini Angels," and the soul-tinged outro "Hood Now." Despite falling short of even The Cool, this record boasts the most intelligent feminist rap song in years, "Bitch Bad," proof that this is a great American rap album—just not the great American rap album.