You don’t find many mainstream rap records that begin with an evocative spoken-word intro, a quick Muslim prayer, a dedication to Grandma, and a wish for peace, but then Chicago native Lupe Fiasco isn’t like most rappers. Socially conscious to a fault and surfing the zeitgeist thanks to high-profile pals like Kanye West, Fiasco’s long-delayed, much-hyped debut has, at last, surfaced, confirming that his passionate “Touch The Sky” cameo wasn’t a fluke. The bespectacled skateboard nerd flows like a younger, hungrier Common, Talib Kweli, or perhaps even a less angry Mos Def. Even the title is misleading: “Food & Liquor” refers to the good (food) and bad (liquor) in life, which might strike some as a bit naïve, but this is a kid whose first major single, “Kick, Push,” is an ode to kickflips and grindin’ under the nose of authorities. Fiasco’s relentless positivism never overwhelms his casual rhymes, disarming with their obvious skill and impressive with their balance of righteousness (name-dropping Cornel West, Malcolm X, and Che Guevara) and not-so-subtle political fury (Lupe is just as pissed about the state of African-American affairs as Jigga and The Roots). But rather than soaking the scene with his vitriol and going all Public Enemy, Lupe fuses a wealth of genres with help from The Neptunes, West, and even Mike Shinoda, dabbling in funk, soul, backpack rap, and traces of pop. The refusal to go dark—musically, at any rate—may rub some listeners the wrong way, but this jazzy, fresh fusion of vintage soul and ripped-from-the-streets rhymes marks this rap prodigy as one worth keeping tabs on. Even if Fiasco never drops another solo record (and given his heretofore stop-start relationship with labels, it’s not entirely out of the question), Food & Liquor is one of the year’s fresher efforts and future classics.
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