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February 17, 2017

Test Spin: Lupe Fiasco – Drogas Light

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Lupe Fiasco has remained a prominent figure in hip hop for over a decade. Lupe was considered by many to be one of the first “conscious rappers,” a term that is now used to describe the more lyrical and political sect of the genre, including artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. With meaningful bars about politics and religion, Lupe helped to promote the Chicago rap scene along with fellow Chicago rapper and producer, Kanye West. Unfortunately for Lupe, Drogas Light seems to have lost some of the meaning and focus that was once such a staple of his earlier classics, namely Food & Liquor and The Cool. The album as a whole lacks coherency and unless one is familiar with Lupe’s entire discography, it would be hard to take away any meaning whatsoever from this release. In Drogas Light, it’s often hard to tell whether Lupe is actually making a focused and legitimate statement about the current rap game, as he does on “Promise,” or if he is merely acquiescing to his peers and losing sight of what once made him great.

Focusing first on the positive, the album starts out with a string of relatively unique and catchy tracks. With a killer beat and fun ad-libs, “Dopamine Lit” gives us a reason to be excited for what’s to come. The excitement continues with “NGL,” where we are reminded yet again just how passionate Lupe is about social issues in his community. He mentions the “disproportionate convictions” that are still a mainstay of the criminal justice world, but also critiques the hypocrisy of “gangster rappers” that only strive for wealth and lose sight of the issues that matter. Perhaps the most memorable song on the album, “Promise,” comes early on as well. While “Promise” at first sounds like a stereotypical, recycled instrumental that one might expect from today’s “trap” rappers, it is anything but. On this track, Lupe criticizes the simple, thoughtless lyrics that are often heard in today’s most popular rap songs. The last lines of the chorus on “Promise” are particularly representative of Lupe’s dissatisfaction with the state of hip hop, as he raps, “Repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, cause n****s they know that they need it, I think that they fallin’ off, can they not keep it?”

Even deeper into the album, we see certain flashes of greatness from Lupe. On “Kill,” Ty Dolla Sign’s production is outstanding and serves as a total change of pace from the generic hip hop beats heard on the first eight tracks. Towards the end of the track, the melody pivots yet again to a more soul-infused, jazzy sound. The lyrics highlight a fascinating dichotomy that Lupe notices between throwing dollar bills at strippers versus putting them on church collection plates. Still, Lupe is curiously absent for most of this song, only really contributing one verse. The lack of substantive, classic Lupe bars is a recurring theme that seems to manifest itself even more as one moves on to the second half of the album.

One of three singles on this album, “Pick Up the Phone,” is indeed catchy but surprisingly forgettable. Instrumentally, the song remixes his hit single “Superstar,” but what really stands out, unfortunately, are cheesy lines like: “Who knew Russian Roulette involved answering the phone?” On the next song, “It’s Not Design,” Lupe discusses love in a convoluted way over a strange electronic-esque beat that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the album. Listeners get more radio-friendly pop with the track “Wild Child,” which also seems horribly out of place. Lupe’s dreams in this song, of wanting to relax and fall asleep by the pool, are wildly juxtaposed to his ambitious aspirations earlier in the album, which included nothing less than solving racism in America and reforming the rap game. The final song on the album, “More Than My Heart,” should be a touching and celebratory ode to mothers everywhere, in the same vein as Tupac’s “Dear Mama” or Kanye’s “Hey Mamma.” But again, the track feels extremely out of place, especially when it comes at the tail end of a relative smorgasbord of a rap album.

It’s hard to take this album seriously at times and it doesn’t help that Lupe himself went on twitter the day it was released and reviewed his own album. Highlights of this self-review include Lupe referring to Drogas Light as “a mixed bag,” saying that he makes a “pretty good case for himself” considering that he “kinda let the pieces fall where they may.” Ultimately, Lupe gave himself a 7/10, but to be completely honest, it would seem farfetched to give this album anything close to that level of praise, especially when we know just how special Lupe can be when he raps with focus and originality. While we saw glimmers of this originality on the first half of the record, the album as a whole remains unrefined and, frankly, thrown together for much of its duration.

William Widmann is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at wrw59@cornell.edu