The “Ayesha Says” intro immediately reminds me of two songs: obviously, the intro to the original Food and Liquor, and, less apparently, “Ab-Soul’s Outro” off of Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80. Both tracks are social commentaries voiced by someone close to the album artist (Lupe’s sister, Lamar’s friend and long-time collaborator). Both are somewhere between spoken word poetry and hip-hop (neither have normal, looped beats), and both provide the context that the artist want their music to be seen as a part of. The main difference is that “Ayesha Says” comes at the very beginning instead of the end of the album, as with “Ab-Soul’s Outro.” She lays out the problems for Lupe to unpack, whereas Ab-Soul sews them together to give the album a more coherent resonance.
Food and Liquor II, Pt. 1, reaffirms Lupe as a voice in the American populist tradition.
“Strange Fruition,” the first song on Food and Liquor II, Pt. 1, reaffirms Lupe as a voice in the American populist tradition which has been yelling about systematic racism and oppression in the United States for hundreds of years. “I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag.” He hates what it has done, “You forced us in the ghetto and then you took our dads,” he refuses to take part in it, “So I can’t shed blood on any battlefield of yours,” but it has broken him, leaving him disillusioned and without direction,”I don’t know what really matters any more.” This isn’t the happily triumphant Lupe of “Kick, Push,” “Superstar,” or even “Show Goes On.” He instead sounds disillusioned, if not defeated.
Lupe manages to hold it together for a few more good songs, until “Lamborghini Angels.” In the later songs, it comes apart like a mad man’s ramblings. The passion is there, you appreciate what he’s saying, but nothing sticks to you. While some of the raps are rather good, there’s none of the joy or belief that I’ve associated with his verses since “Happy Industries,” and there isn’t much to get excited about production-wise, either. The beats bolster the moods of the songs well, like the triumphant horns on “ITAL (Roses)” or the alternatively slinky and soulful sounds of “Cold War,” but that’s about the best I can say for them.
The straightforward production acts as a guiding push towards the lyrics, which show glimpses of transcendence, despite the general lack of feeling in their delivery. “Called the president a terrorist / Corporate sponsors like, how the fuck you gon’ embarrass us? / Ain’t my fault, I was just repeatin’ this / Professor Emeritus from America.” In the space of half a verse from “ITAL (Roses),” Lupe addresses a glaring hypocrisy of the Obama administration with far more honesty than you’ll see from any mainstream political commentator.
More famously, he gives his opinion on misogyny with “Bitch Bad.” The album’s second single is many things, but it is not “moronic,” as Spin‘s Brandon Soderburg called the video for the track. While the message of the song may not be new or stated in a particularly interesting way, the criticism speaks more about the twenty-four hour echo-chamber coverage that he and I are a part of (his commentary appeared on the same day the video hit the web). We have to have NEW opinions to match the deluge of NEW content to stay competitive, and oftentimes the reader gets little more than an articulate reaction from someone whose reality and empathy is utterly divorced from “the culture that sustains [hip-hop].” While hip-hop critics like Soderberg and I are forced to “continually endure” new music, Lupe is forced to continually endure the ghosts of his peers who perhaps did not learn the lessons professed on The Great American Rap Album.
Still, Wasalu Jaco’s being an incredibly sincere, socially conscious individual does not redeem the album. Most of the verses on this album are filled the relevant content, story telling, wordplay and deft flow that made Lupe famous, but annoying pop hooks and banal production flourishes mire the second half of the album—look to “Heart Donor,” “Unforgivable Youth” and “Hood Now” for evidence.
When I opened the album cover in full screen to make sure I wasn’t missing some small detail on the apparently all-black image, I found myself looking straight into my own reflection. An all black image turns my laptop’s shiny screen into a mirror, and the cover perhaps serves as a reflection of where Lupe’s music is right now. He speaks of important issues of injustice in the world, but does not offer a way forward. I’m not calling for the emcee to start offering policy solutions, but Food and Liquor II, Pt. 1 portrays a passionate man who has lost belief in a way forward, who wanders “through the city goin’ mad.” Lupe has two more records left on his deal with Atlantic; let’s hope he realizes that it is the city that’s going mad, not him. ––Matt Conover [B-]