The first two singles released from this album, “Around My Way,” and “Bitch Bad,” produced similarly dissonant reviews for varied reasons. “Around My Way” became controversial when an angry Pete Rock slammed Lupe on Twitter for biting his classic “T.R.O.Y.” which featured CL Smooth. “Bitch Bad” was praised by some for its uncommon stand against the word ‘bitch’ being used in our culture. Others bemoaned it as an overly preachy, boring listen. Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 is similarly divergent as a whole. Certain parts and aspects of this album are amazing. Others fall painfully short.
Lupe’s production has grown noticeably darker, but the quality is largely impeccable. After the intro, we are enveloped in the sounds of “Strange Fruition,” an awesomely creepy, bluesy, distorted instrumental that allows Lupe to mourn the direction he sees the world around him heading. The instrumentation on this album truly primes the listener to be engulfed in the stories and messages that Lupe seeks to convey. Nearly every track is well-crafted, unique, and tailored to fit the rhymes of Mr. Fiasco. The dizzying melodies of “Lamborghini Angels” ensure that the listener is ensnared in every single cutting barb delivered. The second half of the album is more guest-heavy. With the possible exception of unneeded choruses by Pooh Bear, a series of well-placed features make for a superb palate for Mr. Fiasco to ask thought-provoking questions and inspire reconsideration of cultural norms.
While the production is excellent, Lupe’s words occasionally fail to maximize their grandiose intentions. This album comes across as exceedingly preachy and a bit haughty at times. This distracts from the social change and awareness that Lupe seeks to engender. We’ve heard his increasingly abundant complaints and gripes through his tweets, interviews, and statements in recent months. At certain junctures, Lupe could easily be perceived as asserting his superiority to his listeners and fans. This perception carries over into his music. One of the most evident occurrences comes at the beginning of the second verse in “ITAL (Roses).”
“I know you’re sayin’, “Lupe rappin’ ‘bout the same shit”
Well, that’s ‘cause ain’t shit changed, bitch
And please don’t excuse my language
Cause I would hate for you to misrepresent
The true expression of my anguish
And by this far I ain’t shocked, upset, or appalled
I’m ashamed, bitch
I can’t listen if you ain’t sayin’ shit
And recognize all this emptiness is dangerous…”
Lupe certainly has a good point with this passage, as he calls for artists to stop putting out hollow words. However, an issue arises with the repeated use of the word “Bitch,” during a track with a chorus calling for courtesy, and on the same album as “Bitch Bad,” in which he mourns the misuse of the word “bitch” in modern society and its affect on gender relations. Given, the context in which he uses the word is not directed towards women specifically. But, this leaves confusion and a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of many who were championing Lupe for his stand against the same word a few months ago. “Audubon Ballroom” is another example of a track with solid points that is hampered by a glaring fault, in this case the chorus, which is more suited for a kindergarten Sunday School recital than an album.
Missteps such as this are counterbalanced by certain songs in which Lupe the lyrical genius simply runs rampant and unhindered. “Lamborghini Angels” serves as a mesmerizing, scathing attack against corruption, as Lupe takes some cutting, cryptic, yet precise shots against the misuse of religion over time. “Form Follows Function” is an amazing display of double entendres and metaphors, that Lupe boldly declared “a masterpiece of rappity-rap.” You know what? He’s right. “Cold War” and “Put ‘Em Up” are similarly potent; filled with metaphors and wordplay that would make Shawn Carter blush.
I wanted to like this album. And I do, at times. The overly discussed shortcoming of Lasers was eradicated. Lupe is back to delivering a strong message with his music, contrasting with the industry-influenced emptiness of Lasers. With that being said, a significant portion of this album will struggle to make the ‘most-played’ list on my iTunes list, unlike Lupe’s first two efforts. A lot of great things are said on the album, but I don’t want to replay an artist who raps as if his audience isn’t intelligent enough to understand him. This will take away from the reception of his message, point blank. It seems as though Lupe’s anger over his previous work produced both good and bad. The Chicago emcee is back to rapping on a level that no one else can touch, but his anger and frustration seem to have drastically altered his demeanor since his debut.