Strange Fruition feat Casey Benjamin: After a poem by Ayesha; the album starts off with a thumping piano laden beat (reminiscent of Dr. Dre’s production) from longtime collaborator, Soundtrakk, where Lupe opens with the bar “Now I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag, cause I can’t find no reconciliation with your past/When there was nothing equal for my people in your math, you forced us in the ghetto and you took away our dads” which soundly sets the tone for an album that is supposed to deconstruct “The American Dream”. This track not only sets the tone but also serves as a lyrical warm up of sorts for Lupe as the witty wordplay that made him a mainstay in the “Best Living MC’s” conversation is on full display here. With a dope voicebox chorus from Casey Benjamin (from The Robert Glasper Experiment) as the cherry on top, Strange Fruition continues Lupe’s track record for strong opening tracks for his albums. (5/5)
ITAL (Roses): Backed by a triumphant horn heavy beat by 1500 or Nothin, Lupe encourages to the streets (most significantly the youth) to rise above the stereotypes that society has put upon them on this optimistic yet honest track. Lupe even busts out the distortion voice effect that he’s become fond of as of late for part of the chorus. This song would’ve been right at home on Lasers and I could definitely see it being a single in the future. (4.5/5)
Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free): The first single of the album that lead to an brief and unnecessary beef between Lupe & hip-hop legend Pete Rock over the T.R.O.Y. sample that takes up most of the beat. We’ve all heard this one by now so I don’t need to tell you what it’s about or explain it. It’s classic Lupe and still holds up well months after its release. (5/5)
Audubon Ballroom: On this appropriately named track; Lupe reawakens Chitown Guevara, whips out his marching boots and stands on his soapbox with his megaphone (the vocal distortion makes it’s return on the track which I’d like to think was intentional) as he continues the theme of two previous tracks and attempts to elevate the hood (most effectively in the uplifting third verse) while simultaneously revoking white people’s ability to say “Nigga” (Overachiever much?). Fatimes & Bullit supply Lupe with a suitably Cool & Dre-esque epic beat to properly get his revolution on without ever upstaging the MC. The chorus of this song is sure to ruffle plenty jimmies once the masses hear it and I’m sure that’s what Lupe wanted in the first place. Some men just want to watch the world burn. (4.5/5)
Bitch Bad: Now if you haven’t heard Around My Way, you’ve DEFINITELY heard this song by now due to both how relevant and controversial the subject matter is. It’s quite possibly Lupe’s most polarizing song as its garnered very strong positive and negative responses and led to Lupe being referred to as “too preachy” by the unwashed masses. Lupe said that he made this song with the intention of starting a conversation and he did that and then some. Mission accomplished Mr. Fiasco, Mission accomplished. (5/5)
Lamborghini Angels: On the third official single of the album, Lupe goes into full on storyteller mode as he tackles the heavy issues of Materialism, Racism, Women’s Independence, Child Molestation, War Crimes & Untrustworthy Politicians in the form of a 3 part story told from the perspective of 5 different characters over an uptempo and surprisingly danceable beat from Mr. Inkredible (which I definitely freestyled to lol) that samples a section of Lupe’s “Angels (Remix)” from the Enemy of the State mixtape. Lupe Fiasco has been known as a rapper whose songs you have to listen to multiple times to fully understand and this is no different as you won’t fully grasp the concept if you don’t listen closely which I found myself not doing a few times because I was too busy rocking to the beat. This is one of my personal favorite cuts from the album and a great example of balancing style and substance. (5/5)
Put Em Up: Every now and then Lupe will take a break from spreading the gospel and simply remind everyone who might’ve forgotten how ill he is on the mic and that’s exactly what he does on this track. Over a dirty 1500 or Nothin beat, Lupe gets his dragon breath on and precedes to defecate on 95% of the rap game simply because he can. The chorus is a bit weak but I overlook it because of I’m too busy trying to make my way through the Inception level lyrical mazes that Lupe conjured up here. Any claims that Lupe has fallen off lyrical should officially be deaded after this. (4.75/5)
Heart Donor feat Poo Bear: Lupe links up with frequent collaborator Poo Bear (formally known as MDMA who was formally known as Pooh Bear who was formally known as The Artist formally known as Prince) on this track where he compares himself to a heart donor because of how he puts his heart and soul into spreading knowledge & positivity to those who will listen. It’s a nice concept and all but I admittedly find this song to be extremely corny and not in the so corny its awesome kind of way like “Go Baby” or “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now”. The frolic worthy fairy dust beat by The Runners doesn’t really help matters either. While it’s not a bad song, I consider it to be the first real misstep of the album. (3/5)
How Dare You feat Bilal: I wouldn’t be a Lupe Fiasco album without song for the ladies now would it? Now to be perfectly honest judging from the track title and the Bilal feature I wasn’t expecting it to be this one (I thought it was gonna be Heart Donor) but low and behold here it is. Over a beat from Severe that’s extremely similar to “That’s That Shit” by Snoop Dogg (excuse me Snoop Lion) & R. Kelly, Lupe kicks his special brand of totally inoffensive and slightly cheesy women worship while Bilal berates the unnamed female for being so damn amazing. Yes it’s as corny as it sounds but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt due to the subject matter unlike the previous track. The women folk will probably eat this one up but it’s not my thing. (3.25/5)
Battle Scars with Guy Sebastian: The fourth single of the album that was originally just a Lupe feature until he jacked it for his album and turned it into a duet is yet another song that most of us have probably heard by now so I don’t need to say much. This one has chart topping single written all over it but due to its’ genuine lyrics and universal subject matter it doesn’t feel like one that you have to “sell out” to make. I personally really like the song and while it’s been done before, appreciate how it compares emotional wounds to war wounds. Guy Sebastian can sing his ass off and I wouldn’t mind seeing them work together again as he’s the only singer that Lupe’s worked with so far that’s held a candle to Matthew Santos and all his glory. (5/5)
Brave Heart feat Poo Bear: After taking a brief detour over to his sensitive side, Lupe roars back in full on gladiator armor ready to overthrow an empire. Lupe hasn’t raged against the machine this hard since Words I Never Said and it’s nice to hear the fire back in his heart as he raps like a man possessed. Obviously looking to redeem themselves for their tomfoolery on Heart Donor, The Runners come back with a beat tailor made for the Coliseum (would also make a dope WWE/Boxing/UFC theme) and thanks to a war ready chant provided by Poo Bear (also seeking redemption) this song becomes Lupe’s equivalent to “The Spiteful Chant” by Kendrick Lamar (who I lowkey wish was on this song). (5/5)
Form Follows Function: Remember how I said Lupe got his dragonbreath on on “Put Em Up”? Well consider this a brigade of dragons conjuring up a goddamn flaming tornado of lyrical doom and double entendres. Over a slick jazz infused classic hip-hop beat by Infamous that was tailor made for this type of lyrical slaughter, Lupe proceeds to re-enforce his unf*ckwitableness (that’s a word now, don’t argue with it just accept it) in such a calm manner that it’s almost smug. I actually visually him smirking in the booth thinking about how rappers are gonna have re-evaluate their careers after he drops this on them. There’s no overarching thing here, just Lupe being rude to the less lyrically gifted. Don’t be a bully, Be A Star Lupe. (5/5)
Cold War feat Jane $$$: Lupe calls this “That Esco Music” in reference to Nas but this song is so Houston that you would’ve thought that Pimp C was gonna raise up from the dead just to jump on this. Lupe sounds like a Southern OG over this syrupy beat by 1500 or Nothin as he gets a bit personal rapping about the death of his brother and how cold it out there in the world when you’re alone. He also throws a clever nod to his Michael Young History character from his earlier mixtapes and first two albums. I’m not sure who Jane $$$ (there’s speculation that it’s either Sarah Green or Janelle Monae) but her chorus only adds to the overall feel of the song. This track MUST be listened to in a car with a great sound system, with your seat leaned back and one hand up on the wheel as you drive slow as hell gritting on everyone you pass (preferably in suburban neighborhoods). Thank me later. (5/5)
Unforgivable Youth feat Jason Evigan: Back in storyteller mode, Lupe drop 3 verses spanning thousands of years chronicling the rise and hypothetical fall of the United States of America as well as how we as a society grossly misuse our resources for selfish & often times destructive gain over rock infused King David beat. To cap it all of it ends with a twist that would make Pierre Boulle (The author of The Planet of the Apes) grin from ear to ear. The only thing keeping this song away from being perfect in my eyes is the underwhelming chorus from Jason Evigan who doesn’t have the vocal presence or power to really make it as impactful as it needed to be. If Chester Bennington, Matthew Santos or Guy Sebastian had been on the chorus then it would’ve pushed the track to another level. Nonetheless this is still a very strong track. (4.75/5)
Hood Now (Outro): On the album closer Lupe has some lighthearted fun as he satirically (and quite hilariously at times) talks about hood life, stereotypes & the members of the African-American community that have risen above them over the years while ending each bar with “It’s Hood Now!” (I guarantee people are going to be saying that by next month) over a breezy, Neptunes-esque beat by Poo Bear. It’s basically “All Black Everything” without the “What If?” scenarios. Lupe seems fully aware of how intense his subject matter can get sometimes throughout his albums so he always closes out things on a lighter note which is a smart move on his part to prevent listeners from walking into oncoming traffic due Lupe’s “This country is shit” raps. This is a cool track, full of quotables, that is guaranteed to leaving you smiling as The Great American Rap Album comes to a close.
First off let me start by saying this album should be renamed Food & Liquor II: The Black Plight In America or Food & Liqour II: The Hood Is A Terrible Place or even Lasers 2: This Is What Should’ve Happened The First Time Atlantic Records, these (aside for the last one obviously) more accurately match the overarching message on this album than The Great American Rap Album. This album feels very “Pro-Black” (so much so that I bet the Deluxe Edition comes with a Black Power Fist hair pick, a black beret & a Black Panther sign-up sheet) and really speaks to the hood/breaks down society’s impact on the hood more than it does America’s problem as a whole. But then again Lupe could be trying to convey the message that the existence of hoods & projects is America’s biggest “f*ck up” if you will. Nevertheless, no matter how you interpret it’s overarching message, the fact remains that this is a great rap album and the album that Lupe fans have been waiting to hear from him since The Cool. Like the phoenix raising from the ashes, Lupe returns with a vengeance from the doldrums of the Lasers-era fully rejuvenated with a lot to say and more times than not it hits the mark. From Lasers up until now Lupe’s gained a valuable skill, the ability to rap over expensive mainstream sounding beats without sacrificing any of his lyrical content or “dumbing down” his message. This basically feels like the album that Lupe wished Lasers could’ve been as it features the best/most polished production that he’s ever worked with (The Cool is in second place) and at the same time he was able to say everything that he wanted to say with having to worry about being censored by Atlantic. It’s not without its’ hiccups and it does lose steam in the middle of the album, but it’s still a substantial upgrade from his last effort (if you wanna call it that). While it’s not as strong as a cohesive album as it’s predecessor or The Cool, it’s a large step in the right direction. Jolly good show Mr. Fiasco, jolly good show indeed.