Review Summary: Fiasco's impressive offering stands as a strong contendor for 2006's best debut album.
There's a lot of big names on here - The Neptunes, Kanye West, Jill Scott, Jay-Z, even Mike Shinoda (you know, the one from Linkin Park who holds the somewhat backhanded distinction of being the best rapper in a nu-metal band today). It's tempting to think that they're all involved because a lot of money's been thrown at them. Yet, after even a cursory listen to Food & Liquor
, only the most cynical of minds could fail to believe that some, if not all, of these names are here because they wanted to be working with one of the most talented newcomers in the game.
Lupe can rap. No doubt about it. He's got what the mainstream wants - a smooth flow, funny punchlines, good hooks - and he's got what the critics are always saying hip-hop lacks these days - a message, and a refreshing lack of pretentious posturing. With any luck, this one will crossover to as wide a range of people as The College Dropout
True, the album takes a little while to get off the ground - the beat on "Intro" is absolutely first class, but the first 2 or 3 tracks suggest the album are going to be underwhelming. Maybe we're just conditioned to expect rappers to put their strongest material up front so the filler gets ignored? In any case, "Kick, Push" starts to move things in the right direction, before it really takes flight on "I Gotcha". Pharrell's cute, bouncy piano lick works perfectly here - it's so out of step with what we're used to from hip-hop in '06, you can't help but listen. The following four tracks - "The Instrumental", "He Say She Say", "Sunshine", and "Daydreamin'" - are all superb. The first of those is a Mike Shinoda production, and needless to say it's the best hip-hop track he's ever come up with. The latter is as ear-catching as "I Gotcha", this time by virtue of the sample taken from I Monster's fantastic "Daydream In Blue". To be honest, that sample is so good that anyone could have rapped over it and it would have still been a hit, but Lupe doesn't slack here in the slighest. Nor does he anywhere else. Throughout, his rhymes are inventive, playful, thoughful, and idiosyncractic. Sadly, those aren't all words you can associate with too many major label rappers.
Food & Liquor
certainly stands as a contender for best rap record of 2006, though that's not saying all that much in what has been a slightly disappointing year. What makes this so exciting, though, is the feeling that he's just going to get better.