Review Summary: While the production can be bland at times, the lyricism and charged delivery are classic Lupe. The Great American Rap Album Part I deserves a sequel.
"I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he's a victim of the times." The Johnny Cash inspired all-black everything of Food & Liquor II is relevant to its predecessor in Lupe's discography. Black, functions as a representation of mourning, specifically an apology. Lasers was an entirely commercial driven effort, which is the opposite of what Lupe is about. He's outspoken and has a unique outlook on society, which is not conveyed by tracks designed to get to the top of the Billboard charts and receive massive radio-play. An album with no identifying characteristics won't get bought by your average Joe browsing the Rap section of Target, especially if they've never heard of Lupe Fiasco. It's quite humorous to think that one of 2013's first standout releases has such a "minimalist" presentation, especially compared to the original Food and Liquor, which is filled with bright colors and visual pleasantries. What's not so great, unfortunately, is that while the lyrics standout, the production quality of the tracks can be a bit sub-par at times.
The album begins with a spoken-word poem that more or less, like the full title, establishes the general mood and tone. It's going to be varied. It's going to be politically charged. It's going to be about America in a sense. "Strange Fruition" is basically Lupe using a track as a lyrical faucet for him to explain what he thinks is the state of this generation. "That's why my sounds and sermons are so full of wrath, baptize your mind, let your brain take a bath." Listening to Lupe in itself won't change any of America's problems, but it will allow you to change your frame of mind so that you can take initiative. "ITAL (Roses)" is in a similar vein as "Strange Fruition", but is far more satisfying, as a promotion of good behavior and a message to the youth. "Lupe rapping about the same ***. Well, that's cause ain't *** changed bitch." Lupe's explained himself: rapping the same thing over and over again is a protest method that he believes is effective, and even if he has to use different beats and lyrics, there's no fault in sameness. Much of this "same ***, different toilet" idealism continues until "Bitch Bad" which is by far the album's best track. Lupe throws his usual flow in the trash to tell two intertwining stories to the best of his ability, and the production is suitably catchy and restrained to put even more focus on the admirable message. Aside from explaining the connotations of the word "bitch" and responsibility of parents to control the media their children are exposed to, Lupe drops a few genre criticisms of hip-hop in general. He also questions what the responsibility of rappers should be when it comes to language use. Even if you don't agree with his views, you have to agree his conceptions spark a quality discourse. There really can't be enough discussion about parenting issues.
Although Lupe tends to repeat himself a great deal, with each track more or less following the same formula in terms of messages, Food and Liquor II, The Great American Rap Album Part I is worth a listen. The production shines better in some places than others, but is never explicitly bad. If you want intellectually stimulating hip-hop, or are a fan of Lupe Fiasco pre-Lasers, you should go out and purchase the album. There aren't many voices in music as unique as Lupe's, and here's to hoping his can be heard a bit more.