Review Summary: compose yourself; like a self-aware opera
The cover art for Drill Music in Zion
strongly recalls 2015's Tetsuo & Youth
, the second-to-last time Lupe Fiasco released a sweeping, overly ambitious concept album-slash-info-dump for Genius to lose its mind over. Unlike 2018's DROGAS Wave
, justifying its absurd length by genuinely being in the realm of a magnum opus, Tetsuo & Youth
overpromised and underdelivered, following up the masterpiece "Mural" with an inconsistent grab bag of styles and subject matters. Business as usual for Lupe Fiasco, one of rap's most fascinating and frustrating figures, in other words.
Yet Tetsuo & Youth
is still the most valid point of comparison to Drill Music in Zion
, in part because both prove interesting and replayable in spite of plummeting low points. Drill Music in Zion
addresses some of the issues of its spiritual predecessor, largely by coming in at a lean 41 minutes (a touch over half the length of Tetsuo
) and sticking solely with the reliable production of Soundtrakk, boardsman behind "Kick, Push" and "Hip-Hop Saved My Life". Nonetheless, there's a similar feeling of Fiasco following his muse wherever it goes, to places beyond quality control: the highs that result are tempered by missteps like the baffling "Kiosk" and pleasant-but-lightweight single "Autoboto".
Let's talk about Soundtrakk for a second. Fiasco alleges Drill Music
was made in 3 days flat, shortly after the producer nearly died of COVID, and whether it's true or not the two are clearly in a lockstep forged by friendship throughout the album. The rapper sounds equally comfortable spitting over the head-nodding jazz of "Naomi" as largely yielding the floor to Nayirah on the gorgeously spacey "Precious Things". It's not hard to believe an artist as prolific as Fiasco could pull this off, or that the reason for Drill Music in Zion
's relative brevity is this quick gestation period as opposed to DROGAS Wave
's creation over 4-5 years. One gets the sense that, nearly twenty years on from Food & Liquor
, Lupe Fiasco could basically do this in his sleep, if not just sit back and let the album compose itself from ideas sitting in folders on computers. I don't know whether to be impressed that Drill Music in Zion
makes it sound so easy and still comes out pretty great, or frustrated at the untapped potential that this fairly straightforward record hasn't unearthed. If Fiasco could take the energy captured on the breathtaking second verse of "Ms. Mural", a truly fantastic trilogy-capper, and stay there for an entire project he might finally make his masterpiece; this time around, though, unhurried and easy is a suit that he wears well.