Lupe Fiasco – The Cool (review)

14 12 2007

When it comes to modern (post 2000) mainstream hip-hop, there aren’t too many new emcees to make purists such as myself poke our heads up out of the underground and take notice. Save for Joe Budden and Little Brother for the brief period when they were on a major, lyrics have taken a backseat to the bass driven beats and catchy hooks that dominate the landscape. So when Lupe Fiasco dropped Food & Liquor last year, the raw abilities displayed were enough to make us all push up our lighters for hip-hop. So, a little more than a year later, Lupe returns to see if he can avoid the sophomore jinx with the conceptually driven The Cool. Dumbin Down after the commute.

Thematically, this album plays very much like an abstract version of Jay-Z’s American Gangster, with most of the tracks dealing with the ups and downs of dealing with street life. Lupe spends virtually the entire album focusing on a character, Michael Young History (the coolest nigga what), and how he gets into street life and the eventual downfall. Ultimately, this becomes one of the real strengths of this album as Lupe manages the difficult task of crating conceptual songs that still hold weight when they stand on their own. Tracks like “The Coolest,” where he personifies the streets and the law and the decision between the two are crafted well enough to conjure images of Nas’s “I Gave You Power”. Lupe deftly weaves in and out of characters, topics and relationships on tracks like “Gold Watch,” “Streets on Fire” and “The Die” all while maintaining the overall progression of the album.

Usually with concept albums comes the concern that the lyrics are going to suffer while trying to keep the story going (also a concern of sophomore albums when the first album doesn’t go gold). Thankfully, Lupe is as sharp as ever with the lyrics and the flow. Even on the concept tracks, you’d be hard pressed to find an MC that’s as natural with complex wordplay as Lupe (peep the second verse on “The Coolest”). And when son takes the handcuffs off and really gets loose on tracks like “Dumb it Down” and “Go Go Gadget Flow” its enough to make you wonder if anyone is even holding a candle to this dude.

The real flaw in this album comes in the production. The album as a whole carries a dark alternative emo rock sound, which for a couple of songs isn’t a bad thing, but in large doses makes you feel like you should be playing this album on the way to a funeral. For some of the songs on here it works well (“Hip-Hop Saved My Life”, “Put You on Game”) and for others it ruins otherwise great tracks (“Streets on Fire”, “Fighters”). The more traditional sounding hip-hop beats serve as welcome breaths of fresh air, like the superb “Paris, Tokyo”. To make things worse, when the beats don’t fail, the hooks do. “Go Go Gadget Flow” is sabotaged by one of the worst, most repetitive hooks I ever had to hear, and “The Coolest” isn’t that far behind. When it’s not repetitive corny chants, the hooks are usually alternative hooks by Matt Santos and company, which wears thin. Not to say the production is horrible, but the hit and miss nature of the beats and hooks gives the album an underwhelming feeling.

All this to say that The Cool is one of those almost great albums that leave the listener wishing for what could have been (like damn, what if Group Home actually had skills on Living Proof). Dr. Dre once said that he only has to listen to a track for 15 seconds before he knows whether or not a track is dope, so it’s a real shame that the production is the way it is. I get the feeling most won’t take the time to dig into another lesson in lyrical wizardry from maybe the best MC in the game.




Final Grades

Beats: C+

Rhymes: A

Life: A-

Overall: B




3 responses

18 12 2007

Wow, well, I respect the A for rhymes, but C+ for beats? That’s bullshit. I respect your opinion, but this is exactly why Lupe is retiring after LupEND. The Cool is basically already a hip-hop classic. The production isn’t horrible and the hooks aren’t really repetitive. This album is an example of what all hip-hop albums should strive to be. And for the record, about 4 tracks center around the character of Michael Young, not the majority of the whole fucking album. Comparing this to American Gangster accurately represents your actual taste in hip-hop. Shit.

18 12 2007


20 12 2007

the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what the coolest nigga what

lol word not repetitive. . .

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