Lupe Fiasco said that his new album “Food and Liquor” was modeled after NaS’ somber “It Was Written”, which is odd because “Food and Liquor” lacks exactly what made “It Was Written” so successful: focus.
Fiasco’s long-delayed and much-hyped release isn’t an album so much as a collection of singles — some memorable, some not. It features outstanding production (Kanye West, the Neptunes and Mike Shinoda all make appearances), fresh subject material and ample wit. But these elements never work together to give the album a consistent tone or rhythm. Which is unfortunate, given the heralded promise of last spring’s bootlegged gems.”
Ironically, it’s “Food and Liquor’s” cast of all-star producers that cause this discontinuity. Every song shows polish and careful planning, but each is so different that the album never establishes a flow the listener can grab on to. For example, in “Kick, Push,” producer Soundtrakk creates a graceful, laid-back soundscape using rich brass and elegant strings. But right as the unsuspecting listener falls into that groove they are suddenly jolted into the halting rhythms of “I Gotcha,” the Neptunes’ contribution to “Food and Liquor”. After “I Gotcha” comes Mike Shinoda’s “The Instrumental,” a production that sounds like nothing else on the album — it’s almost as if it was lifted from a Linkin Park CD. The rest of “Food and Liquor” carries on this way, never achieving the rhythm and pacing that make albums like “It Was Written” so compelling.
Despite its lack of cohesion, “Food and Liquor” manages to achieve several moments of isolated greatness — carried off mainly by Fiasco’s wit and his producers’ talent — that justify its purchase. In “Hurts Me Soul,” another Soundtrakk production, Fiasco relates a common contradiction in many rap fans when he says, “I used to hate hip-hop/ Yep, because the women degraded/ But Too Short made me laugh/ Like a hypocrite I played it.” It’s this level of honesty that makes Fiasco’s flows interesting. This, and his genuine insight into rap culture, as in the song “Daydreamin’,” in which Fiasco indicts pop-gangster rap, saying, “Now come on everybody let’s make cocaine cool/ We need a few more half-naked women up in the pool … And could you please put your titties closer to the 22’s?/ And where’s the champagne? We need champagne!” Mmmm … images of every 50 Cent video ever produced come to mind. And if for nothing else, check out the album for the over-the-top, Earth Wind and Fire-esque “Pressure,” which comes complete with eagle screeches and a Jay-Z cameo. It’s gratuitous, it’s ridiculous, it’s glorious.
Lupe Fiasco has real talent and personality, and those traits come through in “Food and Liquor”. Unfortunately, when producers are determined to impose their vision on their allocated track, talent and personality don’t necessarily translate into a cohesive album. As it stands, Fiasco’s first album plays like a premature greatest hits. Translation? Too little kick, not enough push.