Review: Lupe Fiasco (@LupeFiasco) ‘DROGAS Light’

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To say that I am an avid listen­er of Lupe Fiasco’s music would be an under­state­ment. ‘The Cool’ was in fact the last album I pur­chased on CD; so when asked if I could write a review of his latest album ‘Dro­gas Light’ I jumped at the chance. I thor­oughly enjoyed ‘Tet­suo & Youth’; his most recent album to date, so the anti­cip­a­tion to hear what Lupe had installed for us next (also bear­ing in mind rumours of retire­ment) was at a all time high.

A great deal of con­tro­ver­sy has sur­roun­ded this album. The ori­gin­al plan was for the release of three albums ‘Dro­gas’, Skulls and Roy’ in 2016 but after anti-Semit­ic accus­a­tions over a lyr­ic in a free­style, the albums were pushed to a later date, with new titles: Dro­gas light, Dro­gas and Skulls. Dro­gas trans­lated from Span­ish means Drugs but here Fiasco acquires his usu­al ambigu­ous stance provid­ing the acronym:  Don’t Ruin Us God Said. This album is also Lupe’s first album on his new label 1st &15th/ Thirty Tigers.

Lupe Fiasco is known for his unusu­al depic­tion of con­scious rap teamed with his eclectic col­lab­or­at­ive pro­duc­tion with Char­les “Chilly” Pat­ton. His punch lines are often very dark, jux­ta­posed with a light and easy flow and euphemist­ic phras­ing. Often upon first listen­ing, you can com­pletely miss the nar­rat­ive Fiasco paints, but become com­pletely intox­ic­ated by his abil­ity to place words intric­ately over any beat. This makes his work unique and also hard to cat­egor­ise. Lupe is an artist in his own lane. He has a dis­tinct­ive sound and feel which makes his music note­worthy.

‘Dro­gas Light’ is def­in­itely a grow­er in many senses. After the first listen, I found myself put into the awk­ward pos­i­tion of want­ing to like it purely because I am a fan, but there just wasn’t a solid con­nec­tion. How­ever the imme­di­ate stand out and favour­ite is ‘KILL’ fea­tur­ing Ty Dol­la $ign (who also makes another phe­nom­en­al appear­ance on the track ‘NGO’) with stun­ning vocals by Vic­toria Mon­et. The blend between the Trap/ Barbershop/Blues Bar with the Sunday Church Choir; not only shows the music­al jour­ney of Hip Hop in so many aspects; but also their dis­tance in sub­ject mat­ter (the strip club and Church). The geni­us behind it is a true test­a­ment to Lupe’s know­ledge and cre­ativ­ity as an artist.

Oth­er tracks that truly show Lupe’s abil­ity to really cre­ate magic are “High’ and ‘LAW’, both fea­tur­ing Simon Sayz, provid­ing a great amal­gam­a­tion of their music­al gifts. ‘Its Not Design’ fea­tur­ing Salim is an awe­some dis­co meets Hip Hop track. Any­one who likes the Net­flix series ‘The Get Down’ will def­in­itely appre­ci­ate some of Lupe’s choices on this album.

What Lupe has def­in­itely held onto is his abil­ity to choose the per­fect vocal col­lab­or­a­tions. They are usu­ally unknown (or under­ground sen­sa­tions) that always provide an ire and mel­an­choly tone, which again com­bined with his word­play can really cre­ate unex­pec­ted and uncom­mon tones. Bian­ca Sing’s vocal on ‘Made In the USA’ stands out sig­ni­fic­antly on this album although it’s def­in­itely not fea­tured enough in the track. The decision to save BIG KRIT’s verse on the track ‘Tran­quil­lo’ (also fea­tur­ing Rick Ross) until last; again dis­played Lupe’s artist­ic wis­dom and show­man­ship. It turned me into a fan.

This album dis­plays a top­ic in music at the moment that seems to keep com­ing to light. There seems to be this ten­sion of old school meet­ing new school. The need to sound “cur­rent” has res­ul­ted in this switch to a Trap sound. Some artists are keep­ing it old school and the rest aren’t releas­ing music at all. Some artists have found happy medi­ums. A clas­sic example is Fat Joe and Remi Ma’s hit ‘All The Way Up’ and this is because in the same night you hear that track, you will hear Ter­ror Squad’s ‘Lean Back’ why? It’s a per­fect blend of artists being cur­rent, but still stick­ing to what they know.

Mis­sy Elli­ot showed that she is the ulti­mate chamele­on with her new track “I’m bet­ter” (she really, really is), and then you have new school artists such as Logic and Kendrick Lemar that can per­fectly flow between an old school hip hop met­ric and bril­liant Trap­pin. Tet­suo  & Youth’ fea­tured a few Trap tracks which were bey­ond dope. Please bare in mind when I refer to Trap, I mean in the sense of pro­duc­tion, refer­ring to the manip­u­la­tion of hi-hats and flow, not sub­ject mat­ter or atmo­sphere.

This album how­ever fea­tured too many attempts to sound cur­rent. As men­tioned before Fiasco’s music and style is already unique. It nev­er ever fit­ted what was ‘cur­rent’, so why start now? This album was a nice dis­play of his abil­ity to spit the same as his new age com­pet­it­ors, but the point is he doesn’t have to. He had made Trap singles on the pre­vi­ous album that still had a Lupe edge rather than attempt­ing to copy a sound. This attempt was suc­cess­ful but who wants a copy? Espe­cially when one has the expert­ise to take it fur­ther (which he does dis­play at times on the album).

Over­all the album is good and worth listen­ing to because the tracks that work are music­al per­fec­tion how­ever this is not an album that I can per­son­ally listen all the way through (the first of his albums that this has happened, as there’s not enough con­sist­ency). The ideas are bold and cour­ageous but con­sid­er­ing that this is the first of a tri­logy, I would have looked at may­be pla­cing cer­tain tracks dif­fer­ently in order to be more coher­ent. Nev­er­the­less, I am excited for the oth­er two albums, purely because this one hasn’t alluded at all to what the oth­ers may be. Lupe Fiasco is an incred­ible artist and a risk taker and this album, if any­thing, proves that.

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Set for release on 10th Feb­ru­ary 2017, it will be the first album Lupe releases on his own label, 1st & 15th/Thirty Tigers.

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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.