Lupe Fiasco: Food and Liquor

On his debut album, a rapping Rumpelstiltskin spins style, social commentary, and skateboarding into hip-hop gold.

Lupe Fiasco

Food and Liquor

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2006-09-19
UK Release Date: 2006-09-25

Reviewing Lupe Fiasco's debut record, Food and Liquor, without mentioning Kanye West is nearly impossible. First, both rappers hail from the Chicago and write rhymes that draw from that city's spirit. Second, most listeners who recognize Fiasco will know the rapper from his guest appearance on West's hit single, "Touch the Sky". Finally, one has to look back to West's first album to find a debut with a cultural impact comparable to Fiasco's. When West delivered The College Dropout in 2004, he expanded hip-hop discourse to include themes such as career pressure, academic dissatisfaction, and medical procedures. Fiasco has again expanded rap's reach with Food and Liquor, one of the most eclectic and profound rap albums of the 21st century.

Fiasco's personality is, to say the least, atypical of a traditional rap star. He prefers a gold Casio watch to a diamond-studded timepiece. He is a devout Muslim. He loves skateboarding, and he holds four black belts in karate. On Food and Liquor, he brings all these traits to bear on his lyrics, which are consistently marked by sharp wit and unconventional insight.

Ever since hip-hop emerged as a commercial genre, critics have derided its often-blatant violence, disrespect, and misogyny. Food and Liquor is a perfect counter to the argument that such themes are universal in rap. Often, the malevolence that rappers convey through their music is merely a part of their posturing. In an industry where success is measured as much by street credibility as musical credentials, many hip-hop artists create personas that embody the idea of physical dominance as a means to empowerment. On Food and Liquor, Fiasco eschews such posturing, offering something that he says on the second track he hopes is "Real". Throughout the album, he challenges the notion that people empower themselves through violence, and he offers a worldview based on personal freedom and respect.

The first major highlight on Food and Liquor is the fourth track, "Kick, Push", which is also the album's first single. Superficially, this track is an ode to skateboarding, and, with all due respect to ILL Mitch, it is the finest example of its kind. Below the surface, though, Fiasco deals with universal themes of adolescence. The song follows the story of a boy whose skateboard takes him through major life events, which include meeting his girlfriend. As the protagonist grows up, he finds himself alienated from mainstream society by his passion for skating, and he takes refuge in his crew and in the freedom he finds whenever he decides to "Kick, push, coast". With his narrative, Fiasco shows how sincere passion can imbue ordinary events with extraordinary significance, and he provides a message of empowerment that transcends the subject matter of skateboarding.

Fiasco follows "Kick, Push" with the stellar "I Gotcha". On this track, he contrasts the "pimps", "macks", and "mobsters" of conventional rap with his own lyrics, which he characterizes as demonstrating "realness" and "freshness". On "Hurt Me Soul", he backs these words up, challenging the values common to many hip-hop songs. He shows a genuine conflict between idealism and hedonism with lines like " I used to hate hip-hop, yep, because the women degraded/ But Too $hort made me laugh. Like a hypocrite I played it". Fiasco exposes another brand of hypocrisy on "American Terrorist" when he reminds listeners that fundamentalism can always be dangerous, no matter what religion it supports.

Of course, none of Fiasco's rhymes or challenging insights would matter much if they weren't supported by the music or delivered by a capable rapper. Fortunately, Fiasco's rapping and production are rock solid. The emcee's cadence calls to mind the flow of Jay-Z, who was an executive producer for Food and Liquor. Fiasco is a solid rapper on his own right, though: he has strong presence on the mic, and he has no trouble wrapping his sharp tongue around his often-slippery lyrics. He is aided in efforts by some of the finest producers in the business and some notable guests. Jay-Z contributes rhymes to "Pressure", and Jill Scott adds a sultry vocal to the lazy "Daydreamin'". The Neptunes deliver the piano-infused beat on the aforementioned "I Gotcha", while Kanye West mans the production helm for "The Cool". In the end, the album is more introspective than exuberant, but its ruminations are consistently colorful and feature instruments ranging from distorted guitars to lush strings and smooth brass.

If one compares Fiasco's successes to those of his counterpart West, the results are mixed. On the one hand, Food and Liquor lacks a track with commercial power comparable to a single like "Gold Digger". On the other hand, it also lacks the less-than-stellar skits, and some of the rampant narcissism that sometimes slightly tarnish West's rap gold. Such comparisons, however, do little to demonstrate the true value of Food and Liquor. The album might not become a rap classic, but it is easily one of the best rap albums of 2006, and maybe one of the top records of any kind to appear this year. If anything, it is a bold statement from a lyricist who is already ahead of many established artists and still coming into his own as an a rapper. With more experience and time to hone his vision, Lupe Fiasco can only get better, and, if Food and Liquor is any indication, the sky's the limit for this brilliant young star.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.