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The Statesman

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    Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool

    Last year, Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, in collaboration with 1st and 15th Records, released “Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool,” his sophomore record and a real return to form for the Chicago native. A full three months later, we as his audience are hard-pressed not to bob our heads to tracks like “Superstar,” even when records sales don’t reflect the superstar in the MC. Surprise, because there’s more than the implied glitz and glamour of a single. Here, the pen is mightier than the pimp cane.

    First, let it be said that Lu is nice with the pen, and here the pen is a razor-sharp paintbrush. “The Cool” is just shy of being labeled a full concept album, instead becoming more of a thematic commentary on the various ills of the industry and, especially, society at large.

    The Cool’s definition is two-fold; it is at once the story Lupe is telling and the tragic hero that sees his rise and fall within it. Fans of Fiasco already know who the Cool is. He is the same risen-from-the-dead rapper from the track of the same name in “Food ‘ Liquor.” Otherwise known as Michael Young History, he is seduced by the love of the streets and the promises of the game, the personifications of what, as Jaco sees it, captures the hearts of every young hustler wanting more than a street corner.

    The Cool is the drug that we chase that brings empires down, said best by Iesha Jaco in the first track of the album, “Baba Says Cool for Thought.” Her poem sets the stage for Fiasco’s storytelling, but not before 1st and 15th cries out for the freedom of their friend Charles “Chilly” Patton in “Free Chilly.”

    Wasting no time, Lupe bursts onstage with his rapid-fire and, arguably, Twista-like “Go-Go Gadget Flow.” For him, it’s business as usual as he proclaims, “I am still a raisin in the sun raging against the machine.”

    “The Coolest,” one of the darker tracks on the album, wherein Lupe chants “The Coolest ni**a, what?” over a dirge-like melody, introduces us to the man known as the Cool before his demise. The man that tasted his dreams in the embrace of the Streets while leaving behind what mattered.

    “Superstar” bears Lupe’s first criticism of the music industry. Accompanied by the stellar Matthew Santos and the cheering of a distant crowd, Jaco raps about fame and fortune in the fast-lane at the cost of one’s soul. Ironically, it’s no wonder this was his first single from the album.

    A favorite track is definitely in “Paris, Tokyo.” On perhaps the most laid-back record Soundtrakk has produced, Lupe takes a break from preaching, takes a seat back, and rhymes about finding love as a globetrotting artist. His flow is fluid up to the last bar, and the refrain is pure poetry.

    “Hi-Definition” and “Gold Watch” both express something Lupe has always been about: being the best at being himself. Both are lyrically top-notch and will have you nodding your head. Snoop Dogg even graces the former with some good lines. At this point, this album shifts gears and sees Lupe become a storyteller and master of the metaphor. “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” (a brand new single) tells the story of a struggling rapper trying to make his way off the streets. The image is as vivid one, and it seems to tell the story of so manner aspiring artists who want to make it these days.

    Social commentary abounds as we hit the second half of the album. “Ntruder Alert” juxtaposes an abusive relationship with immigration. The Streets shows her true colors as a force for evil “Streets On Fire,” while Matthew Santos and Lupe show that any collaboration of theirs leads to brilliance. Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump accompanies our crusader in “Little Weapon,” where the gun that shed blood at Columbine is the same gun that sheds blood in Africa and video games like Grand Theft Auto.

    “Gotta Eat,” although one of the weaker tracks on this effort, still sees some impressive wordplay. On this song, we’re introduced to an entirely new character, and his actions are related using the image of a cheeseburger. Now, this may sound silly, but at the same time it’s really clever, and Lupe already promises more of the same on his final studio release, LupEND. I suppose we can only wait and see.

    “Dumb It Down” is Lupe at his most self-righteous, as he pens his protest against the game that would have him dumb himself down for the sake of sales. Instead, he makes his most lyrically challenging track to date — seriously. Try sitting down to decipher his imagery in this one — while guest Gemstones plays the ignorant listener that can’t understand why he can’t rap about rims and whips. With the album entering it’s final act, Lupe ventures back into the darkness of the Cool.

    “Hello Goodbye” is, by far, the darkest this album, complete with distorted guitars and a dungeon-like quality to it. “The Die” is the dramatized death of the Cool. Here, Lupe and GemStones rapid-fire back and forth about what’s to come in a way that’s reminiscent of the Notorious B.I.G’s “Warning.” Gunshots ring out and fade into silence before we’re finally introduced the triumphant character of the Game in “Put You on Game.” Content with a new soul taken, he tells the audience precisely what the Cool is.

    With our story resolved, Lupe chooses to end the note on a hopeful note. “Fighters” plays like a prayer for those close to Jaco while Matthew Santos returns to ask what he’s rapping about. Finally, Lupe ends simply with an ode to the ladies that keep him going on “Go Baby.”

    Lupe Fiasco is an adept at weaving together morals and messages into a few lines of sharps lyrics, and with the aid of some great production, he turns “The Cool” into a vivid tour-de-force. And already he’s created continuity with his previous efforts — which means if you haven’t yet picked up 2005’s “Food ‘ Liquor,” you owe it to yourself to.

    Although he can seem too moralistic at times, he is certainly still the breath of fresh air he was three years ago. With one album to go and a full catalog of underground work, one hopes he can only get better.

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