In junior year of high school, sitting in one of my classes, a friend dropped a CD on my desk. It was Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, not the retail version, but the leaked album that affectionately became known as Fahrenheit 1/15 Part IIII.
There was no explanation for the drop, just the simple instruction of, "Listen to it." So I did, and it changed my views on hip-hop from the moment that American Terrorist ended.
From there on out, I became infatuated with the genre and the artist who produced this revelation. Lupe was (or seemed to be, at least) an intelligent, well-read rapper, which was a foreign concept to me at the time. He was political, yet clever, with great metaphors and a penchant for imagery.
(Now, let me set this straight before you begin thinking too hard: I know there are/were other guys in the industry doing the same thing Lupe was doing at the time and before this point, but as a 16 year old kid who only listened to Zeppelin and Southern, this was like seeing boobs for the first time, but in music form.)
So, I dug a little deeper. Found some mixtapes of his, found out that he was basically put onto the scene by Kanye West and Jay-Z (also a major reason for me becoming an unabashed Kanye-stan), and came to find out that he was from Chicago, a place that I had no clue was a hotbed for hip-hop.
About a year later, The Cool came out. It was Lu's sophomore effort, and it wasn't expected to do much in terms of topping his first. Honestly, I find it better from start to finish. It's a concept album; the next chapter in the Michael Young saga. This is something that isn't very prominent in the hip-hop community, but worked in this format because there were still some very radio friendly songs sprinkled into the tracklist.
I still go back to The Cool from time to time and listen. It's basically the perfect crash course for someone trying to familiarize themselves with the brand of rap Lupe is pushing. The story-telling, the metaphors, and the broad theme aren't hard to grasp. The hooks and any chorus (or bridge) are atrocious, but that's one thing Lu could never get down. It's entry-level consciousness for the person who says they abhor the general themes of rap music.
After the second album, something happened. I'm not sure if it was just the beef with Atlantic Records, or if a mental switch was toggled, but Lupe Fiasco became public enemy #1 for the music industry and sound, logical thought.
My theory (stay with me here) is that Lupe Fiasco became obsessed with 24/7 cable news television and the over-saturation of political punditry and "truth," and it was all downhill from there.
In each of his next two albums, with tapes scattered in between, Lupe became a hyper-conscious monster. Lyrical content became less about telling a story, or conveying a message through indirect means, and more about hammering into your skull how the government is corrupt and that things are never what they seem. All semblance of creativity, or even the slightest gumption for wordplay was trumped by the need to have a voice of a crazy person heard from all sides of the spectrum.
There's no problem with a rapper, or any entertainer for that matter, wanting to be politically and socially aware. Nor, is there any issue with that person wanting to help spread that message. But when that particular person relies on that, and essentially morphs their career into one running gimmick, is when you become less of a Chuck D, and more of a leftist, right wing hybrid black version of Rush Limbaugh in a vacuum.
Lasers (which I bought for some god awful reason) and Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album (which so terribly un-ironic) are the last bastions of Lupe Fiasco's rap career, at least until Tetsuo & Youth comes out. They're the flag-bearing, battlecries that define who the man became after drowning his mind in the depths of overthinking everything.
In a time where news outlets and social media shape so much of the political landscape, rather than the actual political process, music is supposed to become a release for artists and listeners alike. Lupe proves that if you can tolerate the message on your television, then you sure as hell can listen to him babble for an hour about how Obama is a puppet and how the standards for women in today's society is worse than it was 150 years ago.
In less than a decade's time, Lupe Fiasco went from fresh and articulate, to overplayed and the rap equivalent of the pirate radio, basement dwelling Tea Party supporter. His career is as much of a false flag as his theories on life.