Just say no to ‘DROGAS’
Owen Lane | Monday, February 27, 2017
Chicago-native Lupe Fiasco’s sixth album “DROGAS Light” has arrived, almost exactly two years after his middling effort “Tetsuo & Youth.”
Lupe Fiasco busted onto the rap scene more than 10 years ago with as much power and energy as any great rap rookie. “Food and Liquor” and “The Cool” are both excellent rap albums that showcase a truly talented MC. However, in the nine years since the release of the “The Cool,” Fiasco has stagnated artistically while retaining the more obnoxious elements of his music.
The opening track “Dopamine Lit (Intro)” opens with a catchy beat composed of a daunting, low-pitched echo and fast hi-hats. The hook on “Dopamine” proves to be a catchy, fun moment of self-awareness, which are all too rare for the painfully serious Fiasco. The nerdy Fiasco seamlessly incorporates Bilbo Baggins into the hook of a song about drugs. Unfortunately, the verses on “Dopamine” set a precedent of mostly derivative lyrics and boring rhymes.
On “Promise,” Lupe sings a sorry excuse for a hook that sounds more like an artificial union of Travis Scott and Drake. His verses are flat and repetitive. The next track, “Made in the USA (feat. Bianca Sings),” is an equally terrible song. Lupe’s forceful delivery suggests that he is delivering a very important message. Instead, Fiasco simply names (mostly illegal) objects and where they were made in America. This song could be about how crime is an inherent part of American society, or it could be an ode to the collage of American culture. “Made in the USA” is so mindless that I don’t think Lupe understands what this song is about any better than I do. The horrendous one-two punch of “Promise” and “Made in the USA” may make you want to quit the album after only four tracks, but the rest of “Drogas” offers a few fine moments.
“NGL (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)” is a decent track, aided a great deal by the Ty Dolla $ign feature, that flashes one of the album’s few moments of gritty poignancy. “Jump (feat. Gizzle)” is a combination of a pulsing, catchy, sample-based beat and skillful, hilarious storytelling. “More Than My Heart” is a genuine and touching reminder to love your mother. The song “Kill” features the best production and hook on the album, which make its airy seven minutes rather enjoyable.
My theory is that the trap production on some of “DROGAS Light” is meant to deflate the listener’s expectations, despite Lupe’s status as a talented wordsmith. I have difficulty justifying the album’s unoriginal production otherwise.
“Drogas” is tough because, despite its nice moments, Lupe does not let you enjoy something for even two minutes before he says something stupid to turn you off. Lupe deals with the same problem that has plagued him for the entirety of his career: He is a so-called “conscious rapper,” which means he is considered a relatively intelligent MC that eschews the violence, misogyny and vices that appear in rap music in favor of addressing social issues.
Nobody can fault Lupe for being smart, using unconventional storytelling techniques and pursuing a virtuous life. However, it is always painfully obvious that Lupe Fiasco understands his status as a conscious rapper. When Fiasco is spitting like he is rap music’s prophet, the listener feels lectured.
The absolute best artists, like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, do not only reveal their greatness: The strong give you their weakness in equal measure, and reveal how they fit into their artistic worldview. Lupe does not understand this. Lupe’s concern for the world is admirable, however, it is never clear how Lupe sees himself fitting into the world at which he often shakes his head. It all seems very impersonal and imprecise. Tracks like “Tranquillo” suffer because Lupe’s verses are dedicated to his new-age pursuit of self-improvement. There is nothing interesting in Lupe’s vows to, “Surround myself with nutrition, wholesomeness and true livin’/Use natural codes of conduct to remove schism when the rules missing.” At least Rick Ross shows up to save the day on that song.
For all but the die-hard Lupe fans out there, I’d say “Drogas” is a record that you are better off skipping.
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Album: “DROGAS Light”
Label: 1st & 15th Entertainment
Favorite Tracks: “Jump,” “Kill”
If you like: Macklemore, Common, Aesop Rock