What happened to Lupe Fiasco?
The Chicago MC has shown time and time again what brings him to the dance. His rap flow is impeccable, managing to link into everything between trap rap, rock, jazz rap, and Modest Mouse samples. His lyrics cover everything from the messages of hip-hop via overused slang or maturity through a love for skateboarding. He’s multi-faceted, flexible, and not afraid to mix things up. His varied tastes is also something that cripples him. He’s touched so many genres that he seems to get lost in mess. On top of that, his sometimes dives too deep into his own lyrical dexterity and loses himself without reaching a stronger conclusion. Though that might’ve also come from his struggle with record label, modern rap politics, and even the President of the United States. Or maybe even himself, considering how he can’t seem to settle on who he wants to be: Conscience wordsmith spouting truths to the masses to educated the youth, or trap rap guru flat out embarrassing himself?
Lupe still doesn’t seem to know, as evidence on his sixth studio album (and first for Sony) DROGAS Light. Supposedly the first installment in a trio of new albums and fresh off of his confusing retirement, DROGAS is 14 tracks of Lupe spinning his wheels in half-baked mergers of trap and stadium-ready hip-hop. Stuff like “Pick Up the Phone” is a boring “put your hands up” pop rap anthem that wouldn’t hype up karaoke night at your local Chili’s, while “It’s Not Design” and “Wild Child” sound like lost Jamiroquai cuts (admittedly, the latter holds up better than the former). Despite a solid beat from Soundtrakk, “Promise” is a weak parody of modern trap rap where Lupe sounds like he’s waking up from a nap and couldn’t be less interested in the song if he tried. Despite Lupe’s lyrical dexterity, he doesn’t blend well into other trap tracks like “Dopamine Lit (Intro)” and “Jump.” He does manage to bridge trap with stadium pop on “Made in the USA” but the production sounds muddled and doesn’t punch as hard as Lupe’s voice tries to.
Lupe thrives when he can ride a beat comfortably and make something outside of modern rap. Take “High (Interlude),” a pseudo-dubstep track where Fiasco fades in-and-out throughout and switches up his flow. There’s also some slow-burning R&B tracks like “Kill” with Ty Dolla $ign and the heartwarming “More Than My Heart,” a shoutout to all the moms in the world. “Tranquillo” works fine with its glittery beat by Floss & Flame, but Lupe gets outshined by his guests Rick Ross and Big K.R.I.T.
Lyrically, Lupe doesn’t seem to have much to say on DROGAS Light. Despite “Promise” being a supposed “parody” of modern rap, Lupe doesn’t even make it a funny or interesting one (“I ran through the paper, I ran through the paper (yeah)/I bought me Ferraris, I bought me some haters/More money more problems, more money more problems”). His usual lyrical quickness is ever present (“Cliqued all up, put it all on CD/Neutron don, but I prolly been a GD/God knows best, so he put me where he need me”) and his preachiness is still there (“Ayy, ayy, disproportionate convictions/Especially when it come to our case (our case)/You seen the movie, they killed the nigga/Why you still wanna be like Scarface?”). But he seems to either repeat himself (“Peace, no material possessions shall cloud my judgement/As I reach, in an ethereal direction to provide my substance/Love is not found but resides insides me, I manifest this/I will respect myself and wear serenity as my necklace/I will replace what I take and have tranquility as my breakfast”) or don’t go too deep (“I don’t wanna be here by myself/But I’m just like you, and you don’t wanna be by yourself”).
It makes sense that DROGAS Light was meant as a collection of Lupe’s current taste for trap and unreleased cuts from previous albums, but it feels like two unfinished albums shoved into each other. The trap tracks are boring, the pop tracks are schmaltzy, and Lupe sounds like he’s doing this out of obligation rather than purpose.