It doesn’t take much to make a superstar these days, and Lupe Fiasco is proof. Even before his debut album Food & Liquor came out, Fiasco’s name was on everyone’s lips, crowned the next great emcee by gangsta rappers and backpackers alike. While the debut was good, the stories of his genius seemed somewhat exaggerated. On his second release, though, Fiasco delivers a stunning followup that’s truly worthy of the hype.
Throughout The Cool, Fiasco’s delivery harkens back to the glory days of A Tribe Called Quest. There’s always been a little bit of Q-Tip’s nasal delivery in Fiasco’s flow, and on The Cool, he’s mastered Tip’s ability to rap with the relaxed beats rather than against them. Primary producer Soundtrakk provides a perfect musical backdrop for Fiasco’s varying moods, experimenting with piano and string arrangements.
Fiasco’s sophomore effort is highly ambitious, as if he felt the need to make up for something missing on his debut. He covers an incredible amount of emotional ground, going from jubilant (“Paris, Tokyo,” “Hi-Definition”) to cynical (“Dumb it Down”), to troubled (“Gotta Eat,” “Little Weapon”). The key word throughout all of it is effortless. Fiasco raps a mile a minute, but sounds completely at ease throughout, referencing everything from Ichabod Crane to Adam Sandler.
“Superstar” finds guest Matthew Santos doing his best Chris Martin impression while challenging Fiasco to address his newfound fame. Fiasco responds with ease, incorporating such wordplay as “trying to cash his microphone check, one-two, one-two.” Even songs with less than promising titles, like “Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” turn out better than you can imagine.
Although The Cool doesn’t always flow thematically, and at times the album can simply be too much to take in at once, Fiasco’s delivery is so calm that he lends the album a certain buoyancy. His intelligent and measured lyrics lend a much-needed shot of wit to modern hip hop.