A Kinder, Gentler Rap Triumph Emerges (Legally) at Last

Thugs and would-be thugs aren’t likely to spin Lupe Fiasco’s long-anticipated (and frequently delayed) debut more than once, but if you ever longed to seek solace in a gentler, string-drenched rap world, consider this disc your primer. Leaked on the Internet earlier this year, a scaled-down Food & Liquor met with immediate support, heralding a new hip-hop subgenre where plaintive confession, intricate brass arrangements, parables-cum-satires, and muted bass constitute mores rather than exceptions—you can forget about dispatches on the latest celebrity wars or rap’s wanly manufactured machismo that leads to fun stuff like “Got Ho’s?” T-shirts.

Instead, pile some Stevie Wonder on top of Horace Silver and Jurassic 5—as on “I Gotcha”—and you’ve an idea of how far Fiasco has extended rap’s orbit. As for that perpetual hip-hop debate as to whether an MC is better served by his beats or his words, the Chicago rapper is deft enough in both arenas that you could carry these lyrics around in your head for days—just try to forget even the brilliant two-syllable refrain to “Kick, Push”—while message boards light up with claims that hip-hop’s first truly great instrumental album lies embedded somewhere in all this.

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