Marketability has turned an average rapper named Lupe Fiasco into hip-hop’s next big thing, a Jay Z-and-Kanye West-approved piece of the future that wears glasses and rides skateboards and doesn’t push crack and things of the negative ilk. He’s soulful and sensitive, complex but entirely lovable, and we’re led to believe that such personality fodder is entirely suitable collateral for rap skills. More than one magazine has used the headline “Revenge of the Nerd,” and it was pathetic enough that I didn’t bother to read the stories.
Lupe’s supposed to be part of this rising crop of street-conscious emcees, corner-wise sages like Saigon and fellow Chicagoans Vakill, Naledge and Rhymefest. But whereas Saigon and Vakill come off less like mentors and more like older brothers, Lupe sounds more like a stoic piss-ant, the kid who tries to organize protest rallies despite being made fun of because he really believes in something. He really is a nerd.
This has little to do with his rappin’, so let’s go there. Lupe is not a good rapper. In fact, I’ve heard worse rappers, such as B.G., who are somewhat more interesting to listen to simply because they can hold a beat. Lupe is easily overpowered and sounds awash on darker soundscapes. On “Twilight Zone,” which jacks Nas’ murder-creepy “Thief’s Theme,” a weak delivery can’t do justice to the admittedly dope lyrics and fails to man-up to a monster of a track. Same thing happens with those Gorillaz take-offs: “Happy Industries,” which uses “Feel Good Inc.,” and “The Gorilla,” which borrows “Dirty Harry.” (Incidentally, the lighter funk in “Outty 5000,” done over Nas’ “Get Down,” fares much better.) The skateboard-ode first single, “Kick, Push,” is an underwhelming throwback that’s just annoying. Lupe’s also painfully nondescript. Case in point: Did you know Lupe was on Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky”? I did, too, but I couldn’t remember how his verse went until I heard it here.
On top of all this is DJ E. Nyce, who, as one of my interns keenly pointed out, totally ruins the tape’s flow with his hollowed-out shouting. In a way, it’s a perfect addition to what already feels like amateur hour er, hour and twenty minutes.
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