The Cool

Fifty years ago, Miles Davis announced the "birth of the cool." Lupe Fiasco anchors his new album in the declaration, "I present the death of tha cool" — showing all the artistic ambition and cold-eyed moralism that makes him such a fascinating hip-hop figure. This skateboarding Muslim from Chicago won fans right off with his 2005 debut Food and Liquor, even if it turned out he was pro the former, con the latter. The Cool goesfor softer, jazzier R&B hooks, yet the lyrics are even tougher in their street-level attack on hip-hop materialism. In "Hello Goodbye," Lupe condemns rap for "The faith/That being a slave is so great"; "Little Weapons" (produced by Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump — no, really) links young hip-hop fans and video gamers to Third World child soldiers. The bleak raps clash with the smoothed-out vibe of the music, maybe more than they're even supposed to, and some of the tracks fall short. But there's no denying the theme song "Let Me Put You on Game." Lupe speaks in the voice of the ultimate con man — a drug dealer, a slave trader, a politician and a rapper — who leads you on a tour of his evil empire from America to Africa, "through the back alleys and black markets/The Oval Offices,crackhouses and apartments." It's a scary sound.