For many fans, the first sign that Chicago MC Lupe Fiasco’s long-delayed debut album might be something special was the single “Kick, Push.” Over smooth, jazzy horn samples, Fiasco tells the story of a kid learning to ride a skateboard as a metaphor for struggling to find one’s way in life and love (“He said, ‘I would marry you/But I’m engaged to these aerials and varials/And I don’t think this board is strong enough to carry two’ “). It’s a creative, well-told tale that Pharrell wishes he could have written, and it sets expectations high.
Lupe exceeds them on Food & Liquor. Without dipping his toes into violent imagery, wanton obscenity or other hip-hop clichés, Fiasco reflects on the personal and the political, and reminds fans of everything hip-hop can be. It’s full of surprising, creative moments that recall Nas and Kanye West — the latter of whom gave Fiasco his biggest exposure as a guest on “Touch the Sky” and who produced one track here. “He Say She Say” details the woes of growing up without a father (“Asks me if his daddy was sick of us/’Cause you ain’t never pick him up”), set to swelling strings, and “Hurt Me Soul” describes the Muslim MC’s struggle to come to terms with hip-hop’s darker side (“I used to hate hip-hop, yup, because of the women degraded/But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it”). “Pressure” features a killer beat populated by stabbing piano, guitar and hawk squawks, plus a golden cameo from Jay-Z, who, amazingly, crossed label lines to executive-produce the project — an indication of how strongly Jigga feels about the kid. His faith is well-placed.