Ten Years Later: A Look Back at @LupeFiasco's Food & Liquor

September 19th, 2006.

I was a college student at the University of Maryland, in possession of my first iPod (an iPod with a busted screen that, somehow, still plays music, movies and videos to this very day) and my first debit card. Perusing through the then-burgeoning iTunes Store, I found exactly what I was looking for that Tuesday: Lupe Fiasco's debut album Food & Liquor, a sixteen-track (20, if you count the bonus tracks from the 5th Anniversary Edition) masterpiece from the Chicago native. I had expectations for Fiasco. I wanted him to take the world by its throat, yell in its face with his lyricism and storytelling, and proclaim why he was one of the best new artists to grace the planet.

Somehow, even with that in mind, Food & Liquor blew my, and many other listeners and critics', lofty expectations out of the water. Sure, I debate with friends over whether it or The Cool is Lupe's best album, to this very day. But, F&L caught my attention, never let it go, and just gave me a classic album I could play walking to SOCY 105 or to Easton Hall to hang with Drizzle Sez (yes, the Profound Assholes thing goes deep). Ten years later, does Food & Liquor hold up? Or does it fall victim to my youthful naivety that also thought that MIMS and Board Bangers would rap about something other than why they (or the beat) were "hot" after a while and have fruitful careers?


The album begins with a spoken word piece from Lupe's sister Ayesha. When you get an Ayesha Jaco poem at the beginning of your project, you know you're in for something epic, something unlike anything you'd experienced before. It's just something about her conviction, her way to twist words like her brother, that says "you're going to listen to this, see for yourself the craziness we live in, and want to make a change." Lupe then drops in and explains the philosophy of the album: the evils and excellences within our society. Neither sibling overstays their welcome on the intro, which leads beautifully into "Real."

"Real," produced by Soundtrakk and utilizing a DITC sample (Harvey Mason's "How Does It Feel," a post-disco funk song that's great in its own right), further sets the mood for the album. We're going to get that "real," but not the real as perpetuated by the mainstream. We're going to see the hurt, the fact that the mainstream's perception of real brings about that hurt. We're going to get something we can really feel mentally and spiritually, perhaps even learn from. Man, this is going to be a fun review, mainly because (as I've mentioned) this is one of my favorite albums of all-time.

"Just Might Be OK" is needed right after "Real." It acknowledges that, while the situation we find ourselves in may not be ideal, if we combat the vices, we might make it out. It's optimistic, but still realistic. You're also given vocals from Gemstones/Gemini. His voice gives the listener that soul so often missing on tracks like this. Also, Lupe's verses are greatness. His flow is perfect for this track, emphasizing the highlights of the track while still letting listeners get a view into his mindset and his desire to enact change. Additionally, we're given a healthy dose of Lupe's storytelling ability.

Now, this may come as a surprise. But, I'm not the biggest "Kick, Push" fan.

I love the story. However, and it may be because it was overplayed in some ways, it's a track that I'm not the biggest fan of. I love it, but I still can find myself skipping over it at times. The song is still great, especially because of its intricate-but-laid-back nature. It, as Lu's first big single, fulfills its purpose. I'm more a fan of its sequel, "Kick, Push II," but that's just a personal choice. More on that later, though. Let's get back into the rest of the album.

"I Gotcha" features production from The Neptunes and allows Lupe to have a bit more fun, a la a De La Soul or ATCQ. Plus, the video is full-on nerdgasm, hip-hop and otherwise. Even within this "fluffy" track, we're given some dark moments that showcase the dangers within Chicago and the world as a whole.

This track shines for me because, while it's got all the makings of a radio single, it's still Lupe through and through. That's one of the highlights of listening to a Lupe Fiasco song. Even when he's making "radio-friendly" tracks, he's still, 9.9 times out of 10, being himself (except for the missteps on the LASERS album. That may be a WIRTB in the making). From the bouncy "I Gotcha," we then head into some darker territory with "The Instrumental."

"The Instrumental" introduces the idea of boxes (mainly TV) that's discussed further in "Daydreamin'." The Mike Shinoda-produced track features Lu telling the story of people who've become addicted to television, electronic media, and so on. It's crazy to think about this track ten years later, as everyone and their mom's become active on social media. Sure, Pokemon Go has allowed people to actually go out and converse while being on social media. But, that's one of the rare exceptions. If I had a quarter for every time someone stopped me and said "Speed, was [insert show/movie/album] really that bad?," I'd have enough money to buy a couple Team DAR albums (shameless plug).

I love the story within "He Say She Say." Within the track, Lupe, Gemstones, and Sarah Green portray a family that's been splintered because, well, the father was a dickhole. And because said father was a dickhole, his kid's questioning if the family broke up and whatnot because of him. As a dad who almost went through something similar with my kids, I relate to this track and it hits home. 

You want to break that cycle if you and your children's parent break up or whatever, but the kids? If there's negative energy? All they see and hear are parents going back and forth about the other and they're just left to try and process that. It's heartbreaking and this track, if you have kids with someone, should make you stop and say "hey, lemme make sure this child is taken care of emotionally, mentally, physically, and gets to experience both parents." 

Lyrically, Lupe, in the role of the mother and the child, excels. 

Now, I always felt that the "Daydreamin'" video should've been in anime form. Probably would've been too on the nose, but I always had the vision of the robot being composed of the parts of the environment (a la the "walking project building" Lu mentions in the first verse). Nevertheless, Daydreamin' succeeds in its approach of showcasing the ills of society and the innocence that still exists (such as the children and babies referenced).

These innocent creatures and moments, they're always at risk of being corrupted by the fact the mainstream's making cocaine cool, the "titties closer to the 22s" and the champagne. However, for us to prosper, we've got to get rid of those ills. By focusing more on the innocence still in our society, we can foster growth. The ills are there, and you can't completely ignore them, but you've got to do your best to avoid them. That's part of my analysis on the track. I could be wrong.

The track goes. Aided by the lovely Jill Scott on the hook, the I Monster-sampling track is just beautiful. It's haunting as hell, too. Considering the dreamy atmosphere brought through the sample and Scott's vocals contrasted with the images Lupe conjures up, you can't help but analyze and take this song in. It leads you into this pretty sick sample rabbit hole. I'm always for sample rabbit holes. They're so delicious and this one showcases Lupe's ear for having his producers dig all the way into the crates and pull out beautiful music.

Lupe continues this beautiful darkness into the Kanye West-produced "The Cool." Again, I won't go in-depth about Michael Young History's story. I won't go too much into the mystique of The Cool, as much as I want to. I'll just say that, if you want to understand Lupe's mindstate and critiques on modern culture, this is a great place to start.

"Hurt Me Soul" is classic. It's profound. It's one of those tracks you need to just vibe with. Speaking on the complexities and dualities of loving hip-hop (and loving the world, even when it's on some other stuff), Lupe delivers a track that's one of the pinnacles of Lupe's storytelling ability (to me). The first two verses' have Lupe discussing his aims to love rap and use it as a tool, even though it tells him to call women "bitches" and hustle hard by any means to stack that cheese (The Cool was a great album, too). As artists and fans--and just as people, in general--it's something that we all have to go through.

We love our mama, but we're quick to call a woman who wronged us a "hoe" or a "bitch" or what have you. We love our environment, but some of us continue to push poisons into said environment because that's what we were taught. Lu wants to break the chains that oppress his people, but knows that his weapon of choice is, at times, part of the "problem." That's not to blame hip-hop for all of society's ills, but it's something that needs to be said. Rap music does sometimes glorify foolishness without speaking on the negatives of said foolishness. Back to "Hurt Me Soul" as a piece of music, it's a track that you need in your wheelhouse if you consider yourself a Lupe fan (or just a fan of that so-called "real spit"). It's got bars, but it's not just for the sake of having bars, and the beat knocks--even though it's kind of a melancholy beat.

Even though "Hurt Me Soul" is so profound, so deep, "Pressure" is one of my favorite Lupe tracks (In case you haven't realized, the sequencing here is beautiful). It's one of my favorite hip-hop tracks of all-time. From the eagle screeches to the Thelma Houston sample, it just screams classic. Sure, we can argue our asses off about whether the unreleased, non-Jay version is better or not. But, I think we can all agree that the track is sick, either way. On the retail/album version, Lupe has an extended metaphor about his "jeans" and how they're meant to be the new standard in rap (and how you've still got to create your own style that isn't cookie cutter). 

Man, Lupe just straight rips this track with multis, metaphors, and just gives us a display of what it really means to drop bars that mean something. For real, Jay wasn't really needed on it. Even if this was one of Jay's best post-"retirement"/pre-Kingdom Come verses, you get the feeling that Lupe could've just snapped for another verse. But, I like the restraint shown by Lupe. Only give them 75%, get the Jay cosign, then follow this track with "American Terrorist" and "The Emperor's Soundtrack," two tracks that, for me, don't get the due they deserve (probably because they're right after "Pressure.")

"American Terrorist" is a product of its environment, just like "Hurt Me Soul" is a product of its environment. In a world where George Bush's policies towards terrorism still ran rampant, and a world where Osama was still alive, we were all on edge. I'm not saying we're not now. But, back then, it was a "fresher" concept, since we were attacked on American soil by extremists several times in the preceding years (OKC with McVeigh, 9/11, the 1993 WTC bombing, etc).

The extreme paranoia created from these incidents, like now with ISIS, police-involved shootings, and so on, led to a state that sometimes made us question our own country's dealings with these terrorists. I mean, America did create Gitmo in its most "memorable" state and the Abu Ghraib incident was an actual thing. You've got to look back at the racism and hatred America was founded on. I love America, but I know that it's got its skeletons. "American Terrorist" is Lupe's "America" (the Prince track from Around the World in a Day). It's dark but brightly presented, incredibly sardonic in its approach, and it captures the rebellious spirit so effectively. Additionally, it details how America has been pretty terroristic in its rise to prominence as well.

People who love Lupe but forget he's a political artist, they usually get fake offended by tracks like "American Terrorist." All I can say is "good for them. It's about time they got angry about the realities of our situations, even if it starts off as faux rage at an artist."

Anyway, we're in the homestretch and Lupe doesn't take his foot off the accelerator. Two more actual tracks left, and they're two which tie up the album quite nicely. First up? "The Emperor's Soundtrack."

If you need a song where you're given some of an artist's best work, a great piece of production behind it (aided by a UFO sample), and so many in-references that even the RapGenius folks have a hard time deciphering it (Lupe did the right thing by deciding to decipher his own lyrics, by the way), you'd have a hard time convincing me that this song isn't one of those. 

Potential dick-riding aside, this is one of my favorite Lupe songs, mainly because of the way the song is set up. It's non sequitur when you first look at it, just six or seven miniverses detailing different ways to not mess up in life/make the most out of life. That's not it. Each verse links up with the last to create a literal soundtrack to the life of Lupe, a soundscape to venture into and better oneself. On top of that, it's just a dope-ass song that people (myself included) are still trying to get to the core root of today.

Finally, we're left with an outro which features Lupe just giving shoutouts and praise to those who've been there before F&L became a thing. It's a nice capture of who made Lupe who he was when this album dropped, and who he became as a result of it. There's no actual rapping on it, like the intro, so it's just Lupe speaking for about twelve minutes on a myriad of folks who he felt the need to shout out.

So, does Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor hold up? Short answer, yes. Long answer? Yes, the album holds up. What type of single-celled organism are you to even question it. The production on the album holds up and still sounds as fresh as it did in 2006. Lupe's lyricism was years beyond what was expected for a first LP. Also, the story presented just kicks all sorts of ass. If you missed out on F&L the first time, check it out today in honor of the album's tenth anniversary. If you know it by heart, great, but still check it out one more time for old time's sake. If you're in the middle, still check it out.

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