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Old 02-22-2009, 08:03 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Lupe Fiasco - The Cool

Released December 18th 2007

01 Iesha Poem
02 Free Chilly
03 Go Go Gadget Flow
04 The Coolest
05 Superstar [ft. Mathew Santos]
06 Paris Tokyo
07 High Definition [ft. Snoop Dogg and Pooh Bear]
08 Little Weapons
09 Hip-Hop Saved My Life [ft. Nikki Jean]
10 Gold Watch
11 Street on Fire [ft. Matthew Santos]
12 Hello Goodbye
13 Gotta Eat
14 Dumb It Down [ft. Gemini and Graham Burris]
15 The Die [ft. Gemini]
16 Put You on Game
17 Fighters [ft. Matthew Santos]
18 Go Baby Go

Coming fifteen months after his stellar debut, Lupe Fiasco's second effort, The Cool is an album of some few contradictions. On the one hand it displays an evolution that I believe is essential to his growth as an artist, but it's probably the weaker album because of it. It's billed as a concept album but there's barely a narrative to be seen, it's sonically scattered and with only the loosest sense of thematic continuity.

We first met our titular character in his own song on F&L, a hustler wakes up in his coffin and digs his way out of the grave. He returns in a slightly more metaphysical form in this album, representing societies' pointless reaching for The Cool and the shallow hollowness of this goal. Much like Food and Liquor, The Cool opens with a spoken word poetry reading which states the message in a blatant and somewhat preachy form. But happily it only runs for forty seconds.
So the concept is sustained by the four or so songs which touch on The Cool's life, two other characters pop up from time to time, The Streets a feminine counterpart of The Cool and The Game, the patron saint of crime and corruption. And overall it works quite well as long as you didn't come into the album with false expectations.

Thematically, The Cool is a darker album than F&L but only by a few shades. Which is frustrating because it feels like he should have culled quite a lot of the lighter material and come up with an album that was much more precise in it's intention and with less filler. Paris Tokyo, a smooth jazzy number and Hi Definition form a pleasant but unspectacular duo early on and the closer, Go Baby should definitely have been tossed. But Go Go Gadget Flow, with it's pulsing violins and twista esque flow is very solid as is Gold Watch if the incessantly looped stuttering vocal sample doesn't drive you away.

Production wise, the music has been pared down considerably which I like, it places more emphasis on specific elements and creates a more focussed sound for each song, although he definitely hasn't lost his enthusiasm for some lush strings every now and then. I think this is the direction that Lupe should continue in.
But this has come at a high price, the hooks on The Cool are lacking. There's nothing that grabs you with the instant force of Daydreamin or Kick Push, and this is part of the reason a lot of the lighter tracks lack punch.

Lyrically though, Lupe has grown since Food and Liquor.

The first great track is The Coolest, which details the love affair between The Cool and The Streets over brooding piano keys and a surging choir on the chorus. The extended metaphor works well.
She would be my queen,
I could be her king
Together, she would make me cool
and we would both rule, forever,
And I would never feel pain
and never be without pleasure, ever, again

Next up is Superstar, the first single which is a personal account of Lupe coming into his success. It also establishes a strong parallel between Lupe's ascent and that of The Cool. Lupe is too intelligent to think he is outside of the rap game, searching for the cool whilst disdaining it and this self doubt runs throughout the song.
The audience ain't fazed
And they ain't gon' clap and they ain't gon' praise
They want everything back that they paid
Cuz they been waiting since ten to see the lights get dim

Hip Hop Saved My Life is the a standout track. Stories of rising up out of the ghetto are ubiquitous in rap, to the point of almost becoming a cliche. Lupe takes this and doesn't try to subvert it or do anything remotely original, he plays it dead straight and makes it work through the brilliance of his storytelling, sketching the large picture through the minutiae. He weaves a rhythmic flow over a sparse beat and keyboard arrangement.

This is the start of the album's strongest patch. Intruder Alert explores themes of isolation and escape through a junkie, rape victim and illegal immigrant. Streets on Fire depicts a Strand-esque pandemic, and displays a rather vicious side of The Streets as a character.

Little Weapon is another brilliant track, beginning with an a cappella verse which contrasts the different forms of child violence. An ominous monastic chant builds beneath a rolling marching drum. The second verse in particular is brilliant,
Now here comes the march of the boy brigade
A macabre parade of the toys he made
In Shammars and shades who look half his age
About half the size of the flags they wave
And Camouflage suits made to fit youths
Cause the ones off the dead soldiers hang a lil loose

The final verse derails the track a little, Lupe veers off course to address violence in video games, and trying to connect the two just saps the energy from any comment he was trying to make.

Dumb it Down rivals Hip Hop Saved My Life for best track on the album, it's nothing new for Lupe to attack the culture and mindset that surrounds rap but this is his most potent jab yet. Over a purring subterranean synth, Lupe spits an abstract stream of consciousness flow of chilling imagery with the central theme of gradually loosing his senses.
But I remember I'm not a listener or a seer so my windshield smear
Here, you steer, I really shouldn't be behind this, clearly cause my blindness
The windshield is minstrel, the whole grill is roadkill, so trill and so sincere.

From a purely lyrical standpoint this is the best thing Lupe has done.

Put you on Game concludes the conceptual part of the album, coming right after The Game seemingly murdered The Cool in The Die (mind you, that assumption is one big stretch), in a sense The Game is what The Cool becomes. Lyrically it's another hit for Lupe, no chorus just three minutes of Lupe revelling in his alter ego, and in it's last moments it delivers what is probably the defining statement of the album.
I am the safe haven for the rebel runaway and the resistor
The trusted misleader,
The number one defender,
And from a throne of their bones I rule,
These fools are my fuel
So I make them Cool

Sadly, this wont be remembered as Lupe's classic album, it fails on a lot of the same levels as F&L, most notably inconsistency. And although it looses some musical lustre when compared to it's predecessor it is ultimately a stronger album with more lyrical depth.

Last edited by Fruitonica; 02-26-2009 at 01:33 AM.
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Old 03-03-2009, 08:36 PM   #2 (permalink)
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homie homie homie...
nice review man I love this album almost as much as Food & Liquor.
It truly seems like you have an insight to music and therefore, the album itself.
Bottom line, do more reviews of good albums such as this and I'll remain a fan fsho!
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Old 03-03-2009, 08:49 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Old 03-17-2009, 12:49 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Doesn't really touch his first album, but then again that only had 4-5 good songs on it.
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Old 03-21-2009, 05:54 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Great review!
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Old 03-21-2009, 11:34 PM   #6 (permalink)
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good review, especially using the lyric as examples
Been making some new music lately, check it out

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Old 03-26-2009, 12:22 PM   #7 (permalink)
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i dont like lupe fiasco..i never liked his songs
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Old 03-26-2009, 12:27 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Great review. I love the big band feel on alot of his stuff, Food and Liquer is indeed the better of the 2
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