Anyone who knows me is very aware that my favourite MC is Lupe Fiasco. I’ve been a die-hard fan since the Fahrenheit mixtape series that predated his classic debut album, “Food And Liquor” and he is one of the reasons I rap today. My relationship with him as of late, however, has been somewhat strained, something I’m sure many of his fans can understand. While being undoubtedly one of hip-hop’s best lyricists, and one of the most inventive conceptual artists of the 2000’s his discography has been inconsistent. His troubles with Atlantic threw a serious spanner into the works of what could and should have been a flawless discography for an mc of his calibre and his last offering “Drogas Light” left me…incredibly disappointed.
So here we are with it’s follow up, Drogas Wave which upon its announcement caused me to openly state “Don’t let me down”. Let’s get the concept out the way; the Transatlantic slave trade, a slave ship sinks, the slaves fall to the bottom of the ocean but instead of drowning become aquatic beings. Some choose to walk back to Africa, others decide to stay under the ocean and fight to free their brethren from the horrors of the Middle Passage, they are known as the Long Chains. An intriguing concept to be sure. Coupled with an opening track, “In Case Of Typhoon” that references the 1840 painting by JMW Turner and the poem that accompanied it called ., “The Slave Ship” referring to the practice of throwing slaves overboard in case of a storm and this is clear Lupe is going to get pretty deep even for him.
With standout tracks expanding upon this such as “Manilla” a track littered with names of actual slave ships and referencing the currency of manillas with which slaves were purchased, “WAV files” which is a plea and cry of vexation to the stars, skies, trees and sea for facilitating the capture and kidnapping of the Africans and “Gold vs The Right Things To Do” this is a very dense narrative where many of the songs directly telling the story are pretty much 4 minutes long double entendre’s. This is Lupe flexing his talent for constructing wild stories that carry more each time you revisit them to the fullest. In fact…if I had to pick two songs that really embodied the alternate history approach Lupe takes to this album it would be “Alan Forever”, a song dedicated to the late Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old boy who died trying to gain entry to Canada with his family fleeing from Syria, washing up on a beach, someone I myself wrote about due to him being made a joke of by a magazine.
Lupe reimagined his life becoming an Olympic swimmer and going on to save a little boy from drowning thus saving himself and entering a cycle of immortality. This is also matched by “Jonylah Forever” a 6 month-year-old girl shot dead in Chicago who Lupe resurrected to become a doctor who saves another child from being shot. Now as if that’s not deep enough Lupe ties them both into the same alternate world by having them meet. The album also adds a little context to the saga of Michael Young History (study Food and Liquor and The Cool if this is lost upon you) by mentioning his own resurrection as “The Cool” was a darker version of what made the drowned slaves the Long-chains.
The majority of the concept is covered story-wise in the first third of the album. This is where one of my only real issues with the album becomes apparent. For the most part, I’ve always been able to praise Lupe for his all of his project’s coherency, a sense of unity sonically that made the songs flow into each other seamlessly. This isn’t the case on this album. Perhaps this was intentional; a narrative that took place hundreds of years ago wraps up, the consequences of that narrative explored further in modern day through songs such “XO” and it’s dealings with mental enslavement, “Sun God and The California Drug Deals”. Now this being said it doesn’t hurt the album too much but it does make it feel like something that could have been made a double release perhaps…part 1 and 2 kind of thing but hey why make anything simple like that?
The album links back to previous projects via the last third of the album with “Stack That Cheese” alluding to “Hip-hop Saved My Life” from “The Cool” and “Mural Jr” acting as both a sequel and prequel to the lyrical leviathan that was “Mural” from “Tetsuo and Youth” and rounds out with several tracks reminiscent of his earlier work which suits considering 2 of the last songs as Soundtrak productions.
This is a good album. A very complex, multi-layered one that quite frankly you will not understand even a dozen listens after but are we not used to expecting this from Lu by now? It’s arguably one of Lupe’s best concepts to date or perhaps simply joins onto his current best one (the saga of Michael Young History) while refining Lupe’s attempts at stepping into the trap drum driven arena, in fact, I’d say it’s his most diverse album in terms of production despite and maybe because of the coherency issue.
Lyrically it’s still another case of being a contender for best bar for bar offering of the year and while not every track hits without flaws (Down being a serious stick out for me, it basically sounds like Lupe tried to write a song for The Little Mermaid reboot) none of the tracks is glaringly bad. The whole project seems to be very much tied by a theme of resurrection and rebirth, from the Long-chains, to Alan and Jonylahs tribute to Dj Timbuk2 and perhaps even Lupe’s own rebirth now he’s completely free from Atlantic (kind of interesting that he also delivers a concept based on Transatlantic slavery while having freed himself from musical slavery under Atlantic Records, see “Imagine”) and much like resurrection itself to my mind is a long process but worth it in the end.
his is supposed to be the second in a trilogy comprising of “Drogas Light”, “Drogas Wave” and finally the upcoming “Skulls”, this is something that excites and unnerves me. Currently, he’s hit 1 out of 2, next up is the tiebreaker. Given his previous inconsistencies, the worry is indeed natural but I truly hope this album seeming very much like a very good return to form for Lu is going to spark a continuing upward trajectory. Of course the questions of “Is it on par with F&L, The Cool and T&Y” are going to be rife, my answer is it will take us quite sometime before we can honestly answer, it’s too dense, too long, too deep to be recognised as great as quickly as all those were but I’d bet it will be put in that same conversation, if not given honourable mentions.
All this aside, there is no debate Lupe has dropped a project capable of matching any album spoken about as Hip-hop’s album of the year as an independent artist and it’s damn long. This warrants support, we don’t get albums this well packed anymore never mind from independent artists and for all our complaints and apparent wishes for the “death” of mumble rap we really need to realise that comes not from complaints but the support of legitimate, bar for bar, technically proficient rapping. Regardless of your opinions of this album, it cannot be argued that it’s clear if nothing else some high-level spitting, so buy it, stream it, get the merch.
On that note, peace and much love to ya,
Until next time people.