Food & Liquor

Artist: Lupe FiascoTitle: Food & LiquorRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Paine

One leaked album don't stop the show. After Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor (1st & 15th/Atlantic) was made illegally available several months ago, fans reacted with strong opinions, both championing and ridiculing Chicago's next MC. Endorsed by Kanye West and Jay-Z (who executive produces), the skateboarding rapper now brings an album that combines nutritious lyrics with the numbing appeal of the mainstream. Revisions were made, as many feared that like actualy food and liquor, Lupe's arrival had grown stale in waiting.

Vitamins have a long shelf-life. "Just Might Be OK" chronicles Lupe's rise to stardom, with lyrics and a chorus that still resonate to listeners battling any kind of oppression. The critics of Lupe's carbon-copy image to Pharrell will find affirmation in "Sunshine", a love ballad that has more lyrical substance than typically seen from Skateboard P, but utilizes a soundalike beat from Soundtrakk nonetheless. The actual Neptunes collaboration "I Gotcha" is a traffic jam of shorter, uninspired bars with a lackluster beat. However, "The Pressure", Lupe's collaboration with Jay-Z is the critical cosign that the bootleg lacked. Not unlike "Diamonds Are Forever", Jigga slides in to close an anthem of self-appreciation, a joining of the king with the prince of swagger. Perhaps the greatest reaction Lupe shows to the pitfall of the leak is "Kick, Push II". Under a different beat, Lupe recycles his chorus with a new connotation, which not only proves to be a fresh spin, but an inflammatorily street answer to those skeptical of the skater theme.

Unlike Rhymefest's debut earlier this year, production seems to be a secondary thought on Food & Liquor. In-house newcomers Soundtrakk and Prolyfic bless the album with half of its content, and most of its highlights. "The Emperor's Soundtrack" shines from Soundtrakk creating an evil drum and choral arrangement that Lupe matches with equally dark lyrics while Prolyfic reels in attention with "Just Might Be OK" and "Pressure". Kanye's contribution in "The Cool" is unlike previous beats. Faster but soft drums lead the way as synthesizers accent the dramatic epic of chasing acceptance. Whether it's a seven figure beat or an unheard of producer, the production succeeds in that Lupe matches the music almost perfectly with themes that go from dark to light, energetic to intimate.

As Ludacris already suggested in his own album title, food goes well with liquor. Though Lupe Fiasco's debut album lost critical buzz points, the album delivers the same punchy freshness that bootleg owners largely believed. This is an album that muddies the lines between street and conscious, something Common achieved so brilliantly with BE. Whether the masses choose to ingest sustenance or toxins remains to be seen, but Lupe has stocked the refrigerator with groceries in an era of fast-food Hip-Hop.