Lupe Fiasco 'DROGAS Light' 1 Listen Album Review

While the content is respectable, Lupe's latest falls flat in execution.
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Lupe Fiasco is brilliant, controversial, and unpredictable. The last few years have been filled with the Chicago lyricist saying, rhyming and tweeting thoughts that have sent shockwaves rippling through the internet. He walks the thin line of being intriguing and off-putting, the power of his words have continued to be a gift and curse. Music is what makes him such a magnetizing figure, each retirement announcement is met with a wave of discontent, and every album proclamation is greeted by thunderous applause.

Some might say Lupe doesn’t have it anymore, that his quill has run out of ink, but one listen to the lyrical performance delivered on “Mural” is enough to silence any naysayers. What he does with words is nothing short of Olympic gold acrobatics. It is that Lupe whom fans believe in, fans look to, and fans hope for. It's the Lupe I'm hoping for. 

Lupe promised to release three albums in 2016: DROGAS, Roy and Skulls. Roy would become DROGAS Light, but it was simply a title—not one album surfaced by the year’s end. It was disappointing, another triple disc promise that failed to come to fruition. The uncertainty of when the albums would be released in full caused me to avoid the singles that would sporadically find their way onto the web. Pressing play would either get my hopes up or let me down, and I would rather not spend any more time on that emotional roller coaster.

So I waited, not knowing if it would be one album, three albums, or Lupe taking a serious stance on retiring. Without any warning, in true Lupe fashion, DROGAS Light has appeared in its entirety a day early, premiered through Billboard.

When asked about how DROGAS Light will compete with Tetsuo & Youth, Lupe explained that DROGAS Light "is 'a light' album in all respects. Musically, content, concepts, some of it is even freestyled. Easy breezy approach.” For Lupe to describe his album as “easy breezy” is far different than what tends to be expected from him. He is known for his complexities―an artist who creates labyrinths for listeners to live within. An “easy breezy” Lupe is one that I do not know, but I’m intrigued.

In usual 1 Listen review fashion I am going to listen from the first song until the last without stopping, pausing, fast-forwarding or rewinding. This could very well be the last year of Lupe Fiasco the rapper and I’m hoping his goodbye gifts will give us the same feeling as when he entered.

1. "Dopamine Lit (Intro)" 

Lupe Fiasco on a trap beat doing a Migos-esque intro is blowing my mind right now. He mumble rap flowed at the beginning. This might be the best or worst drug trip of my entire life. Am I on drugs? This has to be drugs. Wait, he’s actually floating. He’s like the cool uncle who gives you your first Playboy magazine when his sister isn’t looking. In typical Lupe fashion, he’s filling the verse with food for thought. This hook isn’t it. “Fame is a drug.” Did I just dab to a Lupe song? This is so unnatural. “Dopamine Lit” might be the most conscious trap song since Jay Electronica freestyled with Jay Z on “We Made It.” Ugh… My feelings are mixed. I get what he’s trying to do. There are bars—he’s definitely not lacking in wordplay—but it’s like he’s mocking trap music. Revisit worthy? …I think.

2. "NGL" (ft. Ty Dolla $ign)

When Ty Dolla made a name for himself through "Next to It," I never expected him to be a frequent Lupe collaborator but he’s been on the last two albums. He’s like Lupe's new GemStones. Lupe does sound alive, energized. Another trap-esque beat, but this one sounds far more generic. Too generic. I believe this song is about drug dealers and why “niggas gonna lose” at the end. He mentioned Scarface's death and questions why people want to be like him. This is strangely disheartening. Lupe has never been the most inspiring, but this is rather brutal. Heavy preaching. I do like Ty Dolla harmonizing the bars. Man, this beat is bad. I’m intrigued by the point that Lupe is making, but it sounds preachy. Just mentioned marijuana legalization. Willie Lynch mentioned on a trap song… For there to be winners there has to be loser. I like this, kinda. The beat is bad, so bad. The message is heavy, but he isn’t wrong. There’s only one place selling drugs will send you.

3. "Promise" 

I’m not really sure how to feel at this point. So far the content hasn’t been very light, and the production hasn’t been very good, but I like how alive Lupe is rapping. I’m at least awake. THIS IS UNCANNY HEARING LUPE RAP LIKE HE’S A TRAP RAPPER FROM NORTH ATLANTA. HE’s A 'DAT WAY' AWAY FROM BEING A MIGO. This is strange. I feel like I’m in some twilight zone. This doesn’t even sound like Lupe. This beat is catchy, but hearing Lupe act like Young Scooter’s long lost cousin is causing me to question if I’ve entered an alternative reality. Lupe rapping about his choppers. If he truly squashed his beef with Chief Keef this would be a solid feature for him. No, this definitely isn’t Lupe Fiasco. He should just drop the Lupe and call himself Ferrari Fiasco, that’s a far better trap rapper name. Okay, this last verse has some bounce. This song is long, so long. First Big Sean goes Drake, then Lupe goes Future, I swear if Kendrick sounds like A$AP Rocky on his next album I’ll quit music journalism and dedicate my writing career to reviewing strip clubs.

4. "Made in the USA" (ft. Bianca Sings)

THIS IS A DRILL RAP RECORD. I REPEAT, THIS IS A DRILL SONG. There’s gun sounds, the flow, the aggressive hi-hats, I DON’T WANT THIS. I DON’T WANT THIS AT ALL. It’s so strange, I feel like Ferrari Fiasco hitting us with a parody album like Ab-Soul tried to do with These Days... He’s talking about the Klan, lean, and police brutality. I can’t truly grasp what’s happening. This is conscious drill music. The idea is... Interesting. He’s traveling the United States and highlighting what came from specific locations. I don’t like this, but I don’t hate this. I don’t know what to believe. LUPE MADE A DRILL SONG IN 2017 ABOUT WHAT'S MADE IN THE USA AND I NEED SOMEONE TO TELL ME HOW WE GOT HERE. Feels like the Falcons lost the Super Bowl all over again.

5. "Jump" (ft. Gizzle)

Okay, Okay.. this sounds good. A cool little sample loop, a cool little flow, heavy bass just brought a nice, needed bang. Lupe got stripper claps in the back, I might make it rain Bible scriptures if this came on in the strip club. I like this flow, the storytelling is strong. This beat is the polar opposite of everything I expect from Lupe. “From a trapper to a rapper.” See, my problem is Ferrari went with his producers instead of going after the trap kids. Where’s Metro? Where’s Chop? Where’s TM88? Okay, I like this. There’s a dope story being told. I've never heard storytelling like this on this kind of beat. A gap-bridger. I will say Lupe has changed my mind on what you can do with a trap record. This is as unnatural as seeing your father in the strip club, but I guess weirder things are possible. Did Gizzle just mention alien pussy? Did we just reach peak weird? Can this album get any stranger? We are officially in the upside down. How did we leave the earth? When did we go from trapping to rapping to intergalactic relationships. Time jumping? This is an episode of Black Mirror. Booty butt claps to end it. I don’t know man.

6. "City of the Year" (ft. Rondo)

LUPE SINGING IN AUTO-TUNE. I hate myself for nodding my head. The first real trap beat that feels authentic, like it came from the east side of Decatur. I will say, Lupe’s rap approach is far less intricate. There’s some bars, but he’s talking more so about his surroundings. This is strange. Kind of terrible, but kind of tolerable. He seems like a SoundCloud rapper. Rondo, I thought it was the basketball player. No disrespect but Lupe didn’t even get the well-known trap rappers. But I do kinda like this. The melody and the bounce, the beat is a little lackluster but it didn’t make me cringe like some of the previous songs. If a rapper from Atlanta had this it would be a hit.

7. "High (Interlude)" (ft. Simon Sayz)

This voice sounds like Chuckie Finster singing in Auto-Tune. This song is called "High," but the voice actually sounds like she’s been facing blunts filled with helium. The song went full house/EDM before Lupe came out of nowhere. Lupe’s verse was okay, but this hook is taking me to a very dark place. Honestly, the songwriting sounds like it wouldn’t be bad. But this voice, this animated character needs to stop. The EDM switch also feels forced. Also, aren’t interludes suppose to be short? I don’t want any interlude that’s longer than a minute and some change. You can tell where Lupe freestyles, but the Lil Duval line made me chuckle. Sigh, man, oh man. This is madness, madness I tell ya.

8. "Tranquillo" (ft. Rick Ross & Big K.R.I.T.)

I just sent out a tweet asking for someone to save me, no one will come sadly. This one is starting slow, the first song to have a build-up. Okay, there’s a bit of knock here. Lupe sounds focused, I see why this was a single. SAT words are being used, this is the Lupe I’m used to. Lupe said he got kilo by the kilos, and he’s not talking about work but worth. He’s trying to make a kilo equate to his self-respect. This is peak Lupe. ROZAY. I love Rick Ross, he may let me down, but he’s forever consistent with the bragging. Lupe’s hook is so cringeworthy. I can get behind the sentiment, the message about self-worth, but trying to use trap terminology is flatter than a tire stabbed by a samurai. K.R.I.T. is floating. This doesn’t seem to fit him well, but I’m not mad at it. This album definitely has a positive-esque message. He’s trying to use today’s language to send a message. But man, it’s not reaching me at all. AND WHY ARE THESE BEATS SO LACKLUSTER?

9. "Kill" (ft. Ty Dolla $ign & Victoria Monet)

Another Ty$ feature. I do like them together. Their “Delivery” record was great. Astronauts and alcohol, satellites and strippers. This beat is… strange. It feels like being submerged in jam, not the good jam, but the generic kind that’s just called "JAM.” Ty Dolla might sound the most natural on this entire album. He has a really good tone, you can always hear the touch of Hennessy and OG Kush on his vocal chords. This is an intergalactic stripper record. It’s the kind of strange song you’d be inspired to make if you did shrooms in Magic City. When did Lupe become a strip club aficionado? Has he been staying in Atlanta? The double-time flow he used would’ve been dope on one of these other trap songs. I like this hook. This song is just long enough that it’ll grow on you if you don’t cut it off immediately. I’m really vibing. If there’s a keeper on this album, this is the one. Infectious, strange, but it has a very pleasant sound. What are strip clubs like in Chicago? Chief Keef never rapped about them. Kanye never rapped about them. Twista…. maybe, I’m not sure. Wait…what’s happening now? A new vocalist, the song stripped down, church organs. He just went collection plate. This is the pseudo-intellectualism that only Lupe would pull off. WE GOING TO CHURCH. NOOOO WAY. This is so bafflingly amazing.

10. "Law" (ft. Simon Sayz)

Seriously. Someone tell me what is going on. I’m still in a state of shock how he made the smoothest transition from the strip club on Saturday to church on Sunday. Another beat that wouldn’t make you do a double-take. Lupe with a slower flow, a bit more poetic. Is this a Lupe love song? I feel like he doesn’t have any. Why can’t we get him back with Matthew Santos? This vocalist is like if Bobby V never made it. I wish Z would’ve let me do this review with memes. I’m out of words. The thing is, I know there’s a concept here, a bigger point, a message I’m supposed to be receiving. Lupe is being very frank about the world and circumstance in America. Black America. But it’s almost like he’s trying to make a point by mocking today’s sound. Make it stop.

11. "Pick Up the Phone" 

Oh, this is different. Sounds like violin riffs. This one won’t be a trap song. An EDM bassline? This is far more Lasers than Food & Liquor. But LUPE IS RAPPING. LIKE ACTUALLY RAPPING. This is the Lupe I KNOW. Eh, this hook. This is definitely more of a house-rap song. Who gave Lupe this Macklemore hook and beat? Extended metaphors, thank God. If I could get this over something jazzy I would love it. Lyrically, Lupe is giving me all I wanted from this album. It’s like a nice house in a terrible neighborhood. This song was definitely recorded prior to the rest of this project. Rap wise he doesn’t even sound the same. More Lupe than Ferrari. Loving the string section at the end. This is heavenly. True light! If you're wondering, Young Thug "Pick Up The Phone">>>>>

12. "It's Not Design" (ft. Salim)

Such a long album. I feel like I'm on an island hoping someone will save me. A retro dance-esque production. A strange little bounce. The singer is trying to add some soul to the hook, but this is super strange. Is Lupe having an identity crisis? Wait, he’s talking about designer clothes. THESE ARE GOOD IDEAS WITH QUESTIONABLE EXECUTIONS. This is like trying to put James Baldwin quotes in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. This isn’t the worst song, though, I can see this having some replay value. The bounce is there, the singer on the hook isn’t terrible, and Lupe isn’t intolerable. But you can tell this isn’t natural for him. It doesn’t sound natural at all.

13. "Wild Child" (ft. Jake Torrey)

Strange, the album took a weird turn. The trap elements have been peeled back, and it’s a bit more pop now. Okay, I like this. Hard drums and they sound live. The first verse was strong, but I’m not completely sold on this hook. Who is playing the guitar? “Underground style should’ve came out on Stones Throw.” Yeah, Lupe finally gave me something to sorta enjoy. Production seems so forced. I'd much rather Lupe just went jazz instead of a rock/pop foundation. Where is he finding these singers? I’m happy that new guys are getting shine, but I’m not blown away. Stripped-down claps and Lupe harmonizing. Better than you think.

14. "More Than My Heart" (ft. Rxmn & Salim)

Final song. The rescue crew has finally found me. I hate that it gets far more Lupe at the end. A song dedicated to his mom. This is good. Still has trap elements but you can feel it. Well, until that mid-section with the harmonizing. A dedication to all mothers in the second verse. Wale just called me, today has been random. The tribute to mothers is cool, the keys are bouncing, the drums are kicking, and I’m sure there was an electric guitar in there that was pretty dope. A solid close.

My analogy about putting James Baldwin in Grand Theft Auto has been a lasting thought as I journeyed through the album. Lupe went trap, but not quite like Royce. Instead of bringing himself into the times, he allowed the current climate of rap to dictate the sound of his beats and the way he rhymed.

His entrance into trap doesn’t feel authentic, but it also isn’t a complete mockery—more of a mimic. He borrowed the lingo of today, the present sound, and the current flow, but he isn’t an artist of the moment and has never been. Food & Liquor and The Cool were not created with a sound attached to a time, hence why they transcend time. I’m not against the content, but I prefer when Lupe steps outside of the times, rather than living within the moment. DROGAS Light is sonically what you might expect from a new artist starting his music in 2017, someone named Ferrari Fiasco, but it isn’t what you expect from Lupe Fiasco.

As I said throughout the review, there’s a message attached to the music. He talks about problems with drugs, drug dealers, materialism, and other issues that are glorified in trap music. His approach reminds me of a history teacher using rap music to reach his students. There’s a chance his message will reach those that want something more from trap music, but only in the lyrics, as most of the beats are watered-down carbon copies.

The idea is solid, the concept is respectable, but the execution is where Lupe fails. A hard fail. Adding "consciousness" to trap music must be done correctly. A genre built on an authentic feeling cannot be delivered in a generic manner. DROGAS Light is weighed down by trying to free minds through a trap approach.

Lupe, just be yourself.

***

By Yoh, aka Ferrari Yoh, aka @Yoh31

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