Contending with Lupe Fiasco is no easy task. On his last album, “Lasers,” the cerebral rapper played fair-and-balanced by dissing Glenn Beck and Barack Obama while crafting an alternate ending to American slavery with stunning strangeness. Each album before “Lasers” had trouble in mind – lyrical or musical, drifting as Fiasco does into vampy, operatic prog-hop on occasion.
That’s Fiasco’s calling card: no single answer, no simple twist. To call his work heady and provocative is an understatement.
With zero connection to 2006’s debut, “Food & Liquor” (save for his usual cluster of wise rhymes), Fiasco goes about borrowing from hip-hop’s bible, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” for his incendiary “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free).” He connects Afghan civil strife with child rape so stirringly on the grippingly rhythmic “Lamborghini Angels” that it’s more of a graduate thesis than a rap attack. On “Audubon Ballroom,” the ghosts of Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes are vividly alive in the ferocious Fiasco as he cries out: “I rap black history/ you can only see my past if you fast/ forward.”
His music may drift and be wifty, but as a rapper, Lupe Fiasco is sniper-sharp.