Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Label: 1st and 15th/Thirty Tigers
6. WAV Files
7. Down (feat. Nikki Jean)
8. Halie Selassie (feat. Nikki Jean)
11. Stronger (feat. Nikki Jean)
12. Sun God Sam & The California Drug Deals (feat. Nikki Jean)
18. Imagine (feat. Simon Sayz & Crystal Torres)
19. Stack That Cheese (feat. Nikki Jean)
20. Cripple (feat. Elena Pinderhughes)
21. King Nas
23. Happy Timbuck2 Day
Description: The trajectory of Lupe Fiasco’s career has been an interesting one. His first two albums, Food and Liquor and The Cool, are hailed as hip-hop classics, praised for their conscious approach to songwriting, intricate storytelling and rich wordplay. Yet, disputes with his label, Atlantic records, considerably hampered his next two releases and almost shelved his 2015 album, Tetsuo and Youth, entirely. For many, Tetsuo and Youth represented a return to form for Lupe, and many eagerly awaited its follow up, the long promised Drogas Wave.
In many ways, Drogas Wave is a passion project for Lupe. He’s been working on it for several years and always intended to release it after he had left Atlantic. Running just shy of 100 minutes, the album is loosely centered around a group of slaves (referred to as the Long Chains) aboard a slave ship that shipwrecks. They miraculously survive underwater and proceed to sink other slave ships. It sounds ridiculous, but buoyed by Lupe’s sharp pen, it somehow works.
There’s so much to unpack here. Every verse on this project is outstanding, and filled to the brim with impressive wordplay, double entendres and complex rhyme schemes. Standout lyrical moments include the entirety of“Drogas” being rapped in Spanish and the third verse of “WAV Files” listing off slave ships the Long Chains managed to sink.
Although the narrative involving the Long Chains only accounts for the first third of the album, it establishes reoccurring themes of both a literal and figurative slavery, self-emancipation and revisionism . For example, on “Imagine”, the slave ship narrative parallels Lupe’s own struggle to free himself of his record deal. “Alan Forever”and “Jonylah Forever”considers the lives Alan Kurdi and Jonylah Watkins would have lived were they not tragically killed. “Stack that Cheese” serves as a sequel to The Cool’s “Hip Hop Saved My Life”, continuing the story of a fictional rapper trying to make it. “Mural Jr.”, the spiritual successor to Tetsuo and Youth’s “Mural”, is an awe-inspiring display of technical rap prowess just like its predecessor.
The majority of the album is produced by longtime collaborator, Soundtrakk, and is quite good. The boom-bap and jazz flavored beats serve as the perfect backdrop for Lupe’s verses. Nikki Jean handles a handful of hooks on this project and her vocals do the material justice.
Overall, Lupe Fiasco delivered a fantastic Hip-Hop record. There are hooks here and there that miss the mark, “Down” being a prime example. Lupe still seems to have a strange fascination with Electronic/Hip-Hop fusions that just aren’t that great (“XO”). Finally, one does get the sense that the track list could have used some tightening but at 24 songs, the ratio of hits to misses is quite impressive.
Sounds Like: Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Saba
3. Manilla (5:27)
6. WAV Files (6:38)
12. Sun God Sam & The California Drug Deals (feat. Nikki Jean) (4:44)
19. Stack That Cheese (feat. Nikki Jean) (4:13)
21. King Nas (5:58)
24. Mural Jr. (5:13)
Reviewer’s Name: Phillip Belone
Date of Review: October 5, 2018