When Lupe Fiasco came out with the title of this album, I thought of three things. One: the original Food and Liquor was amazing, and putting the title on this album SHOULD force him to elevate his game to that level once more. And Two: how much balls does he have to call this The Great American Rap Album, especially when he called the President of the United States a terrorist. Third: this has got to be better that Lasers, the electronic heavy mess he put out last year.
So how does The Great American Rap Album stack up to my preconceptions? Well, it’s at least better than Lasers.
Lupe is always known for his forward thinking, socially consious raps, and he is very good at it on The Great American Rap Album. The album opens with “Ayesha Says,” the typical spoken word masterpiece that has opened his albums in the past. That leads into “Strange Fruition,” a slow boom-bap beat with some great strings hanging behind it, with Lupe rapping one of the most consistent pieces on the entire album. “Bitch Bad” is a very clever use of storytelling, taking the word bitch and twisting it into what guys and girls both think it means, and how it gets complicated when they grow up with each other. “Lamborgini Angels” took me a while before I could get into it, but after a few listens, you get what Lupe is rapping about; religion and what makes it crazy. Arguably the best on here “Audubon Ballroom” takes a rather roundabout approach to be a really inspiring, but really hits when the third verse hits. Seriously, this could be one of Lupe’s best songs he’s released period.
There are two major gripes with this album, however, that drags this album down hard. The first of which is it’s production choices. Even when Lupe goes deep into some of these tracks, the production limits it’s appeal. “Bad Bitch” is a great idea, but the “hard” beats behind it does it no favors. The outro “Hood Now” is lacking in lasting substance. Maybe because it’s the most repetitive track Lupe has ever released, but nothing here makes it acceptable. Probably the worst production on this album, and worst song in general, is “Heart Donor.” The digitally lowered voice of Lupe in the beginning makes him sound like Tyler, the Creator. And then the chorus comes in, distributing rainbows and lollipops throughout its entirety.
The second is the random, and almost useless features thrown onto some of these songs. Besides one song, the back end of the album is filled with sugary, soft, and ineffective choruses that leave me rolling my eyes. The awful chorus that opened the song “Heart Donor” made it almost an instant skip for me, only being made up by Lupe’s verses. “How Dare You” is a boring love song with a chorus that doesn’t really match what Lupe is saying. Even when Lupe tries to be grimy, like on “Brave Heart,” the features just doesn’t give it the push it needs to be relatively good. His best features happened years ago on The Cool, and they have never met that bar. Instead, just like on Lasers, it feels like the features are there just to be there, holding no substance whatsoever.
There’s a lyric in the song “ITAL (Roses)” that kind of sums up the frustration I felt while listening to this album: “I know you’re sayin’, “Lupe rappin’ ‘bout the same shit/Well, that’s ‘cause ain’t shit changed, bitch.” The Great American Rap Album is Lupe still throwing his ideology all over the place in very articulate verses, but over mediocre (at best) beats. The features doesn’t help anything on this album, as it makes his message – whatever that may be – to be incredibly sugar coated. I’d much rather hear Lupe do some spoken word album like the beginning of the album than rapping over too glossy trap beats. This is not as bad as Lasers, but it’s no where near its namesake.
Final Grade: C+
Go Download: Audubon Ballroom