Not to be confused with Pepsi Max
Have you ever been on a hip hop music video on YouTube where the comment section is full of various fans politely discussing which of their rappers make their top 5? If you have you’ll notice that it’s anything but polite and that ‘your mom’ jokes seem to qualify as a legitimate form of argument there, but you’ll also notice a regularly occurring name that will crop up in a number of people’s list – that name is Lupe Fiasco.
Constantly stuck in the limbo between underground prodigy and mainstream marvel, the guy has forged quite the legacy with 5 albums behind this brand new one; DROGAS Light. He’s a figure that has been subject to both high praise and relentless criticism, and it’s an understatement to say he splits hip hop heads like the red sea. It’s perhaps ironic then that this LP is the epitome of that very philosophy.
Shortly after the release of DROGAS Light, Lupe took to Twitter to tweet one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen from a rapper this year – he reviewed his own album. Explaining the creative process behind the record and where it stands in his discography (while throwing in a subtle’masterpiece’ label for his last album), he went on to give it a 7/10. Take it as you will, but for me if any artist doesn’t have the utmost faith that their own project is at least a 9/10 then you have to question why it was released in the first place.
This isn’t evident from the first track however, as the intro ‘Dopamine Lit’ is a unrelenting trunk-rattling start to the experience. A ‘Formation’-like plucked melody and crisp hi hats would have you fooled into believing this album may be more banger-focused than his past efforts. It’s sad then that this turns out to be the best song of the track list, with everything after it not quite living up to its frenetic enjoy-ability. Not to say that it doesn’t try, as tracks like ‘Jump’ and ‘City of the Year’ give Lupe more credit in his instrumental choice and provide a purpose as more-than serviceable tracks to play in the background of a party.
There’s one underlying problem with this however, as Lupe himself has always been diagnosed with the curse of the conscious rapper. Labelled as what essentially boils down to a ‘wannabe revolutionary and preacher’, it’s something that will always be hard for the rapper to break away from – so when on ‘Made in the USA’ he says “Bad little bitch from Miami / Came from Cuba but here with family / When I speak that English, she don’t understand me / So I speak that, speak that, speak that Spanish” it just comes across as dumbed-down writing. This is even more jarring when he goes on to impress lyrically on a track like ‘Tranquillo’ with Rick Ross and Big K.R.I.T which features the enlightening”Love is not found but resides insides me, I manifest this / I will respect myself and wear serenity as my necklace / I will replace what I take and have tranquillity as my breakfast”.
In his Twitter review, Lupe says that DROGAS Light is a collection of tracks thrown together in order to prepare his fans for the main attraction coming later this year; DROGAS. This explains why the album as a whole feels like such a mixed bag, with the shift in quality and consistency appearing more apparent with every track. It’s staggering that a fantastic song like ‘Kill’ with its chopped up vocal clips and clean percussion trimmings is found on the same project that houses tracks like ‘High’ and ‘Pick Up the Phone’ – the latter being an especially painful pop/rap fusion featuring Eric Turner (remember? The guy who sung the chorus for Tinie Tempah’s ‘Written in the Stars?). It’s almost confusing making your way through the whole thing, as it often feels like one of those ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ albums with its constant inconsistency. Knowing that it’s an LP cobbled together by pieces from the vault makes it a little more understandable, but no more acceptable.
DROGAS Light might be one of the most polarising albums I’ve ever heard. Most of what the first two-thirds has to offer ranges from decent to superb, while the last third just wallows in its ‘wide’ appeal by portraying the most boring side Lupe has to offer. From banging beats and thoughtful lyricism to pieces that sound like they should be on the soundtrack of ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’, Lupe Fiasco’s 6th album has something for everyone – just not in the best of ways.