11 Things We Learned from Lupe Fiasco's 'Food & Liquor 2' Listening Session

11 Things We Learned from Lupe Fiasco's 'Food & Liquor 2' Listening Session

FUSE TV - 11 Things We Learned from Lupe Fiasco's 'Food & Liquor 2' Listening Session

The ironic and telling part of Wednesday night's listening session for Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 was that there was neither food nor liquor, two standard facets of these events. Rather than blasting the album over barely audible house speakers while journalists and publicists chat about rap minutiae and industry inside baseball, Lupe hand-picked six tracks from the upcoming 16-track album to a small group of journalists, transforming the session into a de facto Storytellers and sharing the inspiration behind each song.

The tracks played tonight split the difference between polemics on U.S. policy and Lupe straight rapping his ass off. “Strange Fruition (The Art of Falling Off)” reinterprets Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit” with soulful vocals over martial drums, sounding like vintage Kanye West mingling with Lux Luger. A commentary on race by author James Baldwin, one of Lupe’s major influences, bookends the track. ”The Ital (Roses)” addresses, in part, the rapper’s claim last year that “Barack Obama was a terrorist” over synth stabs, while the thumping drums and ominous, minor key synths of “Put ‘Em Up” shows Lupe at his most clever, nimble and dexterous (“Now I flip cars like the ribs on The Flintstones.”)

But as the rapper told us when we caught up with him at Beale Street Music Festival, “Form Follows Function” is, indeed, the highlight, with a smooth jazz sax and live band anchoring the rapper’s balance of unbridled confidence and constant questioning of the powers-that-be. Elsewhere, the warbled synths and handclaps of “It’s Hood Now” (produced by 1500 or Nothin', the same crew responsible for “The Ital” and “Put ‘Em Up”) make it ripe for an EDM remix, while “Unforgivable Youth” opens with an Ennio Morricone-styled buildup that had the rapper nearly jumping out of his chair. Here are 11 things you need to know before the album is released September 25.

Expect songs about “America and rapping”: Lupe elucidated the themes on F&L2 right from the start: “Songs about America. Songs about rapping,” said the rapper seconds after entering the room. “That’s it. America. Rap. Metaphor, similes. The Pledge of Allegiance, Statue of Liberty. The inspiration for the album comes from people like [historian/author] Howard Zinn, [journalist] Chris Hedges, James Baldwin. It’s me, as best as I can in my flawed, undefined, childish manner, trying to explain America and figure it out from my perspective. So it's raw; it's abrasive; it's naive. Then it's me just rapping my ass off."

Lupe remains ambivalent about his record label…: The longest, most deliberate pause of the night was after one journalist asked what Atlantic Records thought of the album. “I really don’t know what they’re thinking,” he said, diplomatically. “I can see what they’re saying and people love it. The first time we played ‘Bitch Bad,’ everyone stood up and clapped. At the end of the day, they still want a commercial product regardless of what it sounds like and what you’re talking about. It’s like, ‘Do we have a Top Ten on there, Lupe? 'Cause that’s all we really care about.’”

…But his major label exit strategy is all planned out: “I’m prepping myself now for the leap into straight artist-hood,” said the rapper. “I’ve done enough to appease a certain commercial balance and reach a new audience.” The rapper said he’s “85% done” with Great American Rap Album, Pt. 2. Skulls, the subsequent album, will be his last for Atlantic, completing his contractual obligation. “These last two records will complete that and then I’ll move on to something a little bit more esoteric, but still hip-hop,” said the rapper.

There is at least one “masterpiece” on the album (according to Lupe): “I don’t need any comments. I don’t need your 'Thank yous.' That isn't ego.” said Lupe before playing the Infamous-produced “Form Follows Function.” “This is the masterpiece. It’s my favorite record on the album.”

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