Release Date: Feb 10, 2017
Record label: Thirty Tigers
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Alternative Rap
Lupe Fiasco's new album introduces itself with a shocking display of force: "Dopamine Lit (Intro)" is two minutes and 49 seconds of foghorn bass, fiery bars, and a half-joking, half-drunken chorus that includes a Billboard flip-off, a Lord of the Rings reference, and some self-consciously nonsensical trap grunts, for good measure. The song especially feels like a pleasant surprise attack when held against the eternally put-upon rapper's consistently inconsistent delivery over the last few years. DROGAS Light may not surpass his auspicious debut, 2006's Food & Liquor, but it is easily the least scattered statement he's made in about a decade.
Long-time Lupe Fiasco fans will find something to appreciate on his sixth studio album, DROGAS Light, but it might be a poor introduction for first-time listeners. Lacking cohesion and at times sliding from lyrically dense to unnecessarily complicated, DROGAS Light won't go down as a jewel in Fiasco's catalogue, but it has too many redeeming qualities to write it off as a loss. "Kill," featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Victoria Monet, is the album's strongest performance, a silky strip club anthem with a lively but boner-shrinking gospel switch-up towards the end.
T wo months ago, Lupe Fiasco had retired. After posting a freestyle on Soundcloud in which he ranted against music industry executives in terms that were described as offensive by the Anti Defamation League, Fiasco first tried to put the remarks in a considerate context ("I've been in the Ghettos of Warsaw. I've seen [systemic] genocide") then stormed off in a huff into retirement.
Lupe Fiasco had a turbulent 2016. Fans couldn't have been faulted for unfollowing the rapper's social media accounts and simply conducting periodic checks for new music. Within eight months, Lupe intended to release three LPs by year's end, regretfully announced that the works were held up by clearance issues, and then, after a line from a stray upload caught the attention of the Anti-Defamation League, he fired off a vehement defense that closed with "I'm officially not releasing anymore music.
In the two years since the remarkably dense Tetsuo & Youth, Lupe Fiasco has emancipated himself from a long-rocky relationship with Atlantic Records, promised three albums, canceled them with talk of retirement and popped Twitter shots at the major label executives that he felt mishandled his career. A renewed focus on the first independent label album in a decade-long career would be a tidy bow on two years of chaos – but nothing that this fan of 12-minute outros and attempted double albums does is ever neat. Appreciated by themselves, the first eight tracks of Drogas Light actually serve as a brisk, masterful concept album in the vein of lyrical heir Common or the 1993 gangsta rap riposte SlaughtaHouse by Masta Ace Incorporated.
A decade ago, with the impressive albums Food & Liquor and The Cool, Lupe Fiasco was shaping up to be the lyrical link between storytelling Slick Rick and socially conscious early Kanye. Last year, Lupe could be found on Twitter feebly defending his freestyle attacking "dirty Jewish execs". It's been a long, slow drift from the centre of the conversation, but this soggy, incoherent sixth album confirms his irrelevance.
Just like the last time he claimed to be retiring from music in 2012, Lupe Fiasco has abandoned that idea again. But this time he's not just releasing one new album, he's releasing three, in the same year. The first in the trilogy is Drogas Light, an album as inconsistent and nonsensical as Fiasco's Twitter feed. It's difficult to tell what Fiasco is trying to achieve here: the first half of the album is a mishmash of trap beats and repetitive choruses and the latter half is just all over the place, jumping from genre to genre with absolutely no continuity.
'Fiasco' sounds about right. It certainly offers a quick capsule method in which to describe the wildly scattershot first taste of a previously abandoned trilogy in favour of apparently divine-signaled retirement announced in the wake of anti-Semitism accusations. Got all that? Press release gold if nothing else and yet the accompanying notes for Drogas Light go hard on Lupe Fiasco hitting his 'creative peak' as words like 'genius' and 'legacy' are bandied about.
Lupe Fiasco has had an incredibly frustrating career so far, one that's been defined by everything but the music. Record company troubles and retirement threats have completely overshadowed any talent he has. Of course, it wasn't always this way--there was a time when Lupe's reputation was untouchable, where everything he released wasn't just considered great, but also groundbreaking for hip-hop culture as a whole.
In a lot of ways, Lupe Fiasco has become one of hip-hop's last conscious crusaders. He has had a rich, well-documented history of fighting against crooked record label jurisdiction, keeping lyrics respected whilst also campaigning for important philosophies that hip-hop was built on. On paper, Lupe should be every hip-hop purist's favorite new generation rapper for the aforementioned reasons and although he has some notable classics under his belt, his past few releases haven’t been as critically acclaimed as albums like Food & Liquor.
Lupe Fiasco has been one of hip-hop's most gifted exponents and also one of its harshest critics. His public conflicts with executives at his major label home for most of the past decade, Atlantic Records, brought a caustic edge to some of his work, an open disdain for what he viewed as the formulaic superficiality of most mainstream rap. He turned that tension into sometimes riveting music, and in 2015 -- at a time when his music was in danger of being completely overshadowed by business spats -- he reaffirmed his brilliance with one of his strongest albums, "Tetsuo & Youth.