With the release of this monumental hip hop album, I thought it would be a ‘cool’ idea to collaborate on the review with my partner in crime, Edwin Ortiz. Edwin has written a few album reviews for my site and after hearing Lupe Fiasco‘s new album, we both wanted a stab at it. So hopefully this experiment will go over well and you will get one awesome review. The Cool comes out in stores December 18th. Make sure to go out and buy a copy!
Kevin: When Lupe Fiasco released his debut album, Food & Liquor, a little over a year ago it was like inhaling a breath of fresh air. Hip Hop had gone downhill over the past few years and Lupe had the qualities of a true MC; positive lyrics, amazing flow, and the assistance of tight production. In short, Food & Liquor was an incredible album. Boy was I surprised when I learned he would release his sophomore effort a year later!
Edwin: I feel you on that, Kevin. Food & Liquor was definitely a cause for celebration amongst the Hip-Hop community heads and critics. His enticing lyricism grew to be his strongest attribute throughout the album. Clearly, he had the makings of a “new school” movement that was suddenly under way, and receiving the approved head nod from the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West only embedded his future endeavors. Whatever his sophomore album brought, it was a shoe-in to turn heads.
Kevin: I’ve been anticipating this album since I first heard of its concept this past summer. Paying no attention to the flack Lupe received over his VH1 Hip Hop Honors fumble with A Tribe Called Quest; I waited with baited breath for this album to arrive. Most artists have a hard time topping their first album, especially if it was a success. I was pleasantly surprised when I gave Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool an initial listen.
Production-wise, Lupe stuck with his Food & Liquor formula; in a sense. Don’t get me wrong; this is a completely different album, but you will find a lot of the same elements that worked for Food & Liquor on The Cool. For instance, half of the album is again produced by Chicago’s own Soundtrakk. This is a good thing. He MADE Food & Liquor. I only wish to hear him work with other artists. Noticeably missing is Prolyfic, who also contributed heavily on Lupe’s first album. Also missing is Kanye West, whom I would have expected to hear at least one song from on the album. For the most part, Lupe stuck with virtual unknowns, which seems to work well for him. Lyrically, I believe Lupe has grown. If anyone can mature and improve upon his skill in a year, Lupe Fiasco has done just that. I’ve said before that I primarily listen to the production of a song before the lyrics. In this case, Lupe spoke out to me. I don’t know if it was what he has saying or how he say saying it; I’ll tell you one thing… his flow is like that of no other.
Edwin: With that, I’d like to give the visual perspective that is apparent throughout The Cool. Like Lupe Fiasco stated himself, this album would be much darker. If the production cannot create this scenery for the listener, the lyrics surely will. Highlighting the characters portrayals and outcomes (The Cool, The Streets, and The Game) was an amazing way to create this stigma, and in no way do these concept characters take away from the overall listening apparatus we envisioned from an emcee with this caliber.
Kevin: I know you’re dying to read about what we think of the album. Well, in my usually fashion, we’re gonna break it down track by track. But this time you’ll get two points of views. Edwin will chime in with his take on each track as well, and we’ll give you each our own scores.
- Baba Says Cool For Thought (featuring Iesha Jaco)
- Kevin (10/10): Lupe lets you know right off the bat that he’s gonna drop some intellectual rhymes on you. No music, just profound spoken words by Iesha Jaco. This intro works for me.
- Edwin (9/10): Iesha Jaco caught my attention on the beginning of Food &Liquor; the spoken word here is no different. Her intro encapsulates the meaning of “cool” like a hammer to a nail, repeatedly flushing out the hindering mind state we project through our actions.
- Free Chilly (featuring Sarah Green & GemStones)
- Kevin (9/10): Nice, smooth beat with a melodic hook. Where’s Lupe? What? It’s only a minute long?!?! I would have loved to hear Lupe flow over this beat. He should definitely rethink this one for a bonus track or something. I took a point off for this track being too short and the fact that it’s missing Lupe.
- Edwin (9/10): This, like the spoken word before, reminds me of the intro we got from Food & Liquor. A smooth beat that Lupe could and would absolutely demolish, yet nothing doing. What we do get is, as Kevin said, a melodic, touching hook speaking out to Lupe’s former partner, Chill. You can sense the cries not heard in their voice.
- Go Go Gadget Flow (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (10/10): Initially I had heard Just Blaze produced this track. I didn’t think that was right; turns out it’s another Soundtrakk joint. This track is sick though! Lupe absolutely KILLS IT! He definitely has that Go Go Gadget Flow! I didn’t know he spit like that! He could give Twista a run for his money. Actually, that’d be a good idea for a remix.
- Edwin (8/10): The performance on this track does not stray away from the title at all. It sounds like “Switch” revamped. Soundtrakk’s production on this is catchy, but you can tell he has some bangers in store for later.
- The Coolest (produced by Chris & Drop)
- Kevin (10/10): This was one of the first tracks I heard off the album initially when it leaked a couple of weeks again. I love the way it starts out with only piano. The production is smooth, but the beat hits hard and Lupe, sounding a little different on this track, makes this one of the coolest tracks on the album.
- Edwin (10/10): Probably the strongest track on the whole album. The hauntish hymns mixed with the strikes of the piano support Lupe’s storytelling perfectly. You can distinctly hear the shadowy past from “He Say She Say” when he raps, “The ones that had dead beat daddies and well-to-do momma’s / But not well enough to keep em’ from us.” The second verse clearly deserves recognition as one of the best verses of the year.
- Superstar (featuring Mathew Santos) (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (10/10): I absolutely LOVE this song! When I first heard it on the radio, I knew this album was going to be great. Matthew Santos shines with his best Chris Martin impersonation. Lupe comes at this track ready to run a marathon; microphone check 2-1-2. Brilliant!
- Edwin (8/10): After listening to the album, I can understand why this was chosen as the first single. “Superstar” as the title, a catchy hook by Matthew Santos, and Lupe’s lyrics are somewhat easy to follow for the radio listener who has an attention span that rivals John Maddens during any particular part of his day. However, it’s clears this overshadows the sardonic lyrics Lupe attempts to reveal.
- Paris, Tokyo (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (10/10): This is my favorite track on the album! Can I give it an 11? Soundtrakk did something special here. He got in a time machine, went back 15 years and stole some leftover tracks from A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory. No, not really. But that’s how it sounds! I don’t care if Lupe never listened to Tribe, Soundtrakk obviously did; although Lupe does seem to have that old school flow on this one. Classic masterpiece!
- Edwin (9/10): Until now, the most fulfilling R&B rap was held by 50 Cent’s “Follow My Lead.” This record blows his out of the water. Like the sly side he portrays, Lupe raps “I really missed ya / Each and every night I kissed ya / In my dreams before I went to sleep / To la la land to count them sheep.” Soundtrakk’s production is top notch; it’s surprising he has yet to break through with some R&B cuts for other artists.
- Hi-Definition (featuring Snoop Dogg & Pooh Bear) (produced by Alshux)
- Kevin (3/10): Ok, who’s idea was this? First of all, Snoop Dogg on a Lupe track?!? Nope. Doesn’t fit. I got excited for a minute when I saw Pooh Bear in the credits. I thought it would be Rapper Big Pooh from Little Brother. Boy was I wrong! This dude must be the singer on the hook. He nearly hurt my ears when his intro came in! And don’t get me started on the production! This song has to be to doings of the evil record company. Terrible!
- Edwin (8/10): Contrary to how Kevin felt, I feel Snoop Dogg’s presence fits nicely with the production. In fact, this is a banger by any means. The line honoring Stack Bundles is grateful and likewise respectful, but it sounds out of context. And I do agree with the hook comment. Big Pooh sounds like he is trying a little too hard to grab the listener’s ear.
- Gold Watch (produced by Chris & Drop)
- Kevin (9/10): This is more like it! Love the beat! This one’s a neck-snapper! Totally makes me forget about the last song. Chris & Drop are filling that void left by Prolyfic. They got some hot beats on here so far!
- Edwin (9/10): The playful, nonchalant lyrics on tap here provide us some insight to Lupe Fiasco’s preferences, whether they be his fashion wear or video games. This may be the “nerd” tendencies he has conjured up in the past, but Lupe said it best ; “The wings don’t make you fly / And the crown don’t make you king.”
- Hip-Hop Saved My Life (featuring Nikki Jean) (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (9/10): Damn, Soundtrakk deserves much respect. With the work he’s done on both Lupe albums, he’s got one hot resume. This track is a highlight on that resume. It’s a little bass-heavy, but the bright piano compensates for that. Excellent subject for a song too! Hip-Hop Saved My Life!
- Edwin (9/10): Though it may come off as a replicated version of previous records that take up the issue of hip-hop’s influence on peoples life, his impeccable flow of describing it is worthy of note. With the last verse, you can’t help but feel uplifted by his lyrics; “Get his momma out the hood / Put her somewhere in the woods / Keep his lady looking good / Have her rollin’ like she should / Show his homies there’s a way / Other than that flippin yae’ / Bail his homie out of jail / Put a lawyer on his case.” How many times this actually occurs, no one knows.
- Intruder Alert (featuring Sarah Green) (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (10/10): A few people may say that Soundtrakk’s beats are repetitious and melancholy. I disagree. I say they are consistent and smooth. As simple as the hook is, it is what made me gave this song a point over the last track. That and I think Sarah Green’s vocal performance outshines Nikki Jean’s.
- Edwin (9/10): Three different stories, three eventual outcomes. Yet they are not just refined to the streets or the hood. They encompass all of us. The vulnerable woman, the junkie, the immigrant. We see it every day, but we turn the other cheek. Maybe this will shed some light on each subject for listeners. What Lupe can do with words is amazing in its own right.
- Streets On Fire (produced by Chris & Drop)
- Kevin (8/10): Those of you that may have drifted off over the smooth sounds of Soundtrakk, will find that this beat is much harder. I don’t know who’s singing the hook on the track, but I’m sure Lupe’s glad they are there. His flow is so flawless; he needs that hook to catch his breath!
- Edwin (7/10): The beat is bit redundant and the hook wanes. Other than that, Lupe gets a chance to describe The Streets. She depicts the desires and recklessness that take people to new highs and likewise lays them in their graves.
- Little Weapon (featuring Nikki Jean & Bishop G) (produced by Patrick Stump)
- Kevin (7/10): This song is a little darker and more militant; but Lupe’s trying to get a message across here. Oh, wait a minute, the beat hits and it hits hard! Nikki Jean on the hook again, but what shines here are Lupe’s verses and the syncopated rhythm of the snare. Not my favorite track on the album, but I can appreciate it for what it is.
- Edwin (8/10): The content contains an ear catching problem running third world Africa. What we perceive to be gangster and thug-like is nothing compared to the children who, “Can’t write their own names / Or read the words that’s on their own graves.” And finally, Lupe’s hype man Bishop G grabs a much deserved verse that’ll have you thinking twice when playing Halo 3. Surprisingly, Mr. Stump does the track justice with his production. Kudos to FOB.
- Gotta Eat (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (8/10): It may sound like I’m on Soundtrakk’s jock, but I’m not; he’s just cool like that! I like how Soundtrakk switched up the beat on this one, sampling an acoustic guitar that sounds like something from a Bon Jovi record. This is a fun little track. Lupe’s gone country ya’ll!
- Edwin (9/10): The analogy; stunning. The production; Neptune-like. Soundtrakk’s versatility shines with this track. And how many times will you hear a rapper describe fast food (“lovers call em (Burger) king / haters call em (McDonalds) clown“) with such distinct aspects?
- Dumb It Down (featuring GemStones & Graham Burris) (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (6/10): Soundtrakk tries to hit us a little harder here, but the production of this track comes off like it’s something off an old Casio keyboard. I hear what Lupe is trying to say on this track, but I’m not really feeling this one.
- Edwin (7/10): Kevin’s comment explains this one perfectly. Besides attempting to decipher his lyrics, the only other thing to do is repeat “dumb it down!” with the track.
- Hello/Goodbye (Uncool) (featuring UNKLE) (produced by Chris Goss)
- Kevin (9/10): I almost forgot Lupe’s a skateboarder! This track is straight skateboarding music! He collaborates with UNKLE, a trip hop group based out of the UK. This song works for me! Those drums kill! And when the track breaks at the halfway mark, it hits hard! This song is definitely a different direction for the album, but I think Lupe makes it fit his style. Makes me wanna go play some Tony Hawk!
- Edwin (6/10): I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder when it comes to this type of situation. The beat has already been established (on Unkles album War Stories) before this album, yet Lupe decides to use the exact same production. No creativity comes from this, nothing new for the listener. The track is saved by Lupe’s spit fire rhymes. Alas, he’ll lose some people on this one.
- The Die (featuring GemStones) (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (8/10): Lupe, damn can you flow! Take a breath! Soundtrakk makes his beat match Lupe’s flow on this one. If anything, this is the party song of the album. Every hip hop album has to have at least one. But Lupe keeps it short, ending the track with an interlude that wraps the song up.
- Edwin (6/10): Lupe and Gemini going back and forth on this one works, but the beat feels slow. Then it speeds up. Then it slows while their rapping a hundred miles an hour. Two minutes of this isn’t enough to give it prominence on an album of his caliber.
- Put You On Game (produced by Simonsayz)
- Kevin (7/10): This ain’t a bad track. The beat’s a little more hardcore, but Lupe brings it together to make it work with the rest of the album.
- Edwin (9/10): Right from the first line of the track, you can hear Lupe getting grimey through the eyes of The Game. This ruthless demeanor is evident with “I taught him better than that / I taught him aim for the head, and hope they never come back / I’m glad your daddy’s gone baby hope he never comes back / I hope he’s with your mother with my hustlers high in my tracks / I hope you die in this trash / I can’t help it all I hear when you crying is laughs.” It’s a nightmare come true for The Cool.
- Fighters (featuring Matthew Santos) (produced by Le Messie)
- Kevin (6/10): This is the second track featuring Matthew Santos. The beat is a little too repetitious for me and Matthew Santos doesn’t really add much to the song. I was expecting the song to hit hard halfway through with some drums and heavier guitar, but it’s just the same throughout. Disappointing.
- Edwin (8/10): This, to me, is the calm of the album. A bit reminiscent, a bit thankful, a bit repressed, Lupe stays steady with the soft melody. Matthew Santos hook portrays this same tension, with Lupes last line touching on the title of his “last” album.
- Go Baby (featuring GemStones) (produced by Soundtrakk)
- Kevin (5/10): This may as well be a bonus track to the album. It’s fun, but it doesn’t fit with the overall theme. Lupe shouts out lupethefiasco.blogspot.com, so maybe this song was some sort of contest winner. I don’t know, he could have left this one off.
- Edwin (8/10): Yes, Gemini sounds corny “roofing” during the hook. Yeah, it sounds out of sync with the general cast of the album. But I think on an album that featured corrupt tendencies, we needed to end on an up-beat note. If not for the sake of getting loose and having fun, at least we know Lupe isn’t downright depressed with the world.
Edwin: I gave my track-by-track reviews, and that score comes out to an 8.5. However, it’s always been my way of viewing the overall feel and thought of the album. For that, I give The Cool a 9.5. Rarely if ever the album truly falters, and the flow of the album is seamless. The one thing I have to ask myself is; Does The Cool = a classic? I can’t say that it does. For what it’s worth though, The Cool tops my list as the best album of the year.
Total runtime: 1 hour, 10 minutes, 44 seconds
- Kevin: 8.5/10
- Edwin: 9/10 (8.5+9.5/2. Simple math really.)