First Repressions: Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor

Before Donald Glover was singing about zombies as Childish Gambino, Lupe Fiasco was riding the L with brains on his brains. Before Tyler The Creator was skating and combining hip hop and skate culture, Lupe Fiasco was kicking and pushing through the streets of Chicago. Near its 10 year anniversary, the Chicago rapper’s debut is still as relevant today as it was in the throes of the Bush administration.

But Food & Liquor is more than feel good love songs about skating and surrealist zombie gangster stories. The album takes on redlining, sexism, toxic masculinity, Islamophobia, racism, and basically everything the current administration stands for. Starting aptly with “Intro,” the album wastes no time letting its concepts and flows be known–letting a spoken word performance unfurl a myriad of observations of inequity in the world before washing into the second track “Real.”

The combination of these two tracks shows the album’s scope–bouncing between politically charged rhetoric and personal narratives. The two poles Food & Liquor explores come together seamlessly both in terms of Fiasco’s ability to brush extended metaphor into his flows and to what Deleuze categorized as a “minor literature.” And as complex and nuanced Lupe Fiasco’s lyrics are, they still hit viscerally and subtly wed feel good flows and social commentary in way that rarely happens in mainstream hip hop.

One of the best examples of this is “Daydreamin’.” The track alludes stylistically to 2pac’s samples, delivery, and public persona (think “Dopefiend’s Diner,” or “They Don’t Give a Fuck About Us”) while simultaneously deconstructing the tropes that had become so hyper-stylized they interfered with hip hop’s original message. In the first verse, Lupe says, “I still got some damage from fighting the White House.” In a time when our government is slowly making it illegal to be a woman, to be a Muslim, to be an immigrant, in a time when our government is silencing the press, the EPA, and those who decry their actions, and in a time when our government is working for the benefit of corporations and the wealthy, I don’t think of a line that has more sadness or relevance.

To be honest, Food & Liquor came to my attention when I was beginning to form a political consciousness. Lupe Fiasco’s ability to spit in soundbites that succinctly capture “American” views on Islam, race, and gender expresses so much and implies even more. Over ten years have passed since this album was first released, and sadly much of what is at the core of its anxiety and pain is still around (and even thriving).

One of the most powerful tracks of the album is “American Terrorist.” This song is Lupe Fiasco at an apex. I could share lyrics from the song. I could talk about the proposed ban on Muslim immigration and the rampant Islamophobia and racism that our current administration is giving credence to. I could talk about how the goals of the current administration is a form of terrorism (against citizens of the United States: women, LGBTQIA, minorities, non-Christians, artists, scientists, mothers, fathers, the working class, those with mental health issues, students, etc.), but I won’t. Instead, I’ll simply share the song.

Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor began my slow awakening to the privileges I, as a white male, have. The album conveyed the complex realities of being an American in ways I hadn’t considered while grinding down its infectious and catchy rhythms. Food & Liquor is a testament to what art can do–it can exist within its time and also outside its time. This reissue could not come at a better time.

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