Rap sequels have constituted something of a phenomenon the past two or three years. Spurred perhaps by the prospect of a built-in fan base, or maybe counting on the power of nostalgia in Hip-Hop, there has been no shortage of rappers coming out with second installments to their marquee albums. It’s worth noting that only rarely has this trend resulted in anything truly worthwhile.
For Lupe Fiasco fans, the idea (or myth) of a forthcoming Food & Liquor II has got to be one of the few reasons they continue to stand by their guy. Lasers was an unmitigated artistic flop and judging by reaction on the internets, the recently-released Friend of the People mixtape isn’t a whole lot better (can’t blame Atlantic for that one, either). And that’s without mentioning the string of PR disasters.
So it’s only natural that Lupe says Food & Liquor II is up next. It’s a great bit of trickery: distract from the banal crossover attempts by invoking his critically-acclaimed and much-loved debut album – which may as well be the antithesis of Lasers. But if “American Terrorist III” proves anything – other than the degree to which I’ve stopped following Lupe (I can’t even recall whether there was ever a part II of this) – it’s that it is not enough to merely rehash memorable album or song titles. At least not without capturing the spirit and creative qualities that made those works memorable in the first place.
To Lupe’s credit, he’s back to playing to some of his strengths on “American Terrorist III.” Lupe’s “deeper” tracks have always risked being overwrought, but he has a knack for making good songs out of interesting – if not always fully coherent – concept arcs. Another thing Lupe does well: stepping into different characters roles. On “American Terrorist III,” he weaves a political drama starring an ex-soldier-turned-terrorist, his brother, and his girlfriend – it’s Lupe channeling Camus or something. Musically, the lift of electro-pop indie hit “Nightfall” from the Drive soundtrack might incite derision for unapologetic trendiness. But it’s hard to argue with the appropriateness of the dark, mutated vocals or the closing lyrics of the bridge (“There’s something inside you / It’s hard to explain / They’re talking about you, boy / But you’re still the same).
Overall, “American Terrorist III” isn’t as riveting as the original – one of the highlight album cuts from Food & Liquor – but it’s also a definite step up from Lupe’s recent half-baked politicking. So if recapturing his artistic zeal isn’t going to be quite as simple as reusing an album title from better times, at least there’s some evidence to suggest that the gesture isn’t completely empty.
Lupe Fiasco – “American Terrorist III”