Let’s face the facts early on: conscious Hip Hop is not the highest selling type of Hip Hop in the industry today. Common and Mos Def aren’t selling as much as 2 Chainz nowadays, and it’s debatable to say they ever were. Hip Hop with a message is rarely what makes money in this game, and due to that fact its only common sense that most artists today find it to be less engaging and more catchy in order to succeed. That leaves a select few to take the road less traveled, facing the many difficulties that can come with it. Lupe Fiasco is a seasoned pilot when it comes to such turbulence.

First and Fifteenth’s commander in chief has dealt with an unreasonable amount of conflict and hardship since the days of Lasers, Fiasco’s 3rd release. The album remained in limbo and even hibernation for years as he battled with his album. He’s always been the concerned artist, releasing tracks, mixtapes, sending tweets that showed his stance never veered, the fear of what the world would become as time went on only growing. Now after protests, a label civil war and all sorts of criticism, Lupe Fiasco is claiming to be done with releasing albums entirely. This leaves Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1 as his swan song to those who still care about the message he has to share with the world. Now with Lasers being so lackluster compared to his previous two works, Lupe’s (supposedly) last musical attempt at raising awareness through invigorating and intriguing tunes sits under a critical eye.

No true Lupe Fiasco album would be complete without spoken words in the beginning to put your mind in perspective, preparing you for the thought provoking lyricism that is to come and this holds true with ‘Ayesha Says,’ followed by the eerie ‘Strange Fruition’. Less about the instrumental, the project feels very message oriented in the beginning, focusing on Fiasco’s obsessive need to take the lonely (Very lonely) road as the little rapper that could, reinforcing the message.

“No Liquor! No Pills! Being a gangster will lead you nowhere, stop wearing your pants so low, eat your vegetables! Only you can prevent forest fires, Don’t litter, protect the ozone layer!” Fiasco almost feels like a lyrically gifted parent that infiltrated the studio for the opening act of F&L2 (those last few lessons that were mentioned up there might be up for debate), preaching through sound. Even the second single ‘Bitch Bad’ felt awkward on its first listen, only growing to be just tolerable some time later, brilliant video considered along with it.

Several tracks forward the project finally feels rejuvenated, regaining some power and creativity with ‘Lamborghini Angels’ and the commanding ‘Put Em Up’. With Angels, the stories told are edgy and dark, but the captivating beat eases the delivery of it as a whole. The latter is Lupe’s slick talk in its prime with quotable on top of quotable line pouring out, only solidifying the fact that Lupe Fiasco is not only a great rapper, but also a capable storyteller in music.

The twisted imagery and crafty wordplay diminishes slightly with the next few tracks, although making up for it with a feel good sound. Poo Bear’s contribution to ‘Heart Donor’ is necessary and Bilal’s effort on ‘How Dare You’ is appreciated (easily taking the role of Fiasco’s ‘Paris, Tokyo’ on this project) but the fourth single ‘Battle Scars’ feels out of place. Being a single shared between Australian singer-song writer Guy Sebastian and Fiasco himself, the track isn’t a bad collaboration but as part of F&LII it feels aberrant.

Mighty ‘Brave Heart’ blasts its way in the door next with a loud beat supported once again by Fiasco’s questionably named ally, Poo Bear but the seemingly effortless ‘Form Follows Function’ steals ears, proving to be a highlight. With a smooth jazz sax and a great supply of astute lyricism, Fiasco takes off on this one, leaving a hook behind and filling the entire four and a half minutes with slick verbal weaponry.

‘Cold War’  is unexceptional but ‘Unforgettable Youth’ has an enchanting pull from the very start. Fiasco calls on Jason Evingan, the lead vocals behind the band After Midnight Project to bring a solid hook to the piece. The record works as a whole with a late single quality to it, Lupe continuing to deliver his usual formula of education through entertainment.

Fiasco’s efforts to teach the masses are sometimes redundant and uncompromising but more often than not his mentality isn’t without cause. Throughout Food and Liquor II our star of the show has revealed various yet murky paintings of his perspective on world but the outro, known as ‘Hood Now’ is a brilliant (dare I say it, uplifting?) reflection of black culture. Easily the best (if not, top three) track on the project, Fiasco breaks down everything from where you wear your slippers to our current President, showing how far African Americans have come. Not every mention is positive but it is honest without hesitation, revealing the overall point that we’re moving forward and above all, turning the slang itself into something that might not be as bad as it once was.

That is essentially the point of this entire project. While Lupe may not receive the most positive review from critics, he has always been honest and true to his own beliefs (we’ll just pretend Lasers didn’t exist). With that we’ve received brilliance and although this isn’t packed with it, Fiasco isn’t without his strokes of genius. This is not The Cool by any means, but with the usual clever lyricism we get from Wasalu Jaco, risky yet appreciated features, thought provoking subject matter and some decent instrumentals to put it all together, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1 is far from a failure. If this is Lupe when he’s “great” we know there’s room for him to be greater.

OVERALL: 7.5/10

Pros: When Lupe’s good on this, he’s REALLY good (the latter half of the project)

Cons: When he’s bad, you’ll feel like your mother’s giving you a lecture

Timeless Tracks: Put Em’ Up, Unforgivable Youth, Hood Now (Outro)

Purchase: Amazon