[xrr rating=2.0/5]If one business thrived under the Bush Administration, it was political rap. At a time when social unrest in the arts communities was at an all-time high, listeners wanted their rappers to be as upset about the state of affairs as they were. Too angry to party, they put their trust in the “conscious hip-hop” sector, leading to the rise of such stars as Lupe Fiasco. Gauging opinions of music where so much of it is shaped by politics can be a tricky thing. Does one’s personal agreement with the opinions expressed create a bias? In an alternate universe, would a right wing Public Enemy be as celebrated and influential as the group that made Fear of a Black Planet? Personally speaking, I don’t particularly agree with the message in early ‘90s Texas rap group Menace Clan’s “Kill Whitey,” but I won’t deny that the song absolutely knocks. That in mind, when an artist’s work absolutely hinges on the listener’s agreement in everything they say, that’s when things get cloudy. So is the downfall of Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1.

While the name of the album is the most awkward title to hit hip-hop since “Mr. Show” sketch “Three Times One Minus One,” it is indicative of how forced the bulk of the project truly is. Fiasco’s first release since his reportedly highly-compromised Lasers album, which Fiasco himself has expressed his displeasure with, Food & Liquor II sounds like its exact opposite. Gone is the indie-pandering of sampling Modest Mouse and sweeping pop hooks, and in its place is one of the bleakest releases in recent memory. It’s something of which Fiasco himself seems aware. “I know you’re sayin’ ‘Lupe rappin’ bout the same shit.’,” he rhymes on “ITAL (Roses),” “Well that’s cause ain’t shit changed, bitch.”

While there are a few moments on here that sound remotely radio friendly (“Heart Donor,” the Bilal-assisted “How Dare You”) most of the album is assertive calls for social change and vivid images of civil injustice. While it’s always admirable to hear someone tackle causes of concern in their music, here it sounds like Fiasco is desperately trying to overcorrect for Lasers’ accessibility by stacking social ill on top of social ill to the degree that his point becomes muddied and unidentifiable. He’s made quite the hoopla warning listeners over the “disturbing” content of the single “Lamborghini Angels,” but instead of a truly bold indictment of organized religion, the song itself is a hopelessly lost laundry list of religious taboos that can’t decide if it’s a morality play on materialism or a caveat about the hypocrisy of spiritual leaders.

The album has a handful of worthwhile moments that remind us what drew listeners to Lupe in the first place. “Audubon Ballroom” is the only outstanding hook on the record that shows how powerful and engaging Lupe at the height of his powers can be. The same goes for the closer “Hood Now,” a triumphant series of juxtapositions that remains the only evidence on Food & Liquor II that listening to Fiasco can be as fun as it is enlightening. Otherwise, moments like the entirely unnecessary “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” which recreated the beat from Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s iconic “T.R.O.Y.,” just reek of Fiasco trying way too hard to sound like himself and pander to the “conscious real more hip-hop than hip-hop” sect. No matter where your political ideologies fall, Food & Liquor II is not a fun listen. Basically, you’re better off voting.

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