The first contender for hip-hop record of the year has come very early...
Chris Long 2008
Rap and hip-hop's intelligent commentators have, until recently, tended to be pushed the periphery of the bling and beefs brigade. That's all starting to change, thanks to the conquests of Kanye, Pharrell and the like. At the forefront of the sea change is Lupe Fiasco, whose debut, Food & Liquor, gained attention as much for the intellectual nature of his observations as it did for the finery of his tunes.
The Cool, will receive similar plaudits. Indeed, it actually out-thinks its predecessor. Taking the central character from Food & Liquor, it's a concept piece that investigates what it means to be a black American hip-hop star.
As such, Paris, Tokyo is about the pressure of touring, Gold Watch studies a culture hell bent on the latest designer names and the austere, stunning Superstar examines the uncomfortable nature of celebrity (complete with the sound of paparazzi cameras).
Not that he sticks to his own issues – one of the finest, yet bleakest moments is Little Weapon, a look at the frightening rise of children with guns, be that soldiers or high school kids, while Intruder Alert addresses America's obsession with immigration.
Thankfully the occasionally overbearing darkness (due, no doubt to the deaths of his father and friend as well as the incarceration of his mentor, Chilly Patton) never overpower The Cool. That’s not only due to Lupe's talent, but also his choice of co-creators. Unsurprisingly, as a protogee of Jay-Z and a collaborator with Kanye West, Fiasco mixes the expected with the downright leftfield, with everyone from Snoop Dogg and Food & Liquor cohort Matthew Santos to Queen Of The Stone Age's Josh Homme, Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump and UNKLE's James Lavelle and Richard File helping out.
The resulting album is as close to a masterpiece as hip-hop is likely to come all year. There are times when Lupe's decision to go with a concept stretches his tunes and his imagery to their limits, but nothing on offer falls short of his own previous Grammy-nominated levels in terms of erudition, observation or innovation. The first contender for hip-hop record of the year has come very early...