Some time after 2011 Laser, Lupe Fiasco the disagreeable scholar surpassed Lupe Fiasco the musician. Instead of the conceptual, accessible lyricism of his early days, the rapper abandoned attempts at mainstream appeal, a result of fatigue from Chicago violence, tag battles and artistic compromises. From 2012 Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1, his albums became as preachy and heavy as they were musically sterile, with big ideas stifled by poor execution and generic production. Essentially, the music started to sound like the listening required for a heavy lesson plan.
Lupe cleans up Drill Music in Sion, a concise project that distils its best trends with a focus that has not been seen for years. Driven by poignant reflection, labyrinthine barre work and high-tension rhyme schemes, Drill Music in Sion is Lupe at its most effective. It’s laced with atmospheric jazz that evokes isolation and clarity, thanks to the production of Soundtrakk and Lupe himself. At 10 tracks, the LP is the shortest of his career, and the length helps: instead of focusing on general concepts for which he offers no resolutions, his approach is more episodic. He leans on his strengths from the start, and this saves him from the trap of monotony, convolution and self-seriousness.
Aside from phonetic thrills, Lupe’s greatest skill remains her ability to weave disparate ideas into mosaic parables. On “Ghoti,” he ties together a Christopher Columbus reference, superheroes, and Neuralink technology for a sprawling yet succinct meditation on capitalism, morality, and the ethics of scientific progress. Over the smooth instrumentation of “Precious Things,” Lupe goes cheeky and deep, offering a metaphor for frayed friendships and responsibility: “Give my paper scissors, we ain’t on the same page / We were bat , catcher and pitcher, now you don’t even wave.
Lupe continues to display her talent for storytelling on “Ms. Mural,” the final entry in her “Mural” trilogy. On the track, a painter’s conversation with a condescending client becomes a rumination on Lupe’s strained relationship. with the music industry. It’s personal, but it’s also an existential study for artists everywhere.
At times, Lupe trades elaborate puns for exposure and brute force, with mixed success. It’s most effective over the moderate production of “On Faux Nem,” which provides a basis for Lupe’s simple, emphatic statement, “Rappers die too much / That’s it, that’s the verse.” From there, he unleashes searing measures on drill music culture. In a world where authenticity is generally valued above all else, he wants drill artists to actually lie in their lyrics.
Lupe’s conversational technique seems a bit strained on “Kiosk,” where he raps from the perspective of a wily salesman trying to sell jewelry to budding high rollers. That’s fine, until it drops into a spoon-fed third verse that veers off topic. The track is part of a three-song series (from “Precious Things” to “Ms. Mural”) where the rhythms and tonal inflections of one note melt into each other, creating a dull slog of colorless sounds. .
While production on Drill Music in Sion is consistent, not the most adventurous. There’s no futuristic psychedelia of “Just Might Be OK” or the euphoric escapism of “Kick, Push” here, so neither song matches the widespread appeal of Lupe’s best work. However, the general impression compensates for this lack of dynamism; the understated bits give his intricate puzzles room to breathe and Drill Music in Sion gives Lupe’s humanity and fluency in language plenty of room to expire.
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