‘A journey through genres’ is the best phrase to encapsulate the experience of listening to Lupe Fiasco’s 6th offering to the history of hip hop, DROGAS Light. Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, continues his tradition of deep social commentary and complex lyricism within his music but plays with the notions of what a hip hop album should aurally consist of.
The album flows seamlessly at first between trap, hip hop and rap beats. For anyone that held their breath for a ‘turnt’ album after Cole dropped 4 Your Eyez Only, Chance dropped Colouring Book and Childish dropped Awaken, My Love, the opening ‘Dopomine Lit’ bouncing over a classic trap beat would fool you into exhaling.
A strong start to the album that gets you thinking while twerking, the lyrics speak of the pitfalls of chasing a high from the immediate gratification of drugs, women and money. That’s another element to DROGAS Light that’s striking. You get the message on the first listen without having to consult Rap Genius; that’s a first for me and a first for Lupe.
Know for his dense lyrics, layered with metaphor, DROGAS Light is surprisingly, well, light. Upon further research, Lupe enlightens us that DROGAS Light is the prelude to his next album, DROGAS, and DROGAS Light has been kept ‘light’ on purpose. So when you listen to album highlight NGL (N*gga’s Gon Lose) about the self destructiveness of black culture, or the loaded Made in the USA that takes a frank look at contemporary politics and you get through them without one search on Wikipedia, know that the transparency was his intention.
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Midway through the album there is a shift and the tempo slows considerably with Tranquillo. The rawness is there but the anger begins to ebb. Lupe wants you to stop dancing and listen harder. Then he hits you with Pick Up The Phone and you have to wonder if you’re still listening to the same album. An unapologetically ‘pop’ record on a rap album is jarring to the ears. I wasn’t prepared for the stringy guitar or heavy drums and actually checked my Tidal playlist to make sure I hadn’t moved on to some lost early single from Lupe.
What follows are some disco, gospel and pop beats that completely shift the tone of the album and ends DROGAS Light in an air of confusion. It’s Not Design, Wild Child and More Than My Heart are all great tracks in their own right, but on this album they don’t fit. ‘Drogas,’ Spanish for drugs, suddenly takes on a whole new breadth of meaning as the title of this album. Are we supposed to be left feeling trippy and not wholly grounded? Because if that was his intention, Lupe succeeded.
The album, happily or unhappily, slots nicely into what we’ve come to expect from lil lu without the effervescence of his albums that have come before it. Playing with genres does sometimes make for flavourful combinations, but this time the execution lit a spark that didn’t take us anywhere monumental, just somewhere different.
Tetsuo and Youth, Lupe’s 2015 offering had a flare that got the balance between leaving us breathless and making us think that DROGAS Light just misses the mark on. Maybe we do need to be forced to scratch our heads to fully enjoy Lupe?
All things considered, if you’re a die hard Lupe fan that just wants new content to digest, DROGAS Light is a good album that will do, but it won’t wow. And let’s not forget that he made this as a prelude for the main event, DROGAS to drop later this year. So fingers crossed.
DROGAS Light is out now.