SOTBMusic: Discussing Lupe Fiasco’s DROGAS Wave

Lupe Fiasco walked in a game of shady dealings, label execs, and fan demands so other artists could fly. Take any “conscious” rapper that’s come out strong over the past ten or so years since Lupe’s Food & Liquor dropped and you’ll see Lupe’s fingerprints all on their DNA. Yes, that includes down to Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA,” whether we’re willing to admit it or not.

As a part-time rapper myself, I’d be lying to you if I said that projects like F&L and The Cool didn’t dictate how I set up an album, storyline-wise and thematically. My projects always have a story behind them, and that’s thanks to Lupe’s influence on me. I may not always agree with his stances, but, as an artist, the man is definitively one of the greatest who’s ever touched a mic. That said, on his latest release, DROGAS Wave, he picks up the mantle himself and reminds listeners that he’s been doing this for longer than some artists out have been alive. Unlike some other elder statesmen in the game, though, he hasn’t lost a step in doing so.

(Please note, I will not be giving an entire look into each track individually. More so, I’ll be discussing the album at large)

Like Ghostface Killah’s The Lost Tapes, DROGAS Wave takes us back in time a bit. However, instead of going back to the 1990s or even the early 2000s, Lupe opts to take us back to his own roots. In some ways, the album serves as a middle finger to those who doubted his prowess after DROGAS Light. There isn’t really a “catchy” track on here and Lupe mainly works alone. With that said, Wave still serves as a continuation of/sequel to that album while still focusing on what made listeners fall in love with Lupe Fiasco in the first place. There’s a plethora of lyrical exercises that’ll make your head spin, but there’s also something deeper than what we’ve received on other projects that are just dedicated to “bars.” 
Things tie back to earlier Lupe projects and expound on some of the emotions and themes we saw in projects such as The Cool. We even get a continuation of the Michael Young History story (one of the longest-running modern rap storylines I’ve personally seen) and a return to “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” (kind of) with “Stack That Cheese.” Hell, we’re even given an alternative history of slaves jumping instead of staying on the ship(s) and an envisioning of what their lives were like. Granted, this storyline isn’t completely shown throughout the album, but it still resonates heavily.
One of the biggest complaints from this album I’ve seen is that Lupe doesn’t know how to pick beats anymore. For every “Jonylah Forever,” people say that the album has a clunker of a beat. I’d like to disagree with that and offer up a counterpoint. Lupe has never been about production in the traditional sense. Even going back to the heralded Food & Liquor, there were samples that were a bit out there and beats that weren’t “traditional” hip-hop (see “American Terrorist” for an example). Part of what makes Lupe who he is as an artist is his ability to transcend traditionalism. Give him a beat and he’ll either flow his heart out or tell a story about anything regardless of how the beat sounds. He’s like another “he can’t pick beats” artist, Nas, in that regard, down to the extended metaphors in tracks. The difference is—and this is no offense to Nas—Lupe doesn’t have a stinker like “Who Did It” on DROGAS Wave.
Instead of Lupe repeatedly condemning the new wave—or using their sound as part-parody—we’re given a laser-focused artist who ties together violent acts from across the world, mortality, drug-related difficulties, and uses his lyricism in a way that I haven’t seen en masse since Tetsuo and Youth, Fiasco’s 2015 release. While Wavemay be more of a sequel in name to DROGASLight and a spiritual successor to Lupe’s earlier albums, I feel that it has a lot more in common with T&Y than even The Cool. And no, that’s not just because there’s a second “Mural” on DROGAS Wave.
However, because of the homages and callbacks to earlier works, you may find yourself nostalgic. And that’s the biggest draw of the project: it’s new, but as mentioned, it leans heavily on the nostalgia card to remind us that once upon a time, Lupe Fiasco was purely uneffwithable. There weren’t many artists who could touch his pen. Truth be told, there still aren’t many artists who can do so on a consistent basis, which is where the newness of Wave comes in. The biggest draw, for me, for this album is like comparing it to watching a series for years and then finally seeing the pieces come together to begin to tie everything together. Even the most-seemingly innocuous things turn into big reveals.
Sure, the result isn’t 100% perfect; there are a few hiccups along the way that come with putting together a twenty-plus track album. And, I’ll be completely honest. For me, it doesn’t surpass T&Y or F&L because of the hiccups, which mainly have to do with the length and sequencing. But, the finale is fitting. We see our hero walk out of the fire relatively unscathed by the past twelve-plus years, just as precise as he was when he first talked to us about the double entendre of grinding in the hood. And, if you’re a fan of deep-rooted lyricism and storytelling, you’re left wondering “what now? What more can he give us?”

Check out DROGAS Wave above and remember to support dope music in all its forms.

Speed on the Beat

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