Thursday, October 1, 2009

#91. 'Security came and said "I'm sorry there's no skatin' here"'

Lupe Fiasco "Kick, Push"

When it comes to hip hop. I'll fully admit that I tend to enjoy the abstract/experimental side of the genre to a much higher degree than the mainstream side. I'ts not for lack of trying, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm an album guy above all else, and when it comes to the album a lot of mainstream hip-hop can't keep my interest. Whether it's an over-reliance on skits or the pointless business used to fill 80 minutes' worth of album when there's only 40 minutes of material, it just always seems that the more mainstream albums don't do enough to merit my interest beyond a few gems of singles. I know that's a terribly reductive way to dismiss a fairly broad genre, and to be fair there's plenty of near great albums that fall under the mainstream qualification, but it's incredibly rare that even those near-great albums work enough for me to come back to them the way I can pretty constantly come back to them without getting frustrated.

So when I say that Lupe Fiasco's Food and Liquor might be the best mainstream hip hop album of the decade it sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I don't mean it as such. It really is a remarkable achievement in the genre, proving that going abstract isn't the only way to create a wholly interesting piece of hip hop. Of course there's enough otherness to hold Fiasco apart from the rest of mainstream hip hop, I mean, you wouldn't hear any other major hip hop star do something like "The Instrumental" for instance, but the weird moments are outnumbered by the fairly standard ones. Yet despite their standard nature Fiasco brings them to different level than his peers somehow, whether it's the honesty of his emotions or the overall positive vibe that the whole album gives off. It's not quite on a high enough level to make my albums list at this point but it was definitely one I considered for a while. Of course knowing that I'd have an opportunity to go into the greatness of "Kick, Push" here made it easier to let it slide from the albums list, so let's get to that.

I mentioned that there's a very positive vibe to Food and Liquor, and "Kick, Push" is a sterling example of that. It's pretty much a straight up love story on a few levels, and not a crass one either. I know that it's old hat to go on about the misogyny that seems to pervade a lot of hip hop, so I won't, but I will say that I still find it kind of odd to hear a hip hop track where the rapper shows such respect for the woman he's singing about. The boy-girl love story may be second to the boy-board one that encompasses the whole song, but the second verse is just a perfect depiction of young love, albeit one where any relationship is predicated on her being willing to be second to his skateboarding. It's sweet, and that's an emotion that rarely makes it into hip hop singles and I for one totally welcome it.

The song's not all sunshine though. Maybe it's just the knowledge of its second part later in the album - not a single but probably the best thing Fiasco's done - but the occasional bits in here that harsh the good vibes seem to carry more weight than they did at first. The way each verse ends with someone relaying the 'there's no skatin' here' message works in the song by underscoring the prejudices against the song's main topic and intruding on a wide-eyed love story with a heavy dose of reality. Fiasco may not dwell on it here, but it gives the song a tinge of hopelessness, the idea that no matter where the protagonists go they'll always be chased away by some sort of authority figure. It's a song about love, true, but it takes a much more realistic tone in those moments compared to the wide-eyed naivete that marks the other sections. I for one love that sort of thing, the way that Fiasco will somewhat undercut his major themes at regular intervals as kind of a reminder that behind the sunny horn and string samples and simple love story there's always that element of this being about rebels who can't exactly ever be at peace. It doesn't kill the positivity altogether but it's a welcome little dose of reality nonetheless.

Of course it all comes back to the freedom the characters derive from their lifestyle. The perseverance they always fall back on in the chorus, the just keep moving to the next good grind mentality, the community that they develop. Even if it's never true freedom it's enough for the ones that Fiasco's dedicating it to. He obviously knows the is and outs of this subculture and details it without anything resembling judgment one way or another. It's also remarkable just how smooth Fiasco's flow is at this early a stage in his career. I know he'd been a mixtape fixture before Food and Liquor's release but for a first single off a first album it's shocking just how confident he sounds. He's not the most nimble tongued or spit-fire rapper out there but he definitely does this stuff better than most,including, it has to be said, his guru Kanye West whom he upstaged on "Touch the Sky" the year previous to this. "Kick, Push" may have stood out initially by just being positive in a sea of negativity of varying degrees, but without a strong hand guiding it on a lyrical level it could have fallen apart on closer inspection. It didn't and I'm very glad about that since it means that Fiasco's definitely a talent and not just an outlier.

Coming up tomorrow: LESBIANS!....?

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