Rhythm & Views

Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco's shtick is to call bullshit on the hip-hop game for anti-intellectualism and silly macho posturing. It's endearing, but since emceeing is all about inflated ego and posturing, Fiasco sometimes comes off as self-righteously hypocritical.

But is Lupe's latest, The Cool, any good?

The answer is yes. Lu's a charismatic rapper, and it's hard not to root for someone who rhymes about Klingons and Inspector Gadget over gang-banging. "Dumb It Down" features fun alliterative wordplay. "Hip-Hop Saved My Life" constructs a full-circle narrative about a struggling rapper set to brightly hypnotic arpeggios. "Intruder Alert" is a ballad about stranger rape featuring vocals from Sarah Green. The vibe here is ruminative and spooky.

The album does have its optimistic moments. "Hi-Definition" is a summer-cookout jam featuring a steady upbeat groove replete with video-game sound effects while Lu trades rhymes with Snoop Dogg. "The Coolest" and the smooth, jazzy "Paris, Tokyo" recall hip-hop innovators A Tribe Called Quest. Throughout, The Cool manages to be eclectic and fresh while still feeling cohesive.

The Cool is being marketed as a "concept album," and I've read interviews where Fiasco explains the album's complicated backstory, in which meta-fictional characters with names like "The Streets" and "The Game" pass magical keys down to ghetto heroes ... blah blah blah. I'm sure there are plenty of super-fan listeners who will be riveted by that kind of scrupulously detailed myth-making. But none of that really matters.

The Cool is totally hot. 'Nuff said.

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