Kelefa Sanneh’s recent New York Times article, ruminating about the sorry state of mainstream hip-hop, was a worthwhile call to action. Or, more appropriately, a call to look outside the mainstream for some of best new rap releases. The year that was 2007 didn’t do much to help bring hip-hop any further, not when two of the biggest hip-hop stars of the last five years (50 Cent and Kanye West) both failed to manage selling more than 2 million records.
At the end of this year, a really great rap album hit stores. It’s the kind of album that takes chances, changes styles, and impresses. It’s the sophomore album by Lupe Fiasco, the Chicago MC who earned raves a year ago with his top-notch debut Food & Liquor (led by the catchy single “Kick, Push”). His new album, The Cool, almost defiantly deconstructs hip-hop even further. There’s hardly a superstar cameo on the disc (except Snoop and UNKLE), lots of inventive beats, and even more inventive rhymes. He’s got the catchy ringtone-ready choruses (“Go Go Gadget Flow”), the smooth love song (“Paris, Tokyo”), and the incredible classic anthems (“Streets on Fire”). He also takes time to speak his mind about the sorry state of Top 40 rap.
In particular, on his acidic “Dumb It Down,” he responds to critics who maybe think his rhymes are too clever or positive:
You goin’ over niggas’ heads Lu (Dumb it down)
They tellin’ me that they don’t feel you (Dumb it down)
We ain’t graduate from school nigga (Dumb it down)
Them big words ain’t cool nigga (Dumb it down)
Yeah I heard Mean And Vicious nigga (Dumb it down)
Make a song for the bitches nigga (Dumb it down)
We don’t care about the weather nigga (Dumb it down)
You’ll sell more records if you (Dumb it down)
It’s the kind of album with the kind of songs you’d expect from Talib Kweli or Common. And both Talib and Common went extra pop/mainstream this year. Kudos to them, they sold more records than ever. But Lupe Fiasco is quickly becoming the antidote for people in need of catchy, reliable rap that doesn’t… dumb it down.