The problem with most rap albums is the music. It’s usually beats and hooks, without actual music. And there’s usually no sense of “album.” Kanye West tried to change that with his 808s and Heartbreak album, and it looks like the game has caught up–and surpassed him. In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released the most layered and complex rap album I’ve ever heard, and Lupe Fiasco released his riskiest. It’s hard to pick one line, or even three or five, that show Lupe’s skill as a lyricist–and how much he’s grown as an artist–but it’s worth mentioning his reference to Bach. The song, “Murals,” is an 8-plus minute masterpiece that begins with musical swirls that provide more than just the standard when-will-the-rapping-start anticipation–they provide context, and, frankly, they’re beautiful.
Long-form rap songs don’t sell. But Lupe, who experienced several false starts in his career and recently released Lazers to a terrible reception, seems totally at peace with that. And in embracing the fact that he is an older, more mature artist, he has found true freedom and powerful expression. And created one of the best rap albums of the year.
And if you can find the “Leftovers” mixtape, it’s quite good, too.