MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Lupe Fiasco is a Chicago-based rapper who made his mainstream debut as a guest on the latest CD by Kanye West. Unlike many modern hip hop acts, Lupe rhymes about subjects other than violence and materialism. He's recently released a CD called Food and Liquor.
And critic Will Hermes calls it one of the best hip hop albums of the year.
(Soundbite of song, "Kick Push")
LUPE FIASCO (Rapper): Yeah, my man said he wanted something red, red, red.
WILL HERMES: It was clear from the get go that Lupe Fiasco was not your average rapper. His guest verse on Kanye West's Touch the Sky name-checked fantasy characters like Umthar and Mumra, as well as the pancake syrup queen Mrs. Butterworth. And his debut single, Kick Push, which was the freshest thing on rap radio this year, tells the story of a skateboarder learning to ride and then finding the skate girl of his dreams.
LUPE FIASCO (Rapper): (Singing) Uh, uh, my man got a little older, became a better roller. No hell meant hell bent on killing himself is what his mamma said, but he was spilling himself. He got a little more swaggy in his style. Met his girlfriend, she was clapping in the crowd. Love is what was happening to him now. Uh, he said I'd marry you, but I'm engaged to these aerials and barrios, and I don't think this boy is strong enough to carry two. She said bam. I weigh a 122 pounds. Now let me make one thing clear. I don't need to ride yours, I got mine right here. So she took him to a spot, he didn't know (unintelligible) parking lot she said I don't normally take dates in here. Security came and said, I'm sorry there's no skating here so they kick push, kick push.
HERMES: Kick Push is the most striking tract on Lupe Fiasco's debut Food and Liquor but the entire record showcases an unusual rap mind. Lust for cash, drugs and or sex partners don't overtly drive these rhymes. Instead, there's a hunger for understanding other facets of life. Like on the song He Say, She Say, which dissects the experience of growing up without a dad from multiple perspectives.
(Soundbite of song, "He Say, She Say")
Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I don't know what you want, you want, want from me.
LUPE FIASCO: Uh, she said son I want you to be a father. Teach your little boy. and you don't even bother. like brother without the R and he's starting to harbor, cool on food for thought, but for you he's a starter. Starting to use red markers on his work. His teacher says he knows he much smarter but he's hurt. Used to hand his homework in first like he was the classroom starter.
HERMES: Lupe Fiasco was raised in a Muslim home in Chicago's Madison Terrace housing complex, a rough area that frequently inspired him to hide indoors, reading and playing video games, listening to classical music and jazz. He wasn't much of a rap fan. The subject matter generally repelled him. But something about the music drew him in. A dichotomy he wrestles with on Hurt Me Soul, where he rhymes about rap misogyny.
(Soundbite of song, "Hurt Me Soul")
LUPE FIASCO (Singing) Check it out. Now I ain't trying to be the greatest. I used to hate hip-hop. Yup, because the women degraded. Because it wasn't the greatest, but for sure it made my laugh. Like a hypocrite I played it. A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half. Omitting the word bitch, cursing out.
HERMES: The cover of Lupe Fiasco's Food and Liquor, which is a clear contender for hip hop record of the year, shows the rapper floating through space with a boom box, a Nintendo DS, a ninja doll and a copy of the Koran that he got from his dad. All things he considers essential. If achieving greatness in rap involves separating yourself from the pack of copycats, this guy has made an impressive start.
BLOCK: The new CD from Lupe Fiasco is called Food and Liquor. Our reviewer is Will Hermes.