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Albums You Need to own Before you Die
by Michele Christopher
It's been a long time since an album has completely blown my mind and changed my outlook on music and self expression. You all know what I'm talking about. The kind of album that you listen to, and then breathe a sigh of relief. "That's what I've been waiting for." It's been over a year since it happened to me. Last time was with Frank Zappa and MOI's Hungry Freaks, Daddy! I'll cover that one at some point in the future. But right now, you all need to go out and BUY (yes—BUY, not download) Lupe Fiasco's debut album, Food and Liquor.
I'm listening to NPR the other day when some old white dude starts reviewing this hip hop album. Thing is, I've heard this white dude before, and he's right on when he talks about hip hop. Hearing an old white guy talk about "beatz and rhymez" kind of gets your attention. But when you realize he knows what he's talking about, you start listening. And this week, he was talking about Fiasco's debut. From the beginning, I heard something I rarely hear done well in hip hop—complex instrumental backtracks. These weren't four second clips of sampled strings played over and over again—they were composed backtracks, with players deviating from the standard lines through improvisation. Even if the improv is minimal, it makes the music more organic. Listening further, however, you hear Fiasco himself, and once you hear what he has to say, you won't look at hip hop the same again.
The featured track on the NPR segment was the single from this album, Kick, Push. This song had me from the beginning. With an astounding instrumental backtrack that's a signature on this album, Fiasco spins the romantic tale of a young boy who is growing up as a skateboarder. Something about this song just pulls me in. From unconventional rhymes to the relaxed, meandering hook, this song is a highlight of the album. Check out the first part of the first verse:
First got it when he was six, didn't know any tricks
Matter of fact, first time he got on it he slipped.
Landed on his hip and busted his lip,
for a week he had to talk with a lisp, like thish...
There are other songs that are fantastic as well. One of those few albums I can listen to all the way through. Daydreamin' samples several songs to create a somber tone, highlighted by vocals from the always sumptuous Jill Scott. He Say She Say chronicles the parallel thought processes of a mother and son who have been abandoned by the son's father. It is a poignant and thought-provoking look at what so many families go through today, and it is done with class, style, and a necessary touch of desperation. Pressure featuring Jay-Z is hip hop as I've never heard before. It pays an undeniable tribute to eighties hair bands through the guitar-laced backtrack. The only song on this album I haven't listened to all the way through is American Terrorist. I started it, but it's a very disturbing song, and I was drunk and in a happy place, and didn't want anything to do with it at the time.
Unconventional, thought-provoking lyrics and incredible backtracks aren't the biggest highlights on this album. The biggest, most impressive highlight is that you can understand Fiasco's EVERY FUCKING WORD. That's right my friends. For a suburbanite middle-class white boy like myself, it's a relief to hear an entire hip hop album that I can understand at first listen. Normally, even with my favorite hip hop groups, I find myself wandering over to the computer to get online and look up lyrics. And sometimes I get the feeling that the folks writing those lyrics down don't really know what the artists are saying either. So it is something special when you can hear Fiasco enunciate every word while maintaining a natural inflection and not sounding stilted or stiff.
All in all, this album is a must have, and has immediately jumped up into my top ten of all time, bumping Barney the Dinosaur Live at San Quentin down to the number eleven spot. If you love hip hop, go out and buy this CD right now. Even if you don't love the genre, you may well find that this is one of those rare CDs that has universal appeal.
Now it's your turn—tell us about the last album you bought that you think is an absolute must have for everyone's collection.
Uberchief own the cassette, 8track and vinyl versions of Barney at San Quentin