Lupe offers refreshing change with hip-hop album

Sometimes our lungs are engulfed with the musical smoke from the “snappin” of our fingers and the bricks we are moving from state to state so much that we near suffocation.

Then a breath of fresh air comes along to relieve us. This time, that breath comes to us in the form of lyrical prophet Wasulu Muhammad, known to the public as Chicago emcee Lupe Fiasco.

After blazing mixtapes for the past two years, a show-stealing performance on fellow Chi-town native Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky” and being co-signed by none other than president Shawn Carter himself, he offers us his solo debut, “Food and Liquor.”

Make no mistake, this album is hip-hop in its truest form, and its lyrical dexterity may be too complicated for even the most avid music fan.

That is both a gift and a curse, as none of these songs will ever be heard getting a party started in the club. But should lyrical content be compromised for the sake of platinum sales? In Lupe’s case, no.

The opening track, “Real,” is definitely a gem, as Lupe’s smooth delivery over the backdrop sample of Harvey Mason’s “How Does It Feel” delivers a message about being thankful.

He drops introspective parables like “Struggle/another sign that God loves you/ because being poor on the low makes you humble/being poor also makes you hustle.”

One of the most metaphorically proficient artists of our era, he boasts on a Neptunes-produced song, “This is where I keep the bars like bathtub edges/My Ivorys and my Doves, my Levers and my Zests/It takes half of ya bubble bath to match the freshness/I be on my green like Irish Spring.”

“The Instrumental” is a surprisingly clever combination with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. Other collaborations include “Daydreaming,” featuring Jill Scott, a metaphoric joint that uses personification of the body parts to describe some of the perils of the inner city and “Pressure,” featuring Jay-Z, which samples Thelma Houston’s “Pressure Cooker.”

Lupe opens the opus with two hot verses, ending the second verse with the proclamation “Big Homie’s out of retirement,” – referring to Hov’s return to the rap game in November with the album “Kingdom Come” – before Jay delivers the knockout blow with the last verse. “So the pen’s mightier than the sword/My Lord/First picture was in a lineup, now I’m all in the Forbes,” exclaims the ‘Jiggaman’ in his opening lines.

Other standout tracks include the Kanye West produced “Cool,” and the track “Hurt Me Soul,” a poignant tale of how Lupe began rapping, and how his disdain for the disrespect of women in early gangsta rap made him steer clear of profanity.

Perhaps the best is saved for last with “Kick Push Pt. 2,” which delves further into the personal lives of the skateboarder and girlfriend that we met in his first single.

“Food and Liquor” not only tackles issues that plague our black communities, but shows how those same struggles shaped him into a lyricist and, more importantly, the man he has become today. Based on lyrics alone, this album is light years ahead of anything that has been released recently.

The 1970s landscape, built by the classic samples used, provide a soulful alternative to the crunkness that has clouded the radio and television lately. But the fact that his advanced flow may go over the head of most is LP’s one obvious drawback.

Despite this, Lupe Fiasco has taken a stand for hip-hop by not dumbing down for his audience. In his own words, “The game is not to give them nothing real/Nothing that they can use/Nothing that they can feel/ Give ’em a bunch of lies and teach ’em that it’s real/So that’s all they will know/That’s all that they will feel.”

Grade: A-