Lupe Fiasco – Drill Music In Zion

Never bite the hands that feed…

Lupe Fiasco has always used his voice to challenge audiences and he did not forbear as he opens his eighth studio album. A message to the message of Drill music, Jaco begins, “Drill music, pop that pill music, kill music / Desecrating the temples in the ghetto, funeral processionals increase their frequency” – a comment on the lifestyle Drill music was born out of. Let’s get it straight: Lupe Fiasco’s new album and its namesake is everything but Drill. With a strong religious undertone in his lyrics and message, Lupe takes us to church in his first album since the release of ‘Drogas Wave’ in 2018. The 10 track album is opened by ‘The LION’S DEEN’ a monologue by Ayesha Jaco, backed by padded synths and a melodic lead guitar that touches on the spiritual.

To understand Lupe Fiasco is to understand the roots of Stateside hip-hop; “the grimey and real”, politically motivated and challenging verses paired with an infectious beat. Influenced by hip-hop royalty – NWA, Jay-Z, Pharell, De La Soul and more – Lu, as he is more affectionately known, is also recognised among the pioneers of the conscious hip-hop movement, securing his spot as a household name with 2007 hit ‘Superstar’. However, Fiasco’s musical prowess is not limited to hip-hop, notably fronting post-punk influenced band Japanese Cartoon.

Lupe Fiasco has never shied away from speaking his mind and tackling political themes, as exemplified by ‘Words I Never Said’ which saw him taken off the pre-inauguration stage in 2013. Lupe Fiasco has always used his music to deliver an emotionally controlled, thought-provoking display of virtuosic lyricism, which he continues to do on the album’s fifth track ‘KIOSK’ moving between conscious rap and utilising the upper register of his voice.

Lupe enlists the help of Nayirah for ‘AUTOBOTO’, giving us a taste of his undeniable ability to manoeuvre new school hip-hop with crafty word play and skippy flows, a real highlight for the album. Nayirah continues her support on ‘PRECIOUS THINGS’ with a melodic chorus supporting Lupe’s stern message of “never bite the hand that feeds”. Though political, the track has relatability for different generations in both verse and chorus where Nayirah returns with the universal message: “All these precious things, how they turn on me”.

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In a mid-album play, ‘MS MURAL’ opens with a crackling electric piano before a heavy beat entry. Instead of a chorus we’re given four bars of jazz saxophone which continues into the verse creating Lupe’s favoured style of jazz rap. The record is reminiscent of the beginnings of hip-hop on vinyl: classic. Continuing the sound of jazz rap, ‘Naomi’ is the perfect combination of musicality and storytelling, with the addition of a sample adding to the already smooth texture of the piece before closing out with an instrumental layered with female vocals.

As we navigate the album, we’ve come to realise that unlike the traditional arch of an album to crescendo up to a big sounding record, long time collaborators Soundtrackk have opted to build in texture and timbre adding more depth to each track. ‘DRILL MUSIC IN ZION’ has a clear message, a capitalist world driving mass consumerism powering the greed of the few: “Where profit defeats the conscience.” Underscored by bebop horns which break to make space for atmospheric piano, Lupe has given us hip-hop’s Clarinet Concerto.

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Lupe calls on collaborator Nayirah one last time in the penultimate track, ‘SEATTLE’. “I kept my promise to the streets,” he raps. Through the years hip-hop has remained true to its purpose, to give a voice to a community tired of being overlooked and underappreciated in the promise that they will one day not have to be on the streets anymore. Lupes brings out more of his creative word-play examining the synchronicity between social media and real life – “You’ll be unliked or you’ll be unliked” – exploring how we have allowed the two to blur. The maverick alludes to the destructiveness of social media, and how all it takes is a thumb swipe – the same motion used to light a lighter. “You can light a fire with a thumb swipe / But you’ll need a lighter if you got the motion with none of the components.”

Fiasco closes the album with ‘ON FAUX NEM’ , a Chicago term used to validate the seriousness of what is said similar to saying, ‘on my life’ or ‘on my mama’. When listening, saying the title as an ad lib after every line brings a deeper understanding to his quest for truth not only through this closing number but throughout this album, and even his life’s music as a whole. Lu opens his verse “rappers die too much… That’s it, that’s the verse”; he then leaves us with our thoughts for six bars before returning to say “I wish that you were lying to me, yes I do. I wish that you were lying to me, I hope none of that comes true…”

An unpredictable force who is unafraid to speak the truth, Lupe Fiasco merges the modern with the classic for another powerful project.

7/10

Words: Ath’e Zihle

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