Sunday, January 13, 2008

'THE COOL' really is

I'm not what you'd call a hip-hop head. There's usually a song or two that I like, and every once in awhile an artist will arrive who more or less crosses boundaries, and catches my attention. I joined the Kanye West party late, but I'm a big fan, always interested to see what he's going to do next. I saw his concert at the Universal (now Gibson) Amphitheater a couple of winters ago, and it was the best concert I had seen in several years. His presentation was on a par with any other popular artist in any genre'. All you really need to know about that show is that no one sat down for two hours.

Kanye's latest album 'Graduation', is a continuation of his progressive braggadocio/confessionals, mixed with unlikely but accessible beats, that keep him constantly intriguing. He doesn't break much new ground here, but it's another solid cd.

Groundbreaking comes in the form of Kanye's Chicago homeboy, Lupe Fiasco. Lupe debuted on Kanye's 'Touch the Sky' and then made an impressive debut last year, with 'Food and Liquor', which netted him a Grammy nomination.

Lupe returns with the best hip-hop album I've heard since Kanye's 'Late Registration'. Described as a concept album, Lupe keeps the beats fresh and the topics relevant, ranging from songs about rape, 'Intruder Alert', growing up without a father, 'He Say, She Say' and refusing to lower the bar for his listeners with 'Dumb Down'.

Clearly a 'conscious' rapper, Lupe Fiasco operates in stealth mode. The hooks are so catchy and the tracks are so funky (and rocky at times), that the lyrics may creep up on you. While's it's definitely too early to name an album of the year, I can't imagine many upcoming releases knocking this cd out of heavy rotation on my iPod. To be clear, I don't believe you have to be hard core hip hop to know 'The Cool' when you hear it.

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