Fully understanding the details of the concept spread across The Cool, first introduced on Food and Liquor's "He Say/She Say" and "The Cool," may only happen after pointing a Lupe Fiasco decoder ring toward Chicago during the vernal equinox, but the synopsis is simple: a fatherless boy is raised by supernatural characterizations of the streets (named the Streets, not to be confused with Mike Skinner) and the game (named the Game, not to be confused with Jayceon Taylor), squanders his potential, becomes motivated by greed, turns to dealing drugs, gets caught up on a few levels. A key piece to understanding the details is "Pills," an "I Gotcha" B-side that can also be found on some non-U.S. copies of Food and Liquor and the MTV2 My Block: Chicago compilation. Coming from an ambitious MC who is only on album two and considering retirement due to various forms of dissatisfaction -- including what the actual streets and the actual game have done to hip-hop -- The Cool has a kind of set-up that may provoke some involuntary tedium preparedness. Lupe incorporates the hyper-expressive, pincushion-sensitive male rock voice wherever it is feasible. (The appearances that come from female voices are much more affecting.) Ditto modern quasi-symphonic soft rock, sometimes toughened up by pensive, churning guitars. Ditto dramatics laid on so thickly that they tend to take a turn toward the acutely melodramatic -- and on this album, strings and other drama signifiers are nearly as integral as the beats beneath them. Even considering the over-abundance of elaboration on all fronts, it's a credit to Lupe that he has made an album that cannot be processed after one or two listens, and if you have the time, its inscrutability turns into mere complexity. (And it turns out that, at the very most, only a third of the album is conceptual, even though it looks and initially sounds like it.) He is one of the most clever artists around, and as far as telling stories with rhymes goes, he's way up there, best exemplified by "Hip-Hop Saved My Life" (a gripping story about a struggling rapper) and "Gotta Eat" (where Lupe's inspiration for metaphors is a cheeseburger, yet it is no more corny than Main Source's classic "Just a Friendly Game of Baseball"). For anyone opposed to their own perception of Lupe Fiasco -- the always-thinking, always-plotting, uptight moralist brainiac, for instance -- The Cool will sound like meandering, overblown prog-rap that is far less tolerable than Food and Liquor. For anyone sick of hearing MCs who boast about themselves (which is akin to taking a stance against R&B songs about love, but whatever), The Cool will sound like a major artistic triumph. It's somewhere in between.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
feat: Matthew Santos
feat: Nikki Jean
feat: Sarah Green
feat: Matthew Santos