If you were disappointed by 2017’s DROGAS Light, then DROGAS Wave is the heartfelt, lengthy apology. Lupe Fiasco returns to deft storytelling and strong bars for this new album.

Release date: September 21, 2018 | 1st and 15th Productions | FacebookInstagram | Website

Lupe Fiasco has, uh… a storied career. Resembling a bit of a roller coaster, young Lupe started out in the mid-aughts releasing some modern classics. This decade saw the rapper release four projects, most of which were comparatively lackluster. It truly was anyone’s guess as to where the second entry in his ‘DROGAS‘ saga was going to land in terms of quality, but I’m happy to report that, despite its density, DROGAS Wave is a very solid entry in his catalog.

Yes, it’s true! This album has wonderful production, bars for days, thoughtful concepts, and not a whole lot in the way of itself. I’m… kind of surprised. The overarching theme here is a tough one: ‘DROGAS‘ is Spanish for drugs, and here ‘drugs’ is an acronym meaning ‘Don’t Ruin Us God Said‘. More over, the whole album focuses on a story of slaves called LongChains who jump from a ship transporting them who then live on, free as part of the ocean using their newfound power sinking other slave ships, freeing their people. Not every song has to do with this concept explicitly, but themes like oceans, water, racism, and freedom are present throughout a lot of the songs, tying it all together.

One of the first things you may notice from looking at the album is that it’s pretty light on features, only working with singers like Nikki Jean and Crystal Torres – both of whom he’s been working with for years. It’s refreshing to see, but it does shoulder all of the lyrical weight on Lupe‘s shoulders. Thankfully, it’s a pressure he shows no problem dealing with. The storytelling here is strong, replete with great lines, references, and hooks. He even employs Jamaican Patois to deepen the story’s connection of the West Indies and slavery (“Gold vs the Right Thing to Do”) and raps an entire song in Spanish as a prequel of sorts to the main story (“Drogas”).

A rapper ain’t much without his beats and they run the gamut from the Latin stylings of “Drogas” to stripped back bangers like “Stack That Cheese” and “Happy Timbuck2 Day”, all with some jazz elements throughout. On DROGAS Wave, we see just how effortlessly Lupe creates great synergy with his production team to make really any type of song he wants. He’s also not above stepping aside for world-building, emotional moments like the “Slave Ship” interlude, which is a three-and-a-half minute long violin solo that captures the melancholy and crushing emotional weight of black slaves being forced on ships to be sold into a life of labor, violence, and servitude.

Lupe really has an affinity for smoother songs and capitalizes on that here, some being downright sweet. “Down” stands out as an enigma at first, a seemingly light-hearted song that sounds like it’s from an Aquaman musical:

‘Fish is my friends and the whales is my homies
Octopuses my people, the shrimp, they all know me
The sharks is my n****s, the dolphins is with us
The crabs is my comrades, the seahorse be holdin’ us down’

It’s rapped and sung from the perspective of LongChains. They find harmony with the sea life inhabiting the Atlantic Ocean after jumping from their ship, building a world for them to be free. The production is appropriately slow and wavy, Lupe‘s lyrical flow much like water. “Alan Forever” and “Jonylah Forever” are two songs about Alan Kurdi and Jonylah Watkins respectively, two children whose lives were cut short by two separate tragedies. In these tracks, alternate realities were built for them where they are both still alive and prospering individuals. They’re bittersweet affairs to say the least, especially when you know the background of the subjects, but showcase Lupe‘s expert storytelling skills. The former track has a very whimsical approach to the production which lends itself nicely to the lighter, emotional tone.

My gripes are mostly micro-level, and they’re ones that Lupe plays with occasionally much to my, and others’, frustration. “Cripple” is an amazing jazz rap song with flute, trumpet, and bass tones that really flavor it up, but uses a homophobic slur during the second verse to prove a point. It isn’t the first time, but I hope it’s the last from someone who makes a concerted effort to call out homophobia.

If there’s one glaring flaw with this album as a whole, it’s the length. I was intimidated by the 98-minute run time and, no matter how you slice it, it’s long. This will likely keep a lot of people away, but I would implore anyone curious to still give it a chance. Lupe has a lot of fun with crafting stories directly in service to the main story and ones adjacent to the themes contained within. The topics are handled as well as expected, and it’s structured in a cinematic way that allows the album to glide on by. Much of the tracklist is purposeful and unwasted effort. There’s so many gems I simply can’t cover here (“Mural Jr.” for example is 100-plus bars worthy of being a sequel to Tetsuo & Youth‘s “Mural“); trust me when I say it’s a dense, rewarding listen for those that choose to dig in.

DROGAS Wave by nature is a hard sell, but one worth buying into. If you’re a Lupe Fiasco fan who has been let down by recent efforts, this is a great time to try again. For those simply looking for a standout hip-hop effort with extravagant lyricism that’s weighty without getting too abstract, splendid production, and a smart concept and message, you should find yourself in great company with this long-form album. ‘Think deep, but don’t let it fry your motherboards‘.

If you’re interested in a little deeper of a dive into this album and its concept, I point you into the direction of The Company Man‘s video breakdown. He has solid hip-hop-focused content overall, so be sure to check out his other stuff!

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

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