Lupe Fiasco has had what may be the most tumultuous career in rap. In 2005, when he was famously “discovered” by Kanye West on “Touch the Sky” and released his “Fahrenheit 1/15” series, Fiasco was considered one of rap’s most exciting young stars and praised for his lyrics, storytelling, and message. But his self-importance, controversial statements, retirements, and (justified) struggles with Atlantic Records began to unravel his career, as Atlantic stopped pushing his records and his quality declined. Although he had a critical resurgence with 2015’s “Tetsuo & Youth,” the album was a commercial failure. The buzz generated in 2016 when Fiasco announced three new albums quickly faded after he made anti-Semitic remarks on “N.E.R.D.” and then defended his comments in an even worse way. Now he has decided he will retire from music again after releasing his trilogy.
“DROGAS Light,” the first album of the trilogy, is Fiasco’s first album free from Atlantic-imposed constraints and features a variety of leftovers from his previous albums as well as a few new songs. The “Light” in the title distinguishes this album from the next in the trilogy, “DROGAS,” and Fiasco himself seems to consider the album less than perfect. The tracks range from pop to trap to conscious hip-hop in subgenre, but the musical diversity is poorly integrated and just sounds unfocused. The production hurts the album too. On “Dopamine Lit (Intro),” the beat is abrasive with few redeeming qualities, and it sounds like a rubber band being snapped for two and a half minutes straight. “Jump” has a similar problem: It features a single vocal effect for four and a half minutes. In fact, “Jump” may have the weakest concept of any song Fiasco has ever made, describing a meeting between himself and a trapper who wants to become a famous rap star and wants Fiasco to write her hit songs, but then they get involved in a shootout, escape and are somehow transported to space, where the trapper wants to stay—but Fiasco wants to go home. Words can barely describe the idiocy of the song. Other songs on this album have bad concepts, like “It’s Not Design,” which randomly transitions to a verse about the future that’s as weak and repetitive as it is meaningless, but none of them reach the depths of “Jump.”
For an album largely of outtakes, the flow is pretty much what you’d expect, as none of the songs feel like they belong together. The trap songs don’t mesh with the pop nearly as well as Lupe might have hoped, and the flow only picks up towards the middle of the album, when most of the songs are so boring that it’s hard to care anymore. Transitions like those between the abrasive “Dopamine Lit (Intro)” and more relaxed “NGL” or between the poignant “Pick Up the Phone” and the base-heavy “It’s Not Design,” especially grate. Fiasco pitched this album as a refined version of “Lasers,” but somehow “DROGAS Light” is even more inconsistent. Between the choppy transitions and the fact that the album increasingly sounds like a collection of standalone songs, most of which aren’t good, “DROGAS Light” somehow is worse than the previously most reviled Lupe Fiasco album of all time.
With all this said, the album has its moments. “Tranquillo” features Fiasco sticking to the conscious rap he knows best, despite getting “renegaded” by Big K.R.I.T. The lead single “Pick Up the Phone” is almost a pop ballad, but Lupe pulls it off with quality verses and a beat that oscillates between sounding like synths and an acoustic guitar. The problem is that in an album that’s mostly outtakes, everything feels a little like filler.
“DROGAS Light” suffers from bad production, too much filler, and poor incorporation. All of this serves to make the album a frustrating listen. While there are good moments in the album, there is nothing nearly redeeming enough to justify wasting an hour on it. This is an album from one of rap’s formerly rising stars that will be utterly forgotten within the year, and it leaves little confidence that the rest of his trilogy will be good. “DROGAS Light” puts the final nail in the coffin of Lupe Fiasco’s relevance.
—Staff writer Edward M. Litwin can be reached at email@example.com.