Review: Lupe Fiasco, ‘DRILL MUSIC IN ZION’

The Chicago legend’s latest effort strives to bridge the gap between the art world and hip-hop, proving the two worlds are more linked than we assume.

Lupe Fiasco is a complex rapper; nothing the man ever does is simple. Whether the Chicago native is making records for radio or dropping a freestyle, hip-hop heads would have to collectively gather to peel back each intended layer. That being said, it’s no surprise that his latest effort delves deeper into the art world and engulfs in multiple different meanings, mixing eclectic artistic values with modern-day philosophies. Whether the record is ten songs or more than twenty, listener’s aren’t guaranteed a casual-friendly experience.

DRILL MUSIC IN ZION takes on the task of translating abstract ideals through catchy choruses and poetic slams, helping deconstruct the complex creative processes of the art realm.

Photography: Jessica Hatter

Chicago’s finest manages to break new ground yet again on his latest record, achieving would could only be described as impossible to the average emcee. The record is comprised of a heavily-layered set of concepts scattered throughout the tracklist, leaving listeners with a lot to chew on despite the considerate 41-minute runtime. Though the notions of each track are clouded with a variety of different flows and rhymes, the record never comes off as overwhelming and is quite accessible in sound. Sharing the stage with his sister, Ayesha Jaco, and singer, Nayirah, Lupe puts on a phenomenal performance, exhibiting a great balance of lyrical exercise and free-flowing artistry.

The main selling point of any Lupe Fiasco record will always be directed towards the lyrical content. Known for the heavy usage of advanced literary techniques in his rhymes, Lupe doesn’t miss a step on this record as he displays the immense strengths of his brilliant pen. Whether its splitting verses to reflect an exchange between egos on the lead single “AUTOBOTO” or drawing connections of his label experiences to those of a painter and a patron on “MS. MURAL”, Lupe continues to pose as a lyrical threat, wasting no space on filler of any sorts.

Delving deeper into the content of the record, Lupe bounces back and forth on a variety of conflicting topics, both intrinsic and extrinsic; but a major standout that best represents the free-flowing nature of Lupe’s train of thought is the outro “ON FAUX NEM.” The track bounces expands on the sad fate that many rappers have faced in such a short time span and expresses the contradiction of Lupe’s feelings that “rappers die too much” even though he still subtly exists in the same violent realm that these artists fell victim to. In addition to the poetic stanzas, the track retains a lot of cap space used to let the beat progress, allowing the listener to soak in the thorough production.

Speaking of production, Lupe carries on the tradition of working with long-time collaborator and friend, Soundtrakk for the beats on the album. The progression since the initial interaction on the electric debut Food & Liquor is noteworthy as we see DRILL MUSIC IN ZION fall into a jazzier vibe for the production, contrary to the triumphant horns and sped-up drums early on. Rather than opting for a full set of loops, DRILL MUSIC IN ZION exhibits more gaping musicality, giving off an avant-garde feel as certain tracks develop. The flowing production helps complement Lupe’s non-stop train of thought, making up the best batch of compositions that perfectly fit this record.

Since the beginning of his career, Lupe Fiasco has always been held in high lyrical regard; and while it’s a nice accolade to wear on your sleeve, such high praise could also lead to being boxed in artistically with unfathomable expectations. With DRILL MUSIC IN ZION, Lupe manages to bypass the block yet again, making the most out of the bare minimum. With a $100 USB microphone and a laptop, Lupe was able to craft this record in 72 hours on GarageBand; but here’s the real kicker: none of the rhymes on this record were ever written.

A grand majority of this record’s excellence revolves around Lupe’s response to the handicaps he made for himself. While these restrictions may put a damper on an artist’s end result, the Chicago emcee manages to jump over each hurdle and craft his best work yet. Records such as the heavily animated “PRECIOUS THINGS,” the highly electric “AUTOBOTO” and the deeply introspective “MS. MURAL” easily fall in the upper echelon of Lupe’s work: and neither of the three tracks were even written! For an emcee who has achieved more than the average lyricist, Lupe continues to raise bar with each release, proving no one can reach his lyrical realm.

Many called the arrogant emcees’s bluff when he claimed that his then unannounced record was his Illmatic, but DRILL MUSIC IN ZION comfortably checks all boxes to be hailed as a classic to come.

9 / 10