Lupe Fiasco

Though some believe Chicago's Lupe Fiasco is too smart for mainstream rap, that's not exactly true. Most of the lyrics on sophomore release Lupe Fiasco's The Cool are pretty basic, clichéd stuff, right down to the CD's opening monologue: "They thought it was cool to tear down the projects and put up million-dollar condos, gentrification. They think it's cool to stand on the block hiding product in their socks, making quick dime-bag dollars." As on Common and Talib Kweli's latest albums, Fiasco seems to believe that paying lip service to problems plaguing the black community is the same as substantively addressing their causes and potential solutions. Much of Cool is wrapped around a complex street narrative involving characters called The Cool, The Streets and The Game, which will make for a better comic book (as Fiasco has promised) than it does a concept album. Oddly, Cool works better when serving up frantic club bangers and radio-friendly R&B: "Go Go Gadget Flow," a tribute to his hometown, might be the single of the year, "Superstar" is a winning empowerment jam and "Hi-­Definition," featuring Snoop Dogg and Pooh Bear, shows Fiasco has an unmistakable ear for concocting hits.