Lupe Fiasco is ever the inconsistent rapper. His last album, 2015’s Tetsuo & Youth, was by far his most ambitious, bold and focussed project to date, and the results blew his previous two underwhelming releases out of the water. This album was one of early 2015’s hip hop highlights and saw a remarkable return to form for the rapper, but a lot has gone down since then for Lupe. Following accusations of anti-semitism in the lyrics to his N.E.R.D. freestyle that was ultimately dropped from SoundCloud as a result, Lupe announced his retirement as well as the cancellation of the three albums he had promised to release between October 2016 and January 2017. DROGAS Light was one of these albums and, obviously, was ultimately released despite the controversy surrounding Lupe and his outburst as a result of this. Lupe himself has described this album as more of a compilation of leftover tracks and has urged people not to take it too seriously. Given the serious and partially conceptual nature of Tetsuo & Youth, this marks another significant change of pace for the rapper, and his return to a more pop-orientated vibe, akin to that featured on his 2011 album Lasers, reinforces this latest readjustment to his sound. The extent to which this album is expected not to be taken seriously was seemingly epitomised by the fact that Lupe himself published a review of DROGAS Light, awarding it a 7/10 and leading to this record being seen as somewhat of a meme. Lupe’s review of his own album is an interesting read, seeing as it helps explain some of the motivations and thoughts that went into this project, and I certainly agree with a significant amount of what he has to say about it, but I definitely come to a different conclusion. The rapper is certainly correct in stating that DROGAS Light “is somewhat of a mixed bag”, but the “light touches of lyrical and technical skill from the MC” are a lot more scarce than he admits. Indeed, the bars and beats brought to the table on this album broadly suffer from the generic and rudimentary tendencies that much of Lasers suffered from, arguably even to a slightly exacerbated extent here. For the most part, Lupe sounds completely unfocussed and directionless on DROGAS Light, and arguing that this is justified because the nature of the album is a compilation of throwaway tracks doesn’t cut it for me; if Lupe felt that these cuts were particularly lacking, he shouldn’t have released them as part of a studio album, let alone as his comeback from retirement.
As it happens, DROGAS Light doesn’t get off to all that bad of a start, with most of the better cuts appearing amongst the first handful of tracks. Dopamine Lit (Intro) as an opener establishes some of the more trap-orientated elements that make their way onto this project, with Lupe clearly pulling ideas from Migos and Future at certain points on the record. The beat on Dopamine Lit is as simple as one would expect from an introductory track to a record of Lupe Fiasco songs “from the vaults”, but its bare-bones trap flavour leaves enough space for Lupe to come through with a pretty impressive flow that’s amongst his more memorable on the project. The first full-length track on the record, NGL, is definitely one of the better cuts on DROGAS Light, particularly as a result of Ty Dolla $ign’s feature. The pop rap beat on this track goes pretty hard, although if listening with headphones, the production stands out as a bit off at times, particularly with the bass drum sounding slightly distorted as a result of the mixing that clearly sought to force a hard beat onto this cut. Ty also appears on Kill, which is by far the longest track on this record with a runtime exceeding seven minutes, and his feature creates one of the catchier hooks on DROGAS Light, however the length of this track is massively bloated and not at all justified given how long it takes this cut to progress significantly. Lupe comes through with some pretty good bars on Kill, but these appear intermittently between the long hook that is repeated almost ad nauseum. Similarly, Victoria Monet’s sung verse puts a smooth spin on the track, but it’s a fleeting verse that is interrupted as she breaks into the hook once again. Whilst I’m on the topic of features, Tranquillo is definitely one of the better cuts on this new album, with Rick Ross and Big K.R.I.T. stepping up to the plate and delivering some solid bars that work well within the narrative Lupe establishes in his first verse, concerning ambitions and self-improvement. As is apt given DROGAS Light‘s status as an album of leftovers, there is not just a mixed bag of styles on here, but a mixed bag of quality. As a result, there are some perfectly good tracks on here that, whilst still paling in comparison to Lupe’s magnum opus Tetsuo & Youth, at least leave the listener with some good moments to take away from this project.
However, this being said, there are a significant amount of generic or lacklustre moments on DROGAS Light and, at the worst of times, some moments that are pretty hard to get through. Promise comes to mind as one of the earliest examples. The beat on this track is simple not to the point of sounding stripped-back or minimal, but to the point of simply sounding tired and boring after only a short period of time. Lupe’s auto-tuned crooning, which is performed rather clumsily, is quite noticeably inspired by Future, but conveyed in a much less interesting and accessible fashion. His bars and flow on this track are also very reminiscent of Migos, but this is nothing new given the Atlanta trio’s profound impact on the current trap scene. Promise seems, overall, to be Lupe’s attempt at a trap banger with plenty of pop appeal, given that he seems to just throw as many trap clichés into a melting pot as possible and hope that this yields good results. The end product, however, is evidently lacking in thought and comes across as stale and uncreative filler at best. A significant amount of other cuts on here come across as filler also. Lupe’s incredibly repetitive sung vocals on City of the Year go down poorly, especially when delivered over one of the least interesting beats on the entire record. Rondo’s feature on this cut doesn’t redeem it either; in fact, his appearance arguably marks the point where the track goes from being boring to borderline unbearable. The distorted effect on his vocals sounds dreadful and is actually quite hard to listen to, even more so given his awkward emphasis on certain syllables that jars the listener at points. Plenty more tracks on here could be scrutinised to within an inch of their lives, but they largely suffer from many of the same ills, so this seems redundant at this point. Pick Up the Phone and Wild Child, however, are worth briefly mentioning given that they are both of a similar vein and account for two of my least favourite songs on this entire project. Both attempt a pop rap sound that would maybe go down well with the ‘soccer moms’ of white suburban America, but display an incredible misstep to Lupe fans who were hoping for the focus and detail of Tetsuo & Youth to make a reappearance on this project.
DROGAS Light ultimately amounts to a sloppy compilation of throwaway tracks that were perhaps best left in the bin. A significant portion of this album comes across as Lupe throwing shit against a wall and seeing what sticks. To be fair, whilst the band moments on this record are incredibly easy to tear into, there are a fair share of stand-out moments that come across rather well. However, this also brings into question the hour-long runtime of this project, as it could have made for a better album were the worst cuts left out. The results would by no means be a massively impressive project, especially as a follow-up to Tetsuo & Youth, but it could have at least made for a decent 40-minute album, as opposed to this, perhaps Lupe’s worst release to date. I cannot say that DROGAS Light bodes well for its successors, DROGAS, which is scheduled for a release further into the year, or the final album of this trilogy. Unfortunately, DROGAS Light isn’t a welcoming comeback for the rapper after his supposed retirement and I can only hope that the quality of the tracks on here doesn’t continue over to Lupe’s next two releases. Then again, if he was comfortable enough with this release to award it a 7/10, the future isn’t looking much brighter.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4.5/10