Lupe Fiasco :: Touch the Sky ::
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Lupe Fiasco's resume to date could be written into a song named "How to Get Fucked by the Industry." The Chicago native has been there and done that all at a young age. He was in a group called Da Pak that signed to Epic Records and subsequently broke up before even putting an album out. He tried to shine again by joining Arista Records with the help of L.A. Reid, but Reid got fired before they could even do a promo single and he was back out in the cold. Third time had finally been the charm for young Lupe, as he landed with Atlantic Records and finally got a major push thanks to his memorable guest appearance on the Kanye West song "Touch the Sky":

"Yes, yes, yes, guess who's on third
Lupe steal like Lupin the 3rd
Here like air 'til I'm beer on the curb
Peachfuzz buzz but bid on the verge
Let's slow it down like we're on the syrup
Bottle shaped body like Mrs. Butterworth
But, before you say another word
I'm back on the block like I'm layin on the street
I'm tryin to stop lion/lyin like I'm Mum-Ra
But I'm not lyin when I'm layin on the beat
En garde"

Rap fans have been clamoring for the release of his major label debut "Food and Liquor" album ever since, and the buzz only got bigger when the single "Kick Push" hit the airwaves. To no one's surprise a "Touch the Sky" mixtape by DJ E Nyce and started making the rounds, and you'd be even less surprised to hear "Kick Push" included in the mix as track number five:

"First got it when he was six, didn't know any tricks
Matter of fact first time he got on it he slipped
Landed on his hip and, busted his lip
For a week he had to talk with a lisp, like THISSSSS
Now we can end the story right here
But shorty didn't quit there was somethin in the air
Yeah, he said it was something so appealin
He couldn't fight the feelin, somethin about it
He knew he couldn't doubt it, couldn't understand it
Branded, since the first kickflip, he landed"

It's not too often in hip-hop these you'll hear a highly touted up-and-coming new artist doing a song about THE LOVE OF SKATEBOARDING. That's definitely breaking the mold. Where are the guns, the drugs, the fly whips and the iced out grills? Uh-uh, not Lupin the 3rd. He's on some different shit for 2006, which is what makes the "Touch the Sky" mixtape so entertaining. Even when he proclaims to be doing an "Ignorant Freestyle" you can tell the agenda is to mock these trends rather than praise them:

"And since I'm, presently on the incline
I feel inclined, to invite y'all
into mine, I'm feelin real spiffy
Signed, sealed, illest label deal in the city
Check me and my fifty dollar 5950
Buyin diamonds is just, no longer in me
So, no more chains, flooded watches on the right hand
I work like a Mexican, spend like a white man
That's right man, I could Bentley afford
Instead I copped a couple skateboards.. and some sneakers
My kick game is crazy"

As much as I'm looking forward to the new album, and this mixtape does give us some tantalizing tastes of it, the freestyles over other people's beats are the hidden gems here. Take "Happy Industries" for example - the title alone is a subtle hint that what he's actually flowing to is the beat from Gorillaz' track "Feel Good Inc." And damn it feel good to hear Lupe up on it:

"Just havin fun, not chasin cash
Apologize now if it make you mad
Had to call G Bars, have 'em warm up the mic
Put the paddin on the walls cause it makes 'em mad
Check, the studio is nothin la-vish
Matter fact it's just an at-tic
Background noise from the fan
be hittin the mic stand and the outside traffic
Still turns out fan-tas-tic
Turn my vocals up just a tad, bit"

What constantly amazes me is how Lupe interweaves his lines together from one bar to the next, letting one metaphor or punchline be the set up for the next. Take "Lupe the Killer" for example:

"'Til I'm called back to the shore by the watchers of the bay
I wait, til I come back like a tsunami
Never microwave like the Watchers of the Weight
I'm wrapped in aluminum foil, I do my dirt like Kwame
Until that same soil bein pushed into my grave
But I'm so ahead of my time, the next day
Might strike oil while I delay, homie I'm so crude
Texas tea, haters is so screwed"

A few of Lupe's Chicago peoples from the 1st & 15th Crew get a little shine on the mixtape too, including Gemini on "Southside" and Shayla G on "What You Talkin' Bout," but Lupe is clearly the star of the show. There's not too many mixtapes I would go out of my way to recommend you should cop with all due haste, but since "Food and Liquor" probably won't hit stores for at least two more months Lupe's "Touch the Sky" is what you're gonna need to get you through that long wait.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: June 27, 2006