Lupe Fiasco

Food & Liquor (1st and 15th/Atlantic Records)

By decrying inflated grandeur over cinematic sound-swatches, this Chi-Town MC could have had a fiasco on his hands. But with equal parts Jay-Z cadence, Common consciousness, and Jurassic 5 pitch, Fiasco balances an adroit album that's urbane while not being overtly urban.

Food & Liquoris big-budget backpack hip hop, destined to please those whose idea of bling is the latest iPod accessory. Exhibiting Kanye West's ambition but not his ego trappings, the debut full-length from this 25-year-old should be held up as one of 2006's most nourishing and intoxicating releases. The frequencies are earbud-tight, and there's no dust in these grooves. Standouts including "Real," "Just Might Be OK," and "Pressure" (minus a phoned-in Jay-Z appearance) exhibit swaggering guitars, stuttering horns, and swells of strings reminiscent of Florida's J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League (known for Young Buck and Juelz Santana nervy funk bangers, among others). It's region-free production; there's something equally hermetic and frenetic in these and other tracks by Fiasco affiliates Soundtrakk and Prolyfic, as well as in the Kanye-contributed, sallow-toned thug consequence tale "The Cool."

Fiasco reserves the true friction for the phonetics, addressing hip hop's cultural contradictions through inner monologues. A greater concern with absent morals and men is stippled by more personal Gen-Y yens for peers without the pressure. Fiasco spares no syllables stressing life over inner-city lifestyle while maintaining an empowerment that would make Nas proud. Tony Ware

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