Lupe Fiasco: The Cool

By Rebecca Barry Hill

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Herald rating: * * * *

Label: Warner
Verdict: Chicago boy wonder's second album touches sky

He's the skateboarding Muslim rapper with the seal of approval from Kanye West, an artist who usually reserves praise for himself.

Lupe Fiasco is back with an effort that is every bit as original, thoughtful and easy-listening as his 2006 breakthrough, Food & Liquor.

Whether he's embracing electro-rock, rapid-fire club rap (check the self-explanatory Go Go Gadget Flow) or loungey nods to A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, Fiasco takes on his various personalities with ease, some of them contradictory.

"I love the Lord but sometimes it's like I love me more," he raps to dreamy strings on the album's highlight, The Coolest, one of several tracks that allude to his newfound struggle with fame; Hello/Goodbye finds him casting aspersions on hip-hop materialism while Gold Watch is his enthusiastic tribute to it. Even when he plays hustler, fatherless son or critic he still comes across as sweet enough to take home to the folks.

And although he's not as scary as, say, 50 Cent, he has more to say about the state of the world when he steps into the skin of many a bad man on Put You On Game.

Combined with the album's mostly sinuous production, The Cool could prove a little tame for some hip-hop fans. The rest of us should sit back and enjoy the ride.

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