Album Review | Lupe Fiasco – DRILL MUSIC IN ZION

This album was released on June 24th this year. About a year or two ago, I decided that Lupe Fiasco is my favorite rapper of all time, so, needless to say, I am incredibly excited for this latest album. I have literally dreamed about this album. I’m not even exaggerating. I believe Lupe said that he challenged himself to fully create an album in 24 hours, but it ended up taking him approximately 72 hours to make this one. It’s been finished since last year, but I guess the mixing and mastering process and sample clearance stuff wasn’t taken care of until now, so that’s why we had to wait so long for it. Apparently the guy who mixed Late Registration, which is still Kanye‘s best album, also mixed this record and said it’s the best project he’s ever worked on. At least, I think that’s what he said. I might be getting the details wrong. The album cover is pretty similar to that of Tetsuo & Youth, which is still my favorite project that Lupe has ever made, so that makes me even more excited for this record. With all that said, I’m still trying to keep my expectations in check because I have been let down by Lupe before. I enjoyed both of the singles I heard from this project though, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy it to some extent. Every song is produced by Soundtrakk.

The album begins with a glorious Spoken Word intro entitled THE LION’S DEEN from Lupe’s sister, Ayesha Jaco. I’ve always enjoyed Ayesha’s contributions to Lupe’s music in the past, but this is probably my favorite performance that I’ve ever heard from her. She fucking killed this shit.

Scrolls of obituaries contain more words than dictionaries
That will define how lions in Zion became alley cats
Who traded their baseball bats for gats that spat
Blood of the people across steeples and concrete jungles
That turn playgrounds into graveyards
That buriеd generations of black and brown men
Who lеft their post because they were misguided
By ghosts in the land of the living

I love the kind of ambient-sounding production from Soundtrakk here too. It sounds like a reprise of the instrumental from the closing song on this album. I love everything about this song, and I actually think it’s one of the best tracks on the album. It’s dope af to me. The following track is called GHOTI, and it’s another highlight for me. I love the jazzy production from Soundtrakk here, and Lupe of course killed this song. I was totally mesmerized by his lyricism here.

Assassin's Creed, rapping it back indeed
Like a mansion that's lacking fees, tapping the blackest keys
Capture catastrophes like a camera feed
Ball like a can of peas, fall like Michael Jackson on anaesthes'
Mistaking maidens for manatees
Neuralink is now pirating all your fantasies
Mistaking the sanitation for sanity
My mistake, I'm mistaking staying for cannot leave

His flow and rhymes were on point. My only issue with this song is the brevity; the song is less than 2 minutes long and it ends kind of abruptly. What’s here is so fucking good though. If this was extended to three and a half minutes it might actually be my favorite song on the album. There’s just one verse on this track, but it’s fantastic. I think the song is dope as hell. It’s followed by AUTOBOTO, which was the first single from the album.

This song really grew on me within the context of the album. I liked it the first time I heard it, but now I like it even more. It’s still not one of my favorite tracks on the album, but I definitely enjoy it. I like the hook, and the production really grew on me a lot too. The best aspect of the song to me is definitely Lupe’s flow though. He sounds great rapping over this beat, and his rhymes were fantastic.

Lies to the judge
Rain in the sky, and the sea might rise what slides to the mud
Sty's to the flies from all kinds of demise
Reporting live from the hive and all sides of the sludge
One deep meditate, one street separate
"Hi" to the Crips, "Goodbye" to the Bloods
But it was the Souls, the Lords and GDs
Segregated by the street in the Chi' where I was

The outro is performed by a vocalist named Nayirah, with whom I was previously unfamiliar. I think they sound pretty good singing here though. I wasn’t really crazy about this outro when I heard the song as a single, but, again, I think it works better in the full context of the album. I definitely understand why this track was chosen as a single though because it’s one of the most accessible songs on the whole project. It’s not a favorite of mine on this album, but I still really enjoy it. I think it’s dope. It’s followed by PRECIOUS THINGS, which has another feature from Nayirah. I think she sounds pretty good singing the hook, and the production from Soundtrakk here is phenomenal. I really love the poetic opening verse from Lupe about hands and the powers that be.

Never bite the hands that feed
But when those same hands grab the gats and up their sleeves
They gather traps and apparatus for your griefs
They catch you lackin', rap around your hatch and squeeze
I swear my hands werе pure, I gave 'em manicures
Became my adversaries, became my saboteurs
I put karats on them just like rabbit lures
My middle finger's like, "Fuck this nigga, what happened to us?"

The way he wrote this narrative about hands attached to a rapper was really fucking cool. I think the final verse is the best part of the song, despite not being as long as the first verse.

It's like you could've done more to try and keep us out them handcuffs
It's like we only matter when fans is putting they hands up
You got popular, treated us like the Yakuza
You was Vampire Hunter D, now you Alucard

This isn’t one of my favorite tracks personally, but I still really enjoyed it. The production is great, and Lupe killed it. Nayirah did a good job on the hook as well. The song is dope. It’s followed by a highlight entitled KIOSK. I really like Lupe’s melodic delivery on the first couple of verses. I love how there’s no percussion for the first verse too. He’s just rapping with a sing-songy delivery over a nice piano loop from the perspective of one of those kiosk owners selling diamonds at a mall.

You ain't got a budget for these nuggets
You can keep it Plain Jane & blow out they brains when you in public
The matching ring chain gon' look insane when you untuck it
They'll never know the difference, even if you let 'em touch it
Now if you are a rapper or a trapper on the job
It don't really matter if you get jacked or you get robbed
You can go and let 'em have it, it's not a factor or a prob'
Only thing that's gonna happen, you gon' get attacked by all the blogs

The final verse in which the drums finally come in and Lupe raps with a more traditional delivery is definitely my favorite part of the song. He killed this shit.

Diamonds only worth what you are willing to pay
A deceptive game you are killing to play
Now I have diamonds, it's odd feeling this way
But when they start to sparkle that star-glittering glaze
It sways, takes your mind off todays
Where preachers can praise AIDS as God killing the gays
What a fucking phrase, never ceases to amaze
But when he dies from cancer, that's God's mysterious ways

This song reminds me of Conflict Diamonds from his Revenge of the Nerds mixtape. The approach isn’t the same, but that was the last time he wrote a full song about diamonds if I’m not mistaken. Anyway, I think this song is dope as hell. At this point, the album goes God-mode. The entire second half of this record is damn near flawless to me. It starts with MS. MURAL, which is obviously the final entry in Lupe’s Mural trilogy. This song is fucking amazing. The storytelling from Lupe about the painter and the patron had me hooked throughout the runtime of this track.

The patron pointed at a pile, "Are those rejections or mistakes?"
The painter said, "That is not for question or debate
Most of what we know as art is the projection of a faith
A product of a Pontiff for the election of a saint
A gift from the read for the digestion of the can't
A visual garnish for the confessions of the frank
Displays of physical carnage make connections to the ranks
Goes over very well with South Americans and Yanks
Not to sound shamanistic but there's medicine in paint
It gets kinetic if you let it, there's a fetish in its strength"

The writing on this track is just beautiful to me. The way the song ends is fire—no pun intended—and I love the production too. The saxophone that comes in during the break between the two verses sounds glorious, and the extended instrumental outro of this song is great. It segues really nicely into the following track, NAOMI. Once again, I love the jazzy production, and Lupe’s wordy lyricism had me hooked.

Signs of intelligent life
Mosquito nets repel anopheles bites, look at the night
Nice, we look alike, they want a slice to your dreams
Even Christ took a knife for the team, so swing

The song’s got a pretty straightforward structure; Lupe’s rapping the whole time with no hook. I love the way he ends the first verse. His flow is smooth as hell during this part…

Per the usual
All that beautiful musical moving you like a inter-cooled Subaru
With an Italian man saying, "Look at what I do for you"
A nice chicken vesuvio
Be in North Boston often
'Round them Sicilians I be walking like the ambiance and talking
My favorite part is when all the avogados is brought in
You can put Dolce vita chicken risotto in my coffin

I really like the upbeat, lighthearted feel of this track. There’s really nothing about this song that I dislike. I mean, it perhaps could’ve used one more long verse, but I still love it as it is. I think it’s dope as hell. It’s followed by the title track, DRILL MUSIC IN ZION, which was my favorite song on my first listen of the album. It might still be my favorite track. I’m not quite sure. I haven’t decided yet. It’s definitely still got my favorite instrumental on the album though. The jazzy production here is glorious. I especially love the piano keys that come in after the first 8 bars. The way the preceding track transitions into this one is really smooth too by the way. Lupe’s lyricism is absolutely gorgeous here too. I mean, I have no idea what most of it means, but it’s just beautiful to listen to. I wish I could just quote the entire verse here.

Opera onyx, popular's for convicts
Stay below the doppler, turn Robotniks into Sonics
Positioned jostlers, monitor hegemonics
Robots make the robots that solder thе electronics
Nostradamus couldn't bother to keep a promisе
Logic's on the rocket, what profit defeats a conscience?
Somebody's daughter is contemplating the convent
But a man with a dollar is slobbering for her haunches
Mouth is just watering for some nonsense
And this might be the moment her modeling probably launches
Gobbling collard greens through the rumpus
Washing gasoline, watch hollering, replace a congress
Golden gossiping auditing through my content
Running out of water, just pondering where the pond went
World's hottest summer, we're wondering if they pawned it
Desperate for the credits to come tumbling through the conflict

I could listen to Lupe rap all day, man. I think the main reason I love this song so much is just because he rapped a lot here. There are two pretty long verses, and both of them are super well-written. There are actually three whole verses, but the third one is only one quatrain. I think the second verse is probably the best part of the song honestly. He really killed this shit. I also love his singing on the hook. It’s not like he was really trying to hit a high note or anything. It’s just really smooth. There’s not a single aspect of this song that I don’t love. I think it’s dope af. The penultimate track is called SEATTLE, and it’s got the most R&B-adjacent instrumental on the album. I think it’s fantastic. The sung hook from Nayirah is really great too. That’s definitely my favorite performance from her on this album. I’m honestly surprised that this song wasn’t chosen as a single because it’s arguably the most accessible song on the album. It sounds kind of Poppy, but not in a bad way. All of the verses on this track from Lupe are very well-written. I love his flow on this track. I also really appreciate the variation in the percussion for the final verse. That’s probably my favorite part of the song. The line about how he gives da’wah to Pro Tools was fire. Overall, I think the song is dope as hell. The closing track is a major highlight entitled ON FAUX NEM, which is of course a play on the phrase “on foe nem.” As I mentioned earlier in this review, the instrumental here feels like an alternate version of that of THE LION’S DEEN. This is definitely the emotional climax of the album. The entire song is about the glorification of violence in Drill music, and how Lupe wishes rappers were lying about their felonious actions. The entire first verse is as follows…

Rappers die too much
That's it
That's the verse

It’s followed by a moment of vocal silence before the hook comes back in. It’s kind of ironic that one of the simplest lines & verses on the album is arguably the most impactful. Even though I appreciate what he did with that first verse, the following verses stood out to me more just because he went more in-depth.

I've admired many cities through the windows of hotels
From the window of a plane I've seen the window of a cell
The plane started to fly, the rain started to fell
That's LaGuardia and Rikers, a airport next to a jail
I took a picture, looked like my window was crying
'Cause it was sad 'cause all they saw every day was somebody flying
And they was trapped, this shit is wack
But it was crack, hung it on my wall like a plaque
Keep yours eyes on the prize and your thumbs on the apps
Facts, I wish that they was lying in their raps
How does that transpire
To be so damned by God, you want your friends to be goddamned liars?

His writing on the final verse is beautiful too.

Want the Quran to be a lie 'cause Hell sounds like it hurts
Also want it to be real 'cause Heaven sounds like it's turnt
Wear my conscience like a condom 'cause I don't wanna be burnt
Wear my dharma like its armor 'cause I don't wanna return
To the wheel of the quivering meat conception
Sometimes I hide inside Kerouac for protection
From the Thanksgiving where bears attacking the dressing
Like Tekken, just lean back and tear into that refreshment
Sometimes real life parallaxes in depression

This is definitely in my top 3 songs from this album. I think it’s amazing. I have no issues with it at all. I think it’s a great way to end the project. It’s dope af.

This album is amazing. It’s definitely my favorite album of the year so far, and I’ll be surprised if that ends up changing by January 1st. There’s not a single track here that I don’t like. This is one of my favorite projects that Lupe has ever done. The fact that he did this in just three days is frankly astonishing. I’m not sure how I’d rank all of his projects, but this would definitely be in the top 5. I think it’s about on par with DROGAS Wave. That album had higher highs in my opinion, but this one is more consistent to me. I’m really struggling to choose a favorite track from this project. I have no consistent gripes with it. I just hope we don’t have to wait four more years for the next Lupe album, but I suppose it’ll be worth the wait if it’s as good as this. I think paring the project down to just 10 tracks was a great decision. It’s all killer and no filler. This album really excites me. I love it. To be honest, I haven’t been able to listen to anything else since this project came out because I’m so obsessed with it. It’s caused me to fall down the rabbit hole of Lupe’s entire discography, so he’s the only artist I’ve been listening to for the past week or so. I think this shit is dope af.

Least Favorite Song: AUTOBOTO


Watch the videos below for more thoughts on this album.

Grade: A


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