Young Chicago MC Lupe Fiasco has all the right names behind him: Before his infectious skateboarding single “Kick, Push” broke through to the mainstream, he’d been hyped by superstars like Jay-Z, Pharell Williams and Kanye West. Fiasco has the most in common with the latter; not only is his album “Food & Liquor” (Atlantic) packed with unusual, interesting music and well-thought out rhymes, but – like West in his club days – Fiasco is an engaging performer, full of the right kinds of charisma and braggadocio.
Though backed only by a DJ and hype-man, it was hard to take one’s eyes off Fiasco onstage. Before each song he poses as if he’s getting ready for a marathon — one foot behind the other, glaring at the audience behind big sunglasses, a large smile on his small face. And when the beat drops in on his best songs — “Hurt Me Soul,” “He Say, She Say,” or the more-rap-than-rock rap-rocker “The Instrumental” — he attacks like an athlete as well, rapid-fire sprints alternating with more restrained jogs.
A mix-tape remix of the Gorillaz hit “Feel Good Inc” hinted at his range, but album highlight “Daydreamin'” — which began the encore — solidified it. Fiasco rapped over a beat used previously by indie rockers the Beta Band, his flow criticizing lesser hip-hoppers’ videos: “Now come on everybody/Let’s make cocaine cool/We need a few more half-naked women up in the pool.”
Early on, West toured with live musicians; it’s one more lesson from him that Fiasco should think about learning. Not only would it give him more room to improvise, but it would help bury his one remaining hip-hop cliche: that of the MC and his hype man, trying to generate audience noise in between songs.