The worst thing one can do when listening to Lupe Fiasco's sophomore release is to believe the Chicago rapper's claims that The Cool is a concept album. The CD's alleged storyline — about an MC raised by a mythical character named the Streets and tempted by another mythical character called the Game — makes no sense at all. Yet that's pretty much the way concept albums roll: Two of the most celebrated — the Who's Tommy and David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars — don't really mean anything either.
So enjoy The Cool for what it is: an intelligent, challenging hip-hop record — the likes of which rarely net major-label release these days. The voices warning Lupe in "Dumb It Down"'s chorus — "We ain't graduate from school, nigga/Them big words ain't cool, nigga" — illuminate the rapper's dilemma. But Lupe refuses to give in. Over elaborate beats that incorporate strings, guitars, and rock-inspired production by Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump ("Little Weapon") and UNKLE ("Hello/Goodbye"), those big words are affecting reminders of just how far hip-hop has fallen over the past decade. "Hip-Hop Saved My Life" and the ethereal "Fighters" (which grieves for fans driven underground by gangsta posturing) are new classics that best reflect The Cool's real concept: just how uncool much of today's rap music actually is.