Drill Music In Zion. On its surface, you’d expect Lupe Fiasco to rap over or incorporate elements of drill music, and who would blame you. Since Lasers, Lupe Fiasco has taken creative turns left and right, from concept albums to underwhelming sequels and stylistic changes. But Drill Music In Zion is different. Lupe is looking at hip-hop in its current state and juxtaposing–because of apparent negatives–Drill Music’s acceptance in Zion or the “Kingdom of Heaven,” considering the hypocrisy of haters and naysayers who call out Drill, but not the contextual musicality or cultural identity. There is understanding toward it. Lupe is creating conversations around history in music, and the socio-political spectrum, instead of sanctifying the sub-genre. And Lupe isn’t without bringing forth a topic and shifting our familiarity on its head, at times failing like on “Words I Never Said” and his perception of 9/11:
“9/11, building 7, did they really pull it?/Uh, and a bunch of other coverups/Your child’s future was the first to go with budget cuts.”– Lupe Fiasco
On Drill Music In Zion, Lupe Fiasco is effective when he’s focused on one prerogative, but when there is a shift of topics in hip-hop, it affects the steady trajectory the album travels. That isn’t to say he misses the mark by incorporating the final piece of his “Murals” trilogy–which slaps–or his ability to blend both. Most flows are on point, boasting his lyricism. Unfortunately, some choruses don’t hit, breaking the construct, but Lupe’s verses stay consistent on the lyrical side; what he writes brings depth, but his flows aren’t always there. It’s what contrasts “Kiosk” from “Seattle” and so forth.
The main criticism of Drill music comes from its violent content. That’s a central focus of Lupe on Drill Music In Zion, but it’s looked through different angles. From New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ war against the style for its “glorified violence” and ways to push forth violent threats under the guise of disses, it isn’t as predominant issue as they make it out to be. We’ve heard about Fivio Foreign’s Best Friend, TDOTT, and most recently, the Lil Tjay shooting in Edgewater, New Jersey. But that’s only the east coast; it’s everywhere. And It isn’t just drill music. Because of that, it adds more weight to the first verse of “On Faux Nem:” “Rappers die too much/That’s it, that’s the verse.” It subverts the directness delivered in the intro’s first four lines: “Drill music, pop that pill music, kill music/Desecrating the temples in the ghetto/Funeral processionals increase their frequency/Because we can’t break the spell of Geppetto.” When it’s trendy, it becomes the focus of conversation, which is off-putting because not all deaths and news regarding violence is gang-related–Pop Smoke was doxxed in LA by robbers, which went wrong. But it didn’t stop first instincts–something to do with his correlation to the Crips, but that is just one aspect. It’s an ongoing endemic (gun control and so forth) that isn’t all singled and rooted in a particular community.
From Tupac and Jam Master Jay to King Von and Young Dolph, Lupe reminds us it’s more than the surface layer of Drill music. What Lupe Fiasco wants to get across: external cultures infiltrate and establish a base within the genre. It’s more complex than Lupe’s lines in the interlude: “Nah, Nah we can’t, we can’t talk about that/We gotta talk about something else/I mean, because it’s hypocritical, nigga, you got guns,” pondering why they have to represent a lifestyle that one escaped through music. It further perpetuates new tonal meaning with sound. And It all comes down to the numbers, and it sells. That’s the unfortunate part.
Now, is there violent content? Yes. Is it glorified? That’s hard to answer, primarily because the bridge gets built between lyrics and beat. Think about how certain Juice Wrld tracks perpetuate his depression, and for some, it’s second nature because the production gets flurried with insane pop appeal. At that point, the listener should be able to separate the two upon further listens. So, to focus on that, when other genres like gangsta/reality rap, the east coast adjacent mafioso rap, hardcore, horrorcore, and more have been in the same boat. It’s not the music. It’s larger issues than it, like infrastructure, gun control, etc. The naysayers look at the genre through tinted lenses, where all that comes out, are the negatives. It’s scapegoating, and Lupe tries to keep that in focus, despite musical shortcomings, like the mundane histrionics about the commercialism within hip-hop–chains, spinning rims, etc–in “Kiosk,” which fails to hit the mark.
In other tracks, he is rapping about musical parallels that connect both sides, making way for non-drill listeners to open their minds; I mean, shit, it took me a while back in the day to get acclimated. And we hear it but he keens into it on tracks like “Precious Things” or “Autoboto,” where Lupe brings up past segregation, which created these distinct neighborhoods, which eventually got pitted against each other through external issues. He uses it to construct conscious parallels with his alter ego Carrera-Lu (his flashier side), one where each acknowledges who they represent–the aware Lupe and the swag-filled and sometimes violent Carrera. “Precious Things” uses anthropomorphism to bring forth the hypocrisy of homonyms, like the questioning of having body parts get incorporated, like arms.
Like “Precious Things,” most tracks carry an emotional depth that perfectly contrasts arguments made about the subgenre, but most importantly, the culture. It has a built foundation that it expands on, but at points, the production can feel wasted or singular. There are vibrant Jazzy, at times freestyling, like on the title track, and other times are more singularly driven, like “Seattle,” though it is a solid track, the production isn’t as interesting as his verses. They aren’t detractors, as they acquiesce in a great three-track run from “Drill Music In Zion” to “On Faux Nem.” Drill Music In Zion isn’t Lupe’s best, but he offers plates with material that might make you reconsider your opinion on Drill.