In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
By the time Lupe Fiasco released his fourth record, Food & Liquor II, rap’s former golden boy had taken a few lumps. After Atlantic Records held up his third outing, Lasers, for what seemed like an eternity, the album found Fiasco engaged in paranoid, ham-fisted political commentary (“Words I Never Said”) and cynical crossover attempts (“The Show Goes On”).
So it was understandable that Food & Liquor II’s second single, “Bitch Bad,” which didactically attempts to tell men how to treat women respectfully, was critiqued for its questionable gender politics. But the reaction to “Bitch Bad” missed the way Fiasco effectively dealt with hip-hop misogyny in 22 seconds on “Hurt Me Soul,” the best track on his stellar debut, Food & Liquor.
“Hurt Me Soul” takes the form of a personal reflection on Fiasco’s relationship with hip-hop. Like many reluctant fans, Fiasco takes umbrage at the misogyny that permeates much of rap music (“I used to hate hip-hop / Yup, because the women degraded”), but gets pulled in nonetheless (“But Too $hort made me laugh / like a hypocrite I played it”). He eventually starts to call women bitches himself after dating an unpleasant girl, but he still feels guilty. (“Forgive my favorite word for hers and hers alike / But I learned it from a song I heard and sorta liked.”)
What distinguishes “Hurt Me Soul” from “Bitch Bad?” It isn’t just the specificity of “Hurt Me Soul” as an examination of Fiasco’s struggle, but also its acknowledgment that hip-hop misogyny is troubling in part because of the genre’s social realism. In the track, Fiasco decides to become an MC when he realizes hip-hop’s power to mirror reality as “children with leaking ceilings,” and “compositions from Pac” lead him to “tap the world and listen.” But the problem wasn’t just with the music: “These songs was coming true.” Reflecting reality unfortunately includes the misogyny of not only rappers, but culture at large—a culture also crippled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Catholic Church sex scandal, and a million other tragedies that “hurt me soul.”
It doesn’t hurt that on top of Fiasco’s engaged, almost pleading flow, Needlz’s production is absolutely gorgeous, using a sample from The Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds’ “Stay With Me” to evoke soul in all senses of the word. Like the lyrics, the beat for “Hurt Me Soul” starts out small and manages to become something epic, contributing to a track that will stick around long after everyone has forgotten about “Bitch Bad.”