By Chris Willman
Updated December 14, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Lionel Deluy

Last year, Lupe Fiasco set himself apart from the rap pack with a debut full of brainy, Kanye-style positivity, including a laid-back skateboarding anthem, ”Kick, Push.” You might wonder what happened to that guy if you’ve read how his follow-up, The Cool, is a concept album about gangsta life. But in truth, only four songs address that story line — thankfully leaving the bulk of this CD to instead indulge in Fiasco’s divergent themes and musical explorations.

Want self-righteous anger? See ”Dumb It Down,” where he imitates fellow rappers and white execs urging him to get crass (”Pour champagne on the b—- !” he bellows satirically). Want blistering social commentary? Check out ”Little Weapon,” which conflates videogame violence with the real stuff. Want wistfulness? ”Fighters” laments that ”when the fighters are all around, all the lovers are underground.” Want bubblegum? Head to the album’s climax, the goofy, girl-crazy ”Go Baby Go.”

Sonically, he’s got the same kind of gratifying ADD going on. Some tracks, like ”Paris, Tokyo,” contrast his Twista-style rapid-fire delivery with a lazy rhythm that’s close to smooth jazz. ”Hello/Goodbye,” at the other extreme, has U.K. electro outfit U.N.K.L.E. providing a tense rock feel. Fiasco’s wide-ranging pop instincts rarely fail him, even on the few cuts that are steeped in the street-life narrative. It turns out randomness makes for a surprisingly unifying concept.
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Hello/Goodbye”