Lupe Fiasco has had an incredibly frustrating career so far, one that’s been defined by everything but the music. Record company troubles and retirement threats have completely overshadowed any talent he has. Of course, it wasn’t always this way—there was a time when Lupe’s reputation was untouchable, where everything he released wasn’t just considered great, but also groundbreaking for hip-hop culture as a whole. From the moment he dropped his debut album, Food & Liquor, he was immediately crowned by many as hip-hop’s promise: a rapper with all-time great potential who was to finish what Kanye started with College Dropout by bringing soulful, intelligent hip-hop back to mainstream culture. But after the release of his incredible second album, The Cool, everything fell apart.

He began a never ending battle with his label, Atlantic Records, who were disappointed that the critical praise and growing fanbase didn’t translate to bigger sales. And this wasn’t your typical artist-label dispute—for all intents and purposes they broke Lupe as an artist. They forced him to release Lasers, an obvious attempt at a commercial breakthrough that didn’t sound like Lupe whatsoever because he didn’t really have anything to do with it. But instead of catapulting his career into the mainstream as Atlantic had hoped, their plans backfired. The album was universally panned and Lupe’s reputation has still not recovered from the backlash. The following album Food & Liquor II (a sequel to his debut album in name only) didn’t help. It was in many ways just as mediocre as Lasers. It was like Lupe’s spark had forever left him, a fear seemingly confirmed by him threatening to retire on Twitter (again) in defeated fashion: "This album will probably be my last…my heart is broken and I see no comfort further along this path only more pain. I cannot participate any longer in this …”

But, seemingly out of nowhere, Lupe released Tetsuo & Youth in 2015, declared by fans and critics alike as a return to form. Although not quite as good as his first two albums, it’s a consistently great album that is both musically daring and lyrically intelligent. Suddenly, the future was bright for Lupe Fiasco: he was finally free from Atlantic—after a curious incident that found Anonymous threatening the label. Tetsuo fulfilled his contract with the label and as an independent artist there was no one to stop him from releasing the creative and interesting music he was capable of.

But instead Lupe’s surprised us by choosing an unfortunate path with his new album DROGAS Light, and it is perhaps an even bigger disappointment than Lasers was. Whereas that album was clearly Atlantic’s attempt to make Lupe a superstar by crafting a hokey, EDM-influenced pop record, DROGAS Light is Lupe’s attempt at making a trap album, that at the same time is supposed to be a critique of trap music culture. Writer Yoh sums up this peculiar strategy perfectly when he says that, “his approach reminds me of a history teacher using rap music to reach his students.” Needless to say, it doesn’t work. Instead, Lupe is the moralizing old veteran, wagging his finger at mainstream hip-hop, while at the same time trying to show that he can fit in with the youth by making the very same music he’s attacking. It’s heavy-handed at best and embarrassing at worst.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t a single good track on the record—the few songs that aren’t abysmal are barely passable (‘Dopamine Lit (Intro)’, ‘Jump’). The rest are so bad, featuring so many cringe-worthy moments, that you have to question why the now-independent Lupe chose to go this route after Tetsuo & Youth did so well. It seems like the type of trend-following album that Atlantic would have pressured him to make. Some of the worst offenders here are ‘NGL’, the laughable “bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang” ad-lib in ‘Made in the USA’, and ‘Pick Up The Phone’, which has to be the cheesiest song of Lupe’s entire career. Yes, including anything on Lasers.

This last song comes from the bewildering last third of the 60-minute album, where Lupe does a complete 180 by suddenly dropping the trap schtick for a pop sound that is his most obvious attempt at commercial success since Lasers. The transition to this section of the album is so jarring that it frankly ruins any chance for the listener to actually give these tracks a chance. Whereas dance-pop songs like ‘It’s Not Design’ and ‘Wild Child’ might come off as fun and light-hearted on another project, they’re simply annoying coming after a half hour of professorial-trap Lupe. It makes the entire album come off as an incoherent sham that’s impossible to take seriously.

Although many people have criticized Lupe throughout his career for being overly preachy, his subject matter has never really been his problem. At his best and his worst, he’s always made socially conscious music that touches on a wide range of political issues. Where he falls flat, however, as he does on DROGAS Light, is when he gives in to the temptation to strip away all nuance from his music by making either unsophisticated political songs or by making awkward attempts at EDM-pop records. On DROGAS Light, he for the first time in his career does both.

On his amazing earlier work, Lupe believed that he could be as cerebral and creative as he wanted to be, trusting that his audience would get what he was doing. It was Atlantic who wanted him to “dumb it down” in the past, so it’s unclear why he felt the need do so on this album, especially considering how every time he’s done so throughout his career he’s gotten harsh and immediate backlash. This is especially frustrating in 2017, where the climate is perfect for Lupe to make interesting music. When artists as diverse as Vince Staples, Schoolboy Q, and J. Cole are receiving both critical and commercial acclaim for making socially conscious records that are musically outside the box, you’d hope that Lupe would trust himself enough to deliver the kind of music he’s capable of making. Instead, we get a terrible album—a new low in a career that already has too many down moments.