Lupe Fiasco “Lasers” Review
Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: Album Reviews, Music.
It has been over two and a half years since Lupe Fiasco wrapped on the first tracks for what would become his new album, Lasers. To call what followed “drama” might be an understatement: Atlantic rejected the tracks, froze Lupe’s production budget, and the emcee requested to be let go. Atlantic refused to either drop Lupe or his album, fans protested in the artist’s defense, and the label conceded to release the record if Lupe made some serious concessions. He did. If you’re looking for a detailed history lesson, Ology has you covered.
It’s what’s happened recently that adds the most interesting twist to the story, however. Upon Lasers hitting the Internet, fans called bullshit and rejected it, and Lupe responded, commenting via Twitter, “I never thought lasers would inspire so much negativity.” He continued, “Reading the comments and reactions is crushing.” Having already spoken in detail to Complex magazine about his feelings on the recording, Lupe has gone well out of his way to position himself as the victim throughout the entire process. Revealing how little of the album was his doing, and not Atlantic’s, Lupe explained, “A lot of the songs that are on the album, I’m kinda neutral to. Not that I don’t like them, or that I hate them, it’s just I know the process that went behind it. I know the sneaky business deal that went down behind this song, or the artist or singer or songwriter who wrote this hook and didn’t want to give me this song in the first place.” Lupe concluded by putting his stamp of disapproval on Lasers, “As opposed something like The Cool, which is more of my own blood, sweat, and tears, and my own control. With this record, I’m little bit more neutral as to the love for the record.”
So going into the album, be it as a new listener, a casual follower or a downright fanatic, each individual’s view of Lasers has a likely chance of being tilted due to the years of history behind it before a single note is heard. If you’re a new listener, the hope is that the music speaks for itself though, and the reality is that despite all the unfortunate bullshit that’s been handed to the artist the past few years, the music here is still the most important aspect of Lasers. Unfortunately, Lupe and his more negative fans were largely correct in their assessments: Lasers is no where near the album it could have been.
Opening with “Letting Go,” Lupe rhymes about The Struggle while a fairly run-of-the-mill track plays beneath him; nothing unusual for R&B rappers, but something that doesn’t exactly represent what people have come to expect from the talented emcee. “Till I Get There” utilizes loose boxing metaphors while Lupe himself fails to come out swinging with his rhymes, “For the sake of rhyming let’s just say butterfly-E/The truth stings like Muhammad Ali/I tell ‘em tell ‘em don’t homicide me.” “Out of My Head” does the radio-friendly thing, “Coming Up” has a passable bounce, and “Break the Chain” awkwardly dips into techno as Lupe accents the song’s fast beat with a phonetically popping rhythm; as with many of the albums tracks, he doesn’t offer much with the lyrics themselves, however. “Beautiful Lasers” teases substance—the song thematically leaning on the struggle of being consumed by darkness—but it is largely washed away by overwhelming autotune. And while not even John Legend can make things right with “Never Forget You,” nothing ultimately comes close to “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now” and “State Run Radio”; the weakest tracks of all.
Again though, personal bias of what Lasers ought to be will probably sway your opinion here. If you’re looking at this with little to no expectation or understanding of what Lupe has done in the past, Lasers has a good chance of translating as an average, if not above average, pop-rap album. It has some solid hooks and plenty of salvageable bars along the way to save it from completely drowning. But if you have the remotest sense the rapper is capable of, you might be led to feel like Lasers is an album “that Will.I.Am wouldn’t be caught dead singing along to.” Regardless, there are still some highlights along the way that both sides are likely to agree on.
While its not exactly groundbreaking musically, lyrically the album gets no better than with “Words I Never Said.” Lending support to the theorists who question the legitimacy of the 9/11 attacks and the World Trade Center collapse, condemning the current administration, and lashing out at mainstream media’s increasingly flimsy coverage, Lupe does something with the track that isn’t really heard again on Lasers: he actually feels it. These are honest thoughts genuinely flowing from the mind of the artist here. This isn’t to downplay the suicidal themes in “Beautiful Lasers,” the general positivity of “The Show Goes On,” or the interesting reflection of historical “what-if” scenarios in “All Black Everything,” but Lasers’ single most sincere track is “Words I Never Said.” Sadly, there are 11 others nestled tightly around it.
All history aside, if this is the worst case scenario of what Lasers could sound like, purists might balk at the idea that it isn’t actually all that bad. After all, there are still positive aspects that can be focused on with nearly each track; a cup is half-full kind of mentality. But even when trying to check expectation at the door, Lasers is still no where close to a solid album, and fails to genuinely reflect the talent level of the man whose name is stamped on it. Whether or not it’s his album or one that he made under the direction of the label, at the end of the day it’s still going to count as an enormous strike against for the still widely-acclaimed emcee. In the end, what happens next will be most important for Lupe though: if he’s able to step back up and deliver on a level that his fans expect of him, all will be good. But if he drops another Lasers, “fiasco” might better serve to define the long-term state of the man’s career.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]