Lupe Fiasco :: Lasers
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
I know you, dear Reader. You think I'm SO predictable. You assume that, following all the recent shenanigans
of Lupe Fiasco's travails against the notoriously enslaving Atlantic Records, the protests, petitions, media
meltdown and pro-Lupe interviews, that this review will be a carbon copy of what I wrote in the Big Boi
"Sir Lucious Left Foot" one last year... There's just one problem: Big Boi's album was a straight classic, whilst "Lasers" is a complex, yet bizarrely enjoyable, mess. The man himself has attempted to distance himself from the construction, with a plethora of interviews in which he will tell anyone that cares to listen about how he struggles to separate the "process" from the album. This is entirely understandable, but there is just one problem.
My English teacher at school taught me a valuable lesson once. He said that he and his wife would, without fail,
incessantly argue whilst preparing for a dinner party. They would fight, scream, chuck plates at one another...
But the moment that they opened the door to the first guest, they HAD to put on a happy face, a unified front and
be the perfect hosts. So the superficial point is, quite simply, we buy music for ENJOYMENT. We don't want to hear
about every single travail he had in the creative process, or to be biased for/against Lupe/Atlantic. We've waited
a long time for "Lasers" and want to make our own minds up, and Lupe's constant interviews smack of both a lack of
class, and desperation due to the negative reviews coming his way.
Of course, there are two sides to every story. At school, we soon discovered that our English teacher was, in fact,
divorced. And this is the point, we suddenly began to take his pearls of marital wisdom with a pinch of salt: but did
that mean he wasn't telling the truth? And "the truth" is a murky, entirely subjective concept when it comes to "Lasers."
He's had entirely mixed reviews, and – for what it's worth – many "casual" listeners actually enjoy the album, some
significantly more than "The Cool." Others have labelled the label "spirit killers" and, frankly, you can agree with that point of view too. If you're Lupe Fiasco, released two brilliant albums, a single in "Superstar" that sold healthily and summed up an entire decade of celebrity culture, needless to say you'd think that they would trust you to make a third LP that would sell due to virtuoso greatness. Labels, especially in this climate, have a different point of view, and Atlantic considered "The Cool" a commercial failure (not surprising, since "Superstar" was the only proper hit single).
The breaking point between artist and label came when Atlantic presented Lupe with "Nothin' On You" featuring Bruno Mars. Lupe went over it, submitted it, and Atlantic chairman Craig Kallman told Fiasco that his verses and performance were "wack." Now listen, that song is one of THE biggest of the past year, the beat is nice and hook is a classic. It might seem like heresy but 99% of artists in the world would have given their right arm for that song, and if you hear Lupe's version, it is absolutely abysmal. Why is it so bad? Did he feel that the label pushed him and he didn't want to make a song about girls? Erm... What about "Sunshine" then? Or "Paris/Tokyo" even? Lupe does indeed make songs about girls, and if he'd actually put some effort in, he could have come with an intelligent concept and made the song great, as he did with "Sunshine" (which, for personal reasons, might just be my favorite Lupe joint of all). I mean, fuck, that joint isn't even slightly original, as Cool & Dre completely ripped off the Neptunes in every way possible on the beat/chorus. A lot of fans think that Lupe needed to get off his high horse; others think that Atlantic could have handled it better than destroying the confidence of a gifted artist.
At this point, you're becoming tempted to scream that I haven't even referred to any "Lasers" tracks, so let's correct that. The original version has just 12 songs (with a Deluxe version adding fan favorites "I'm Beaming" and "Shining Down") and you can pretty much count which songs Lupe says are down to label involvement. You're looking directly at numbers like "I Don't Wanna Care Right Now" and "Out of My Head" – the former, a Timbaland-type joint with an admittedly hot chorus, but unfortunately the production lets the side down; the latter features Trey Songz. Yep. Upon reading that, of course, hoards of angry fans will no doubt be throwing themselves off the nearest available cliff, but if you're a DJ and actually KNOW what works well in clubs, this is not a bad song at all. The chorus is subtle but killer, and the beat features strange arrangement but somehow still works. (Repeat after me: "You Owe Me" didn't kill Nas' career, and it WAS a hot club joint). But Lupe just doesn't really commit to doing it well, and that is one of the key complaints against him on "Lasers." "The Show Goes On" is the now infamous track that the label claimed he had to put out or else. Again, you can see their point of view and Lupe DOES actually commit to the concept, in a great first verse/diatribe against the label – it's not even masked, and in fact makes it a very appealing song, when given the chance.
Other divisive numbers include "State Run Radio" – which, after initially impressing, quickly waned – and "Break the Chain." The second of those is a perplexing hotpot of trancey synths, a solid Eric Turner (of "Written in the Stars" fame) chorus and a guest verse from Sway. Ironically, if you'd ever listened all the way through that inane twelve minute shoutout at the end of "Food & Liquor" (though really, why would you?) you'd hear the Dcypha leader get a special mention. It must be said, however, that whilst Sway's verse is superficially good, the mixing leaves me (a fellow Londoner, no less) unable to understand what the fuck he is actually spitting half of the time. "All Black Everything" is a nice concept track, more akin to "The Cool" but unfortunately let down a touch by the percussion. "Till I Get There" is a grower, and it goes without saying that "Words I Never Said" is – apart from an overdose of reverb on the "epic" drums – a top notch song. Alex Da Kid and Skylar Grey reprise their hit-combo formula, and Lupe spits some pretty daring politic shit, and it's certainly a worthy accessory to his canon of great music. There is no doubt that the first half of the album is where the "money" is – a top-heavy reflection of pop-muscle tracks where Lupe is generally playing second fiddle to the beats/choruses. That would have fine if the Chicago native had been allowed to go all out and express himself on the other six tracks, more akin to "All Black Everything" so you may well find yourself stalling after "The Show Goes On."
For once, this really is going to be a review that more or less depends on your own point of view. If you're a hardass that thinks Lupe should man up, stop complaining and be happy to even be releasing a major label album, with access to massive star potential like Alex Da Kid and Trey Songz, then you'd be completely right. After all, if you're in that situation and you know you can't get out without compliance, then do it and do it to the best of your abilities. However, if you feel sympathy for Lupe and his undeniable talent being crushed by label politics, interfering middle-men, and a complete lack of regard for artistic integrity, then yes, you're entirely correct too. In the end, you have to just listen to the album and make your own mind up because, whilst it's certainly no "The Cool," that may just be a good thing for certain readers that don't even listen to that album anymore – a point raised by a friend, when he stated that he will bump a Lupe album for a few months solid, but never really come back to it, due to the lack of emotional connection. If you buy it (in particular the Deluxe version with the two more "Lupe" joints on it), then there is definitely an enjoyable eight track EP hidden away, and some songs that will go brilliantly on the "Lupe Playlist" you created. It's certainly not his artistic vision, but perhaps what has jarred a few people is that he sulkily coasts on a few too many tracks here, and whilst it's somewhat understandable, it's still unacceptable. He seems to be impressing upon us that his rock solid relationship with the fans is entirely sacred – true fans would have read between the lines and stuck up for you, realizing that you'd been pressured, so always go all out for them, no matter what. Either way, let's just hope that his next project, rumored to be "The Great American Rap Album," is where he finds himself and adds purpose to the project.
Music Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: March 8, 2011