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Friday, March 4, 2011

Lupe Fiasco: Lasers (Release Date: 3-8-2011)

        Unlike the creators of just about every other type of music, a hip-hop artist must have something to say. Where other genres prove primarily reliant on melody and song structure, an MCs main product is his or her word, and the way that they express themselves. Coming up with enough valuable things to say to make an album every couple of years has got to be a real grind, which is probably one of many reasons that you rarely see a rapper continue to produce music passed their thirties. Three years after 2008's Lupe Fiasco's The Cool, Wasalu Muhammad Jaco has finally found enough to say to string together another LP, known simply as Lasers.

        Like Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Lupe's latest stands out from the pack by virtue of its reduced number of tracks, in this case twelve, without a skit in sight. The shrunken runtime speaks to a thematic and sonic focus that's quite a bit more refined and ambitious than your average Rap record. Into this more tightly-woven world, Fiasco inserts lyrics about the problems of today, calling out Glen Beck and Barack Obama within a stretch of three seconds, claiming that the war on terror is, "...just another excuse for you/to use up all your bullets." Toss in a few tales of self discovery, and an anecdote or two about impoverished youth ("I would give up everything/even start a world war/for these ghetto girls and boys/I'm rappin' 'round the world for"), and you've pretty much covered all of your 'underground hip-hop' lyrical bases. I'm sure the guy means it, but it still strikes me as a bit trite.

        What can not be so easily dismissed, however, are the collosal beats of Lasers' first half. Gloom-and-doom opener Letting Go his a heavy-footed march that sounds better when played loudly, a rule that remains constant through-out the LP. Words I Never Said might be the best example of this, its pounding snare and muscular synths almost imploring you to move your body in some way despite Fiasco's furious political over-simplification. Not all of the backings play like gang-busters, I Don't Wanna Care Right Now still sounding like a work in progress despite being one of the more obviously fussed over tracks. But there's not much that can be said against the subtle sunshine of Till I Get There's backing track, nor the impending dance-floor mainstay Out of My Head. The album's lead single, The Show Goes On, transforms Modest Mouse's Float On into something bouncy, immediate, and fun. As a big MM fan, I can't help but feel a little uneasy about trading in the original song's Devil-May-Care Existential bent for Arena-ready chants of purposeful empowerment. Float On was already a fun tune, so I've no qualms about it remaining so, but the fact that its bliss is found in the essential meaninglessness of everything is a fact that seems to have completely escaped Fiasco and his serious-minded world view. That one might just be me, though.

        Serving as a perfect opposite the Lasers' first Six track, the beats on the LPs back-half mostly fall flat, with a few exceptions. Coming Up goes down easy, skipping along on its simple, kinetic beat, and Never Forget You guest stars John Legend, so really, how bad could it be? But these are exceptions to the rule of diminished expectations, Beautiful Lasers emerging an auto-tuned mess within seconds of its birth. Similarly misguided are the 80's rehash Break the Chain, and the harmony disaster State Run Radio. All Black Everything doesn't even have an excuse: It's just kind of dull.

        To be honest, I've never heard more than a couple of songs by Fiasco before I began listening to Lasers, and if over-earnestness is something that's always followed him, then perhaps this one is just what his fans enjoy. It reminds me of kiD CuDi's Man on the Moon: End of the Day; an album with plenty of killer beats that's also saddled with a lyrical over-zealousness that will likely sit better with people who are less cynical than myself. There's no denying that a track or two from the first half of Lasers might make it onto a party playlist I make some day in the future, but it'll be played at full blast, with the MC's lyrical offerings low in the mix.

Grade: C-


  1. I haven't listened to the whole album, but as for "The Show Goes On," I think it has potential. I definitely find it enjoyable, at least. For me,the problem is not in the thematic hit MM's existential anthem takes. Rather, as far as covers/remakes/samples go, it lacks in the originality department. What I mean is: when an artist covers a song I really like, I expect him to make it his own while still paying respect to the original artist(s). I feel like Lupe didn't do enough with it to make it as Lupe as it could be- like he just messed around with the original vocals for a bit-made MM sound like the other MM-Mickey (Or Mortimer if ya nasty.)- and then laid his own (ehh) lyrics over that. It seemed a little-I don't know- empty. Lazy, maybe. It had me wondering a little bit why, other than to borrow a really nice beat, he even bothered if he wasn't going to expand. I don't know what exactly is missing, but I was definitely left asking where Lupe from The Cool went and when he's coming back.

    What's your favorite track on the album, by the way? (If you have one.) Oh, and for the record, he has always been-at least in my experience-a bit over earnest, lyrically. Ambitious, shall we say? But seriously, as for a moment when he shines lyrically: "Little Weapon." That track is mooooney.

  2. Like I said, I don't know Lupe very well, and have never heard "Little Weapon." After I wrote this, I found out just how much of a fight Lupe was in with the record label, so the Lupe you love might just be back next album. Your analysis of FO vrs. TSGO is extremely interesting, but I'm going to stick with my guns as far as thematic confusion being the biggest bug-a-boo in that transition. Either way, it's easily one of the best songs on the album, so that should tell you something. Favorite track... Words I Never Said or Till I Get There, though I'm not really head-over-heels for either of them.