Music Reviews

Lupe Fiasco Lasers

(Atlantic) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

For Lupe Fiasco, commercial success is never the trajectory’s endpoint.  His recent, taut battle with Atlantic over quieting his lyrical profundity and incorporating more watered-down gangsta-pop mimicry has created a troubled atmosphere for the Chicago rapper.  Three years of fighting for one’s freedom to create, while your label is more concerned with garnering the most capital, can bring consequences.  His fans protested on the streets of New York City this past year, demanding a release date for the album.  Fortunately, he was able to put out his third album to date, Lasers

Perhaps inevitably, one can hear the compromise and slight conformity in his sound.  It sounds like Lupe, but it doesn’t sound like Lupe.  He still proves rap can be insightful and exploratory sans the ego.  But the album is weakened by the label’s attempt to creatively mute its production, unbefitting of the MC.  

Previous album, The Cool, was full of thematic concepts and effortless wordplay, but these are sadly absent here. A sympathizing pathos laced with suicidal thoughts has stricken Lupe.  His potent storytelling is truncated with Auto-Tune, Drake-esque singing. Lasers is not a cohesive album, but a panoramic view of the personal and business struggles he endured.

“Have you ever had the feeling that you was being had? That shit that make you mad…They be lying through their teeth / Hope you slip up off your path,” opens first single, The Show Goes On

Lupe’s tirade basically states that puppetry is not in his contract.  His candor never shies away, even when the label binds him to tracks that don’t work.  And there are a few that clearly lack the appeal and cool contemplation Lupe often weaves together. 

His one track for the ladies, Out of My Head, is a weak attempt at a modern R&B song.  Hitting a boxy bass riff and a simplified electro-groove, the seemingly charismatic Trey Songz is featured and limited to a dull R&B hook, while Lupe is fixated on high school flirtations, with lyrics like "Your smile so bright/ it’s like a grillz in there / High off life / Don’t need a pill in there.”      

Till I Get There, although optimistic, is a chummy, ho-hum, Sesame-Street tune, backed with bright piano chords and clean percussion.  Unless the innocent, child-like sound is meant to ironically darken the mature content of Lupe’s lyricism, the music is futile. 

When a storm of valiance is heard on Lasers, the cerebral rapper is magnetic. He unfolds, subversive and emotive, harboring fury amidst sociopolitical criticisms.  Words I Never Said featuring Skylar Grey and Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways) amplify his defiance but also peer into his private qualms. Oh, yes, he is naming names (Rush Limbaugh and President Obama are just a few) and purposefully directs fingers towards the nonsense-heavy media, the corrupt and broken.  But he humbly points the finger at himself too. 

Lasers is an expressive album, more so than his previous records.  Some tracks are severe and cutting; others are entrapped as musical stop-gaps. Even when his message is thwarted by a biting record label, we never lose Lupe - a proponent of humanity.  A laser that never loses its path.