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Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers is a classic case of artist versus record company—the tug of war between artistic integrity and commercial viability. Unfortunately in this case, the artist either lost the battle or simply gave up the fight. Lasers is an over-synthesized, annoyingly “pop,” hit and miss effort, that simply lacks the style or substance to be an artistic success.

There is certainly nothing wrong with making commercial music—and if it’s done right, people may actually like it because it’s good, rather than as a result of some lowest common denominator of radio friendly hooks or simplistic lyrics. But the artist’s heart has to be in it, and clearly Lupe’s was not. The album was delayed for three years as he struggled with Atlantic to maintain his vision, which we should point out may not have been any better than the finished product.

Nonetheless, we have a batch of songs that fall into some unappealing category you might call space age club disco rap. “Out of My Head” featuring Trey Songz (produced by Mikyal Snoddy) sounds like it belongs on a Ne-Yo album, or maybe one of Trey Songz’, with Lupe spitting generic love lyrics that would have been better suited for a guest spot. “Coming Up” featuring MDMA (produced by The Future) has a sound reminiscent of Blackstreet circa 1996, and while the R&B group’s Another Level album was dope, it doesn’t work here.

Then there is all this tiresome propaganda about “State Run Radio” featuring Matt Mahaffrey (produced by The Future), with Lupe complaining about how they play the same songs over and over again. They won’t even remix Lil’ Wayne’s latest, those oppressive totalitarian program directors. Lupe should realize, first of all, that it’s okay not to be played on the radio, because so much of what is on there is utterly useless to anyone who cares about good music. It’s also a rather obvious and really boring revelation that, yes, they keep playing those same songs, considering it’s only been like that since the invention of the medium.

It’s particularly disappointing to this reviewer, because Lupe’s first album, Food & Liquor, was an example of the absolute finest hip-hop has to offer. It was also the perfect mix of accessibility and intricate lyrical wizardry. The follow-up, The Cool, was overly long and dense, but it still offered at least half an album’s worth of some astoundingly good music from one of the most talented MCs in the world.

There just is nothing that good here, though there are flashes of the high-level lyricism we’ve heard in the past. “All Black Everything” (produced by Wizzo Buchanan) is an imaginative speculative fantasy about a world in which racial differences don’t exist. “Complexion’s not a contest/cause racism has no context…Somalia’s a great place to relax in/Fred Astaire was the first to do a back spin/The Rat Pack was a cool group of black men/That inspired five white guys called the Jacksons.”

Lupe is also thought-provoking and engaging on “Words I Never Said” featuring Skylar Grey (produced by Alex Da Kid), aggressively opening the track with lines like, “I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit/just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets…”

However, over the course of the same song, he spoils it with wacky conspiracy theories about 9/11 and expressing his penchant for not voting, which he has discussed in interviews and is his prerogative. But when he goes on to make a call to action from the listener, it’s a little hard to be inspired by someone who doesn’t even cast a ballot. Not that political disenchantment isn’t understandable, but really, Lupe, is there no one on the political spectrum you can vote for?

We long for MCs to be “conscious” and “political,” but when they do their ideas are not always necessarily helpful, which brings us to a bit more of the back story behind Lasers. Last October, a group of fans staged a “protest” outside the Atlantic offices in Manhattan. It was dubbed “Fiasco Friday.” The obvious point has already been made that there are quite a few causes more worthy of our attention, which ironically, is part of the message Lupe tries to get across in his more politically charged music.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Lupe talks about being so depressed over his squabbles with the record company that “the idea of suicide was real.” This feeling is reflected on “Beautiful Lasers (2Ways) featuring MDMA (produced by The Future): “Don’t say that you feel like dying/Life’s hard and it feels like diamonds/Going home’s just far too gone/Much too late to even feel like trying/Can’t understand what I’m saying, can’t figure out what I’m implying/If you feel like you don’t want to be alive/You feel just how I am.”

It’s heavy and haunting stuff, and one wishes Lupe had been given more space musically to explore the dark place he was in. He certainly has a capacity for emotional depth and vulnerability not many rappers can manage.

Fortunately, the album closes on a hopeful note with some syrup from John Legend on “Never Forget You.” We can only hope the best for Lupe’s mental health, that the album does well, and that the next go-around isn’t nearly this much of a struggle.

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26 Responses to "Lupe Fiasco – “Lasers” – @@@ (Review)"
  • Mr. Williams says:

    I have to disagree with this album review. Though the beats on the album are more on the synth side, it doesn’t necessarily make this a bad album. When I first heard the album, I thought it was a different approach for Lupe to take his album, and I went into it with an open mind. In the end, I thought it was a pretty good effort.

    Plus, it’s pretty disingenuous to say that this isn’t necessarily the album Lupe wanted to make. It is a very consistent effort and all in all, a strong album.

  • IcarianHeights says:

    very disappointing album, for me it more like 2.5/5, and I am a huge fan of Lupe’s work (especially the riveting Fahrenheit mixtape series)..

    quick rundown of some of the album’s issues for me…

    1) Production: absolutely awful at times, too synthy/trancey/dancey/popy too “big” of a sound, like every song can’t be this anthemic stadium-filled type of sound; lupe couldn’t really find any niches/spaces/crevasses to lay his usually dense lyrics down in this production.

    2) Gemstones: a *large* part of the problem with this album is the hollow, empty, and pedestrian/generic hooks, as well as the amount of “autotune* being used for some of the hooks. Gemstones (used to be known as Gemini) used to handle a large portion of Lupe’s hooks and background vocals and melodies etc… Gemstones has since become “born-again” and is no longer with FnF… his absence def. hurt the album IMO.

    3) Studio vs Touring/Concerts: A majority of the album was developed/fleshed out via Lupe’s touring (according to Lupe)… and as such the songs are more suited for tour/concerts than a personal MP3 player or your car/house…

    3a) because allot of the songs and direction of the album was developed on tour the sound (popish, trance, techno, autotune, synthy, etc) is more in tune to the demographics that go to his shows (read pop/rock/dance demographic) and as such may not be exactly what other demographics who purchase his album are looking for (read: hip hop demographic)

    4) Lyrically: dumbed down verses and drastically reduced word counts make this one of Lupe’s worst showings lyrically…even the mediocre “all black everything” has been overpraised due to the paucity of the other songs on the record which make it look/sound better of a song than it really is (i feel like Nas and Damien Marley did a *much* better ‘version’ of all black everything with the song “Land of Promise” off the “distant relatives” LP)

    5) Musically: album is more cohesive musically than other albums which at times could sound disjointed sonically…. but unfortunately this cohesiveness is of the *wrong* genre… it would have been perfect if it was actually a hip-hop sound that was so cohesive instead of a pop/techno/dance/trance sound.

    6) Thematically: album is hit and miss as are most of his albums (after all “the cool” was really two albums in one, 1 being a short conceptual EP of the character michael young history)… but the hit or miss is magnified by the awful production and lackluster enthusiasm that Lupe demonstrates when rapping….

    can’t wait for his next outing because I think (hope) lupe learns what he needs to from this record and moves on to better and bigger things…

    i would recommend people download and listen to the mixtape “before there were lasers” as that is actually much better than the official release…

  • IcarianHeights says:

    standout tracks include “break the chain” where Sway does an admirable job of standing in for gemstones/gemini on the double-time rhyming with Lu, he actually *kills* his verse, very well done on his part… except for the hook on this song, it’s one of my fav. songs on the album…

    “letting go”, the stand-out “words I never said”, and “til i get there” are good also..”all black everything” is really a “meh” type song (AWFUL *lazy* hook on that song too), but seems allot better than it is due to what it is surrounded by…

    Who the hell is MDMA? every single track he/she/they were on was ruined by autotuned hooks, and poor production choices…they/he/she were a large part of what was wrong with this LP IMO…

  • McNulty says:

    One more thing- all due respect, Pizzo, but if you give Shaolin vs Wu-Tang less than @@@@ I’m gonna freak out

  • antonio says:

    I’m a latino who likes rap music more than anything in this world. My english is not perfect, but I’ll try to do my best. I can’t understand why not body in USA didn’t notice the fact that artist like Lupe, Krs, Nas,Talib, are only slaves of the corporations and a disgrace for the afroamerican people, who had the urgency to know real leaders, real writters and real artist. Is crazy hear this puppets talk about economics problems, ignorance and modern slavery when at the same time they are supporting one of the biggest problems, USA’s foreign politics and corporations.It looks like they’ve got lost in time, they mentality kept in the 60′s, and they still think that Obama is a great president, is really crazy.
    this make me sad, see all this legends in the same level of lil’ Wayne or Souljah boy, why people dont wake up???

    I thing since the day hip-hop became corporations biggest tool, that’s was the day when hip-hop died.

    I dont want to disrespect nobody, I just want to give my opinion and my point of view.

    Thanks to those who understand what I’m trying to say. Also is sad to see all of the people saying “go get your money talib” “is all about the money”….it’s make me clear that the wonderful world of Disney did a good brain washing job.

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