Is Lupe Fiasco on the verge of completing an almost-flawless hat trick of album releases? That’s what the die-hard fans of the Chicago MC may very well be thinking. In 2006, Mr Fiasco dropped the incredibly slept on Food & Liquor album, followed by the exceptional The Cool. Whilst commercially they didn’t make any waves, creatively, lyrically and conceptually Lupe’s two albums were heralded by rap purists, bloggers and anti-mainstream fans.
Hence, Lupe’s third album was being touted as the final piece in the Fiasco puzzle which would cement his place in Hip Hop folklore and possibly win him the full adulation he deserved. But label issues (which included an online petition being birthed) put his Lasers project on hold. That is, until now. With more attention than originally expected, can Lupe maintain his Cool persona to drop ‘the’ album all Fiasco followers have waited over three years for?
For those who believe change is good, the first ‘change’ from the prior Lupe albums is that the poet/spoken word recitals which opened each album are omitted. Instead, the track ‘Letting Go’ (featuring Sarah Green) provides an intro, finding Lupe scorning over the many plights in the world, which are eased by a soothing chorus.
But from the assuring nature of the opener comes pure anarchy. ‘Words I Never Said’ is a lambasting offering, where Lupe’s unapologetic verses on the war on terror, the media and society burn into the listener’s conscience whilst Skylar Grey, the 2011 go-to girl for big hooks, crashes into the track with pain-filled wailings on the chorus. Whilst it’s meant to cause one to think, the excessively loud production on ‘Words…’ causes the message to get somewhat lost amidst its controlled chaos.
“Words I Never Said”:
What Lasers doesn’t miss out on is Lupe’s trademark lyricism; he remains on point topically and still possesses the same vigour and humour which was awash on his previous works. ‘Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways)’ is a heart heavy track expressing the pangs and toils of life whilst, akin to previous Lupe records, ‘State Run Radio’ finds Fiasco rapping as the voice of a dystopian, corrupt radio station intent on keeping music formulaic, artists suppressed and creativity null and void.
But even with the clever spins which Chicago’s hometown hero brings to songs, what ultimately weighs down Lasers is the production throughout the 12 tracks. Feeling overproduced at times and experimenting with heavy and soft rock, the score provided is uninspiring; even for those who appreciated Lupe’s previous ‘experimental’ offerings.
Choruses seem lazy, which takes the impact out of some of Lupe’s stronger verses, notably on the lead single ‘The Show Goes On’ and whilst concepts held together Food & Liquor and The Cool a lack of a concept on this third offering leaves the project feeling void at times. Lupe, in the past, has been compared to Nas by many and one common trait they share in this instance is the inability to pick consistently good beats to tear into.
Nevertheless, we are still given moments to fully savour. ‘All Black Everything’ is impeccable; where a haunting production from The Buchanans provides a canvas for Lupe to drop stellar verses of a world which didn’t encounter the various racial, prejudicial events which have shaped today. Another solid highlight is the club-influenced ‘Break The Chain’, featuring Eric Turner, producer Ishi and the UK’s double time lyrical chief Sway.
If there is one thing which should be taken from this listening experience is that any delay/shelving of an album will always have effects on its overall outcome. The Lasers we are presented with today is not the same Lasers which would have been offered two or three years ago. Lasers is far from a bad album. It packs enough barbs and cleverness for fans of deciphering wordplay to enjoy and it touches on numerous issues many would shy away from.
What has happened, however, is that Lupe Fiasco has created his first ‘commercially aware’ album, which will arguably do more for his popularity than any of his previous releases. But for those who expected an impeccable creative record which goes against-the-grain, unfortunately another lengthy wait is in order to see whether one of the most exciting rappers to emerge will return to his ingenious roots.
Lasers is out on March 7th (UK)/March 8th (US) through Atlantic Records.