In a personal first for this site, I've opted to shoot up a ’re-review’ for an album - in this case, for Lupe Fiasco’s latest LP ‘Lasers, which seems to be dividing music fans around the globe. Critically, ‘Lasers’ has garnered mixed-reviews, with the tone being that this album is very, very average; Commercially, this album is looking to be a success with first-week sales of around 200,000 in the U.S and the lead-single, ‘The Show Goes On‘ being certified gold.
Comments have indicated generally negative views for Lupe’s third offering: from a ubiquitous pop-rap record to an indication of Lupe’s descent into the dregs of hip-hop; however, is the album really deserving of all of this backlash? The answer is a resounding NO.
Now before I get started, this is without-a-doubt Lupe’s worst album to date - but that shouldn’t be saying too much as this is only his third, with his debut and sophomore universally considered to be two of the greatest rap records of the 2000’s. Perhaps this album is just suffering from extremely high expectations - but the Lupe we all know and love is still shining through on the majority of ‘Lasers’ tracks. However, what this album really suffers from is a lack of Lupe Fiasco’s creative control and a clear attempt by Atlantic Records to make their most intelligent rapper ‘Dumb it Down’ for the masses. If you look at the sales then you can see it’s worked well for them; but what should be understood, is that this is not an album which fully represents Lupe Fiasco as an artist. This isn’t LUPE trying to keep up with the current trends in rap, this is his LABEL trying to keep up.
We are introduced to “Lasers” via ‘Letting Go,’ a song which is painfully average for Lupe, but at the same time, the song is miles ahead of most other commercial rap songs on the market. The addictive hook will haunt you with help from the creepy piano loop, but amongst a distorted Lupe delivering some half-hearted verses and an angst-driven bridge, the Sarah Green-assisted hook remains the only thing agreeable about this intro.
Second track - single ‘Words I Never Said’ - reminds us of why Lupe is the ‘leader of the new school.’ A beautiful hook by the talented Skylar Grey immediately gives the track some charm while Lupe protests against a bunch of social injustices with his usual wit. If Atlantic Records had their way this would have, apparently, been a cheesy song about relationships, but Lupe’s creativity makes this a clear winner and reason number one why this album is very far from a failure.
Third track “Till I Get There” trips over itself as the childish beat, forgettable verses and sing-a-long hook beg a pale comparison to Nas’ mega-hit ‘I Can.’ ‘I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now’ plays around with a cheesy beat and hook but is saved by Lupe’s superb rapping. The shallow ’Out of My Head’ would fit comfortably in an R&B club’s play list but has absolutely no place on an album by one of hip-hop’s most respected rappers; though, in Lupe’s defense, I reiterate, Atlantic didn’t give him much creative control over this project.
The uplifting lead-single ‘The Show Goes On’ is again saved only by Lupe’s undeniable flow despite an overwhelming pop-influence that should only be credited to his label’s need for record sales.
It is next song ‘Beautiful Lasers (2ways)’ which is another reason why this album isn’t that bad. Being Lupe’s most personal track to date ‘Beautiful Lasers’ plays as one very depressing narrative which has him struggling against suicidal thoughts. What may seem like another angst-driven track to some, is endearing to me for the explicit nature of Lupe’s lyrics and the heart-breaking hook (although it’s horribly auto-tuned). The darkness of this single overshadows the rest of the album and is really one of the most haunting rap songs I’ve heard for awhile.
‘Coming Up’ attempts to pick the mood back up and does this better than any of the other pop-driven tracks on display here. Singer MDMA (AKA Pooh Bear) shows off some great vocals against Lupe’s optimistic celebratory raps, making this the only ‘pop’ single on the album that is actually above average.
‘State Run Radio’ is without-a-doubt one of the best things about “Lasers” and stays true to Lupe’s rebellious themes as he echoes the voices of millions (well, probably just tens of thousands) of people who despise the exploitative nature of commercial radio stations. Being a staple in Lupe’s recent live sets you can be sure this track can be more credited to Lupe and less to his greedy record label.
In direct opposition to ‘State Run Radio’ the horrendous ‘Break The Chain’ is obviously Atlantic’s shoddy work with the euro-dance beat and terrible guest spot from UK artist Sway - easily the worst song on the album.
Thankfully the last two tracks on “Lasers” are excellent quality. ‘All Black Everything’ is a clever and creative piece about Lupe’s warped fantasies, filled with humorous ‘what if’s’ like The Rat Pack and Jackson 5 switching places (and colours). Closer “Never Forget You” sounds like a forced commercial song but works thanks to John Legend's heart-warming, nostalgic chorus and Lupe’s modest raps.
The point of this re-review is to draw less attention away from this album as a reflection of Lupe Fiasco and more as a reminder of the politics in music that can cripple an individual’s artistry for the purpose of record sales. Honestly, Lupe was doing fine sticking to what he does best - ‘The Cool‘s‘ biggest hit ‘Superstar’ was huge and didn’t sacrifice his integrity. You don’t have to be Jay-Z to maintain a perfect balance between commercial rap and hip-hop; record labels should have faith in their artists to let them have more creative control over the work which will speak for them. Too much interference will result in something like this average album and while it may succeed with the masses initially, it produces material which quickly fades because it sounds so similar to everything else.
Lupe Fiasco’s wit is the only reason why this album is not trash and proves that despite a gross lack of creative control, Lupe continues to shine, and that is a testament to how great of an artist he is. Even though Lupe has stated that he ‘hates’ most things about this album, he has something to be proud of - even a ‘dumbed down’ version of Lupe Fiasco is more intelligent than the majority of his peers.
Review Score: 6.5/10