Lupe Fiasco- LASERS refracted (review)

Over the last month, a lot of news has come out about Lupe’s new album LASERS. After a long fight with the label just to get it released, Lupe warned that he’d be “embracing hypocrisy” on this album. Like a lot of so-called “conscious” rappers before him, Common I’m looking at you, Lupe has had a hard time moving from conscious hip hop to radio rap, whether this move was desired or completely forced is a whole other question. So now after months percolating under the pressure to stay true to himself and the label’s crack-head addiction to ringtone rap and club bangers, we get this strange, contradictory piece of work, Lasers.

After a few listens, it’s an interesting record that seems to be in conflict with itself. You have a few decent storytelling joints and conscious songs like Till I Get There and All Black Everything, in other words classic Lupe. Then you got those deep songs like Letting Go and Beautiful Lasers. The dark imagery and electronic soundscapes perfectly complementing each other. (Little Known Fact: You know that digitized, sterile sound juxtaposed with raw, human lyrics that Kanye’s been obsessed with lately? Lupe’s had that down for a while.) So again, classic Lupe. And I LOVE Words I Never Said. Political, controversial, deep, and all of it pounding on top of this dark digital beat.

Complain about the liquor store but what you drinking liquor for?

Complain about the gloom but when’d you pick a broom up?

Just listening to Pac aint gone make it stop

A rebel in your thoughts, aint gon make it halt

If you don’t become an actor you’ll never be a factor

It’s just the other half of the album that’s a bit harder to figure out. I Don’t Want to Care Right Now and Out of My Head are songs obviously aimed at the Top 40, and are pretty mediocre radio songs to be honest. But it’s in these songs that you can almost feel that hypocrisy stewing within Lupe, battling against his more creative, more true-to-self tendencies. Even in these songs, there are moments when Lupe seems to suddenly recognize the contradictions and tries to snap back to his usual self, even if for just a few seconds. Take a look at these lines from I Don’t Want to Care Right Now.

Don’t leave 48 you’ll find a killer in the first floor

It was me boy, to commercials

Feeling out of place like PETA at a fur store

So I left with a couple dozen fur coats

Like he said, he’s trying to embrace the hypocrisy. Although I’m not convinced of his success, the experiment is interesting in itself. Lupe has publicly said that he has lots of mixed feelings about this album because of all the fighting with the label and because of the compromises he had to make. Of all the songs, he’s suggested that The Show Goes On was the biggest compromise, the song he had to do if he wanted a release date. And of all the songs, this is my hardest song to evaluate. Loving it one moment, and hating it the next. Because come on, the song is cheesy as hell. It’s a nice beat, but it uses an INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS Modest Mouse sample, and worse than that, they based the hook on the sampled song. It’s such an obvious cash grab, a desperate plea to the radio stations. “Please play me.” It’s like that runt on the court always begging you to pick him for your team. (Well truthfully, that runt was me, but let’s not get off topic.) Plastic music. It’s a song that has no real heart. But then right when I’m ready to dismiss it completely, I remember how Lupe almost subverts the whole thing. Almost.

Have you ever had the feelin’ that you was bein’ had?

Don’t that shit there make you mad? They treat you like a slave

Put chains all on your soul and put whips up on your back

They be lyin’ through they teeth, hope you slip up off your path

I don’t switch up, I just laugh, put my kicks up on they desk

Unaffected by they threats, then get busy on they ass

In those six lines, Lupe almost turns a label-forced radio song into a song about fighting major label, mainstream music oppression. Of course, that doesn’t make up for the rest of the song which is pretty uninspired, but he’s got these little deviations, these Freudian slips, hidden in almost all the vapid radio songs. And at the very least, that keeps things interesting and keeps things Lupe.

When all is said and done, it’s not a bad album. The record’s got four or five great tracks. Conscious and clever as ever, and that’s more than you’d find on most other CDs. It’s only when you realize it’s Lupe rapping that you start to feel disappointed. With such high expectations, it was almost guaranteed that he’d fall short. Lupe tried to make a record that was for him and for the label, an album that spoke to real people and also the people at Billboard. Was he completely successful? Definitely not. But good luck finding another record as radio, as conscious, and as conflicted as this.

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3 Responses to “Lupe Fiasco- LASERS refracted (review)”

  1. Very glad to see someone share the same views on Lupe about me! I already have a draft started for the album review, and lots of it is similar to yours… I so totally find Lupe Fiasco as a top five rapper, albeit much to my dismay, he has made a few songs for the radio… Words I Never Said is a classic in my eyes, at least the first verse is… Good article bro!
    Check out my blog!

  2. Nice Post…

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