"Lasers" by Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco
Lasers

Atlantic
2011

Review

How do make a song critical of radio, indifference, and repetition and then put out so many tracks designed to be a part of that system? True, there's a bit more intelligence to it when Lupe does it, but it's nowhere near as powerful as it could have been had he been allowed to be his best. But then had he done so, this record wouldn't have sold so many copies now would it have?

Things are getting out of control
Feels like I'm running out of soul
You're getting heavy to hold
Soon I'll be letting you go

Those are some lyrics from "Lasers" opening track "Letting Go". It's interesting that this particular song starts the album considering it's about how Lupe Fiasco feels like it's hard being Lupe Fiasco. It's all about those moments of feeling frustrated at your current position in life which is something that everyone can relate to. Considering all the press that the construction of this album got, it's understandable. Lupe on the first two tracks on this album is the Lupe that the underground loves. He's the guy on singing lead on Dumb It Down. He's the rapper unwilling to compromise his style for the sake of sales. This Lupe continues to rip the current state of world affairs on the extremely powerful "Words I Never Said".

Your child's future was the first to go with budget cuts
If you think that hurts then
Wait here comes the uppercut
The school was garbage in the first place
That's on the up and up
- Lupe on "Words I Never Said"

Just wow. I mean, this is a call to action if there ever was one. When the music has a message behind it, it's hard to deny (as I've said before) nut then again, what's popular isn't music with a message but - well, I'll try to say it nicely - other stuff. So here's the thing. Lupe's made a lot of noise about how his label asked him to (ironically) "dumb it down". They are saying this from a position of what is best for the business though. So it's understandable. Flat out stupid shit sells and smart shit gets talked about by the critics. Jay-Z's been doing this for years and letting all the while letting you know that he's doing it. Every album he puts out post "Reasonable Doubt" has had the same formula: a few tracks for the underground, and a bunch of for the radio. So it isn't surprising that the label asked Lupe Fiasco to provide them with a more radio friendly collection of songs. And hell, if the two opening song were the compromise than so be it because they are that good. But still, this record kind of makes you wish that musical artists could do what Hollywood directors do and release a big budget blockbuster so that they can work on their passion project.

Where does this leave the rest of the album then? Well perhaps the answer is a bit surprising. I'd say the album is split between songs created esepcially for the radio and ones that - in spite of a more mainstream feel to them - are still in line with what he puts down on the pair of songs that open the album. Still, Lupe is smart enough as an MC that even his "dumbed down" self is still pretty entertaining.

Let's talk about the radio songs. "Til I Get There" is a complete 180 from the opening tracks. The lyrics are noticeably less complex and the beats are much happier than the apocalyptic sounds of "Words I Never Said" and "Letting Go". I mean, the chorus to "Til I Get There" would be right at home on Sesame Street. So if you know how low the album can go, just listen to this song.

"I Don't Want To Care Right Now" is clearly constructed for the club - think Black Eyed Peas at their "clubbiest" (minus Fergie, and that's a good thing). But hey, it is catchy and Lupe is throwing out some very funny lyrics - You ball, but I NBA. But if you juxtapose this with "Words I Never Said" it makes for some interesting discussion. It's like, "you need to care, you need to act!" and then "I don't care now, let's dance". So this is some pure sugar.

"Out Of Head" is a song with Trey Songs and a simplified rhyme scheme. Can you say, "made for the radio"? It's very listenable though perhaps because of the obvious Michael Jackson influence.

For a while there, it's like made for the radio city. Sure, the songs are catchy but you if are you really paying attention you can FEEL the restraint and that takes away from the enjoyment of the experience just a bit. You feel it even more when you get to "State Run Radio" because it represents Lupe at his conscious best. If you want to know what it's like when the booty and the mind are nourished, listen to "Break The Chain" because that song song is right for the club and right for the mind.

There you have it. There are essentially two sides to this album like a musical Two-Face. Still, as the master of this sort of thing Mr. Jay-Z said back when he stated that you "Can't Knock The Hustle". I get it and sure I'd love to hear an entire album of Lupe Fiasco fire, but I'd rather have some of that than none and I'll take Lupe's version of "dumbed down" over new BEP or Ke$ha any day of the week.

3.571 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Letting Go (feat. Sarah Green) (04:26) 5
2. Words I Never Said (feat. Skylar Grey) (04:17) 5
3. Till I Get There (03:24) 3
4. I Don't Wanna Care Right Now (feat. MDMA) (04:15) 4
5. Out of My Head (feat. Trey Songz) (03:24) 4
6. The Show Goes On (03:56) 4
7. Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways) (feat. MDMA) (04:01) 4
8. Coming Up (feat. MDMA) (03:58) 4
9. State Run Radio (feat. Matt Mahaffey) (03:57) 5
10. Break the Chain (feat. Eric Turner & Sway) (04:21) 5
11. All Black Everything (03:40) 4
12. Never Forget You (feat. John Legend) (04:04) 3
13. I'm Beamin' (04:48)
14. Shining Down (feat. Matthew Santos) (04:34)