After all of the controversy that surrounded Lasers‘ problematic distribution, Lupe Fiasco’s third studio album finally managed to find it’s way – mostly thanks to the hardcore fans who petitioned Atlantic Records on a daily basis. But does the album live up to it’s astronomical hype? Sadly, yes and no.
First the good stuff: “Letting Go” suggests a darker, more guilt-ridden Lupe Fiasco than the rapper we’ve come to love, and it initiates the album on a surprisingly emotional note. Accompanied by heavy distortion effects, he proclaims, “my self portrait shows a man that the wealth tortured / self-absorbed with his own self-forfeit / a shelf full of awards.” The song seamlessly transitions into “Words I Never Said”, which approaches its subject matter in an opposite fashion: instead of conveying his contradictions remorsefully, he channels them with a sense of exasperation. And rather than condemning himself, he’s condemning the hypocrisy of his country. “If you turn on TV all you see’s a bunch of ‘what the fucks’ / dude is dating so and so blabbering ’bout such and such / and that ain’t Jersey Shore, homie that’s the news / and these the same people that supposed to be telling us the truth,” he raps. It’s an anthemic track that demonstrates Lupe’s uncanny ability of stringing together socially-conscious lyrics with high-budget beats. Till’ I Get There is classic Lupe – funny, sweet, and slightly tongue-in-cheek at the same time.
Production wise and lyrically, the album reaches it’s peak with “The Show Goes On,” a centerpiece that perfectly captures the triumph behind Lasers controversial release. Not only does he ridicule Atlantic records for “lying through their teeth” and “treating us like slaves,” he also thanks the millions of devotees that supported him since the beginning of his career. You can’t help but feel uplifted.
It’s a shame that Lasers‘ second half mostly centers on the kind of melodramatic pop-rap that dominated American airwaves in 2010. Whereas Food & Liquor and The Cool felt unconventional in their lyrical and musical attributes, Lasers feels conservative – especially in its final moments. It certainly doesn’t capture the sense of mystery that its predecessors benefited from with repeated listens, catchy or not. And that’s not to say that all of the album lacks playability. The album’s earliest tracks warrant some replay value with catchy hooks and solid beats. Unfortunately, the longer it goes on, the sillier and less memorable it gets. “State Run Radio” is shamefully corny; “Beautiful Lasers“ though lyrically good, is spoiled by a mediocre, auto-tuned chorus; and “Break the Chain” doesn’t break any boundaries whatsoever.
As a political record, Lasers disappoints. Lupe’s politically-conscious verses are too simple-minded to provoke any kind of serious thought for highbrow listeners, and his multiple references to warfare feel unexpectedly banal. Even in “Words I Never Said” – one of the album’s best songs – Lupe comes off as silly when he meshes up lines about “diet soda killin’ off your brain cells” with lines about the “war on terror [being just] a bunch of bullshit.” This is coming from the guy that brilliantly conjured up a coming-of-age story with symbolic references of riding skateboards. As weird as that sounds, you’ll never find that kind of creativity here.
Lasers’ first half mostly works. But what we’re ultimately left with is an album that’s half-good, half-decent; a record that starts off with a bang, and ends on a whimper. Because of this, you can’t help but wonder what it could have been. It could have been the perfectly-capable stadium-status record that Lupe fans yearned for during their year-long petitions. It could have been Lupe’s most intellectual, politically-charged collection of songs. Sure the production values aren’t that bad – with synthesizers and drum beats richly produced all the way through – but there’s nothing remarkable about the listening experience itself. Perhaps, for the first time ever, Lupe has created a product that lacks true substance. Flashes of brilliance aside, Lasers doesnt feel like the complete packaged we were so very expecting.