When Chicago native Lupe Fiasco burst on the hip-hop scene with Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor, he was hailed as the thinking man’s rapper, known for his literate flow and socially conscious lyrics. However, Lupe’s latest record Lasers, whose release was withheld for roughly a year by Atlantic Records due to its tragic lack of chart-topping hits, is watered down. The rapper has been exceedingly vocal about his label’s stranglehold on his creative sovereignty, and if the pop tarted-up Lasers is any indication, it appears that Lupe lost the battle for the creative freedom that made his previous albums stand out among his contemporaries’ electro pop-saturated work. Despite Atlantic’s pathological obsession with poppy trash, a few standout tracks demonstrate that Lupe fought valiantly for control — even if pure filler litters the record.
It must have been awkward for Atlantic Records execs to listen to the bitter, dystopian “State Run Radio.” Lupe takes a few jabs at the music-industrial complex and the government over angry guitars, rapping, “Not too smart you will be a superstar / and if you dumb or something maybe you could be number one.” Burn.
Tracks like “Out of My Head” end up sounding like desperate bait for Top 40. The Inventor of Sex himself and pop-chart staple Trey Songz bizarrely lends his bland vocals to this dull track, which has something to do with a heels-donning babe that Lupe wants to court. Honestly, these lyrics are not worth repeating, and with the annoying pop-friendly electronica backdrop, it’s easy to imagine some Atlantic suit holding a gun to Lupe’s head to get him to record a song that will be “out of your head” in no time.
If one can stomach generic confections like “Break the Chain” or the weirdly upbeat “Til I Get There,” listeners will recognize flashes of the old, virginal Lupe in songs like “Words I Never Said,” which has the rapper organically venting his political frustrations. Unfortunately, the track features the suddenly-ubiquitous Skylar Grey (you may recognize the songstress on Diddy’s new ditty “Coming Home”) warbling in between Lupe’s angry verses. Her melodramatic, painfully Auto-Tuned voice kills the mood. The record company just couldn’t resist slathering the politically radical song with a little slick pop production, which dilutes Lupe’s powerful message. He calls out people from both sides of the political spectrum rapping, “Limbaugh is a racist / Glenn Beck is a racist / Gaza strip was getting bombed / Obama didn’t say shit.”
“All Black Everything” is another fascinating glimmer of old-school Lupe, as it has him imagining a world that isn’t blighted by racism. He drops a few politically charged names from history as well as riffing on political figures in recent news, subsequently crafting an ideal world where “Everybody rappin’ like crack never happened.” A utopian, “Pleasantville”-esque orchestra reminiscent of a ’50s sitcom strains, while Lupe dreams about a world where “hip hop ain’t got a section called conscious.”
There are a few instances on the album when Lupe breaks free of the chains he raps about on the track “The Show Goes On,” (which utilizes a Modest Mouse sample to create a solid anthem for the downtrodden and kicked-around). However, Lasers is plagued by generic beats and lazy lyricism.
To stir up attention for the album, Lupe released “The Lasers Manifesto” in which he boldly proclaimed, “We want substance in the place of popularity. We will not compromise who we are to be accepted by the crowd.” Unfortunately — though a sizable chunk of the blame fell on his record company’s shoulders — Lupe Fiasco failed to follow his own rules on Lasers.