It’s been a long time coming for Lupe Fiasco’s third studio album ‘Lasers’. It was made and then deemed by Atlantic not to be marketable and shelved. Then an unprecedented protest organized by fans to get the album in stores prompted Atlantic to renegotiate with Lupe. Compromises were made by both parties and thus we have ‘Lasers’. So it’s a happy ending for ‘Lasers’ right? Not exactly.
I’ve been a huge fan and supporter of Lupe since his early beginnings with the trilogy of excellent ‘Fahrenheit 1/15’ mixtapes so I was eagerly anticipating this album and was hoping after the petition that Atlantic would realize how much fans appreciate Lupe’s music. However, it’s obvious they still don’t care and they just saw a business opportunity that they nearly missed out on. By Lupe’s own admission in an interview with Complex, Atlantic had their hands all over this record and forced him to do certain songs, rap a certain way, use certain hooks and beats. ‘Lasers’ is mostly Atlantic’s album when compared to ‘The Cool’, which was Lupe’s album and it’s painfully obvious.
The most noticeable and by far the most grating aspect of this album are the angst filled, overly dramatic, sing-song choruses. Literally every song has a sung chorus and it’s just too much for a hip hop head to digest. A few is fine by me as singing can really add emotion to music but I don’t need to hear different renditions of the same chorus twelve times. These are mostly over very pop-ish beats but that’s kind of expected from what we heard on ‘Food & Liquor’ and ‘The Cool’ so that seems like a natural progression for Lupe.
However, what really irks me is that half of the tracks are over synth filled techno beats and it really seems like Atlantic wanted to capitalize on that sound that’s been dominating the charts the past couple of years. The worst offenders of the bunch like “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now”, “Out of My Head” and “Break The Chain” are so bad they’re damn near unlistenable.
I was really disappointed that frequent collaborator Soundtrakk didn’t contribute anything to this album because I think he is a key part of Lupe’s sound and holds his albums together. For those who don’t know, Soundtrakk did the beat for and co-wrote “Kick, Push”, “Superstar”, five songs on ‘Food & Liquor’ and more than half of the songs on ‘The Cool’. With that track record, it’s obvious they have good chemistry together and that he’s capable of producing massive hits for Lupe that are loved by both fans and the general public. Why Atlantic wouldn’t want him to continue contributing to Lupe’s albums is beyond me and a really bad decision in my opinion.
It’s not all bad though. Even with the sing-songy choruses and too many synths for my liking, there are still some good songs here. While some of the lyrics seem mailed in and are not nearly as complex as the dense lyrics on his mixtapes, Lupe’s message still comes through pretty clearly and he still brings the heat on a few of the tracks. The album starts off very strong with the “Letting Go” featuring Sarah Green (which should be a familiar name to Lupe fans), “Words I Never Said” and “Till I Get There” (produced by long-time collaborator Needlz) but it’s hit or miss after those first three songs.
“State Run Radio” is probably the best song on the album despite the terrible chorus and takes out his frustration with the music industry. “All Black Everything” is definitely the most hip hop sounding track with strings and hard drums. Although I’m not sure, it also sounds like the only song on the album that incorporated samples (“The Show Goes On” doesn’t count as a Modest Mouse sample because it’s recreated and reworked).
The album closes with “Never Forget You” featuring John Legend. Even though Lupe said he had little to do with this song and it was submitted to him by the label already completed with the exception of his verses, it’s actually pretty catchy (I guess the label did good work on that front) and ends the album on an optimistic vibe.
It’s a painful thing to see someone you admire being leveraged and taken advantage of by the music industry. It breaks the happy-go-lucky idea of an artist, producer and writer actually working together in the same room to create songs they want to make. Instead, the industry exposes itself as faceless suits whose job is to create hits with little care for the artistic integrity and individual creativity of its signed artists.
The knowledge of Lupe’s own frustration and the creative process behind some of the songs on the album may have biased my opinion of ‘Lasers’ but the fact remains that this is sub-par music from what a long-time fan comes to expect from him. For what it is, it’s an above average pop-rap album with a few good songs, some good lyrics and a positive message that people need to hear and based on those reasons, I am being a bit generous in my score. But as someone who’s been following Lupe since day one, I am severely disappointed in ‘Lasers’.
I just hope Lupe can get out of his deal with Atlantic and sign with an independent label where his artistic freedom will be encouraged rather than held back. Even without the backing of a major label, he already has a large dedicated fanbase that will buy his music without seeing a video on MTV so moving to an indie will not hurt his career in my opinion. I hope the best for him in the future but with the exception of a few songs, I can’t see myself returning to ‘Lasers’ too much.
Be sure to check out our editorial on the album, titled What If I Had Made Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers?
‘Lasers’ was released on March 8th, 2011