(I didn't run out to buy Lupe Fiasco's long-delayed third album, Lasers, nor do I have any plans to. However, CJ has been kind enough to submit a Reader Review, so you two will now have a forum with which to discuss it as you wish. Be sure to leave some comments for CJ below, and also visit his blog, The Spot For Hip Hop and Everything Else, which features his director's cut of today's post, providing you with a rare opportunity to see how the write-up originally read before I brought out my scissors. Enjoy!)
After a three-year delay, Lupe Fiasco has created a lot of hype for Lasers, his follow-up to 2007's Lupe Fiasco's The Cool. Unfortunately, a lot of the buzz was a result of behind-the-scenes conversations, as opposed to Lupe's actual musical output. The alleged first single, “Shining Down” (which featured vocalist Matthew Santos, who also took a co-starring role on our host's earlier single “Superstar”) hit the Internet way back in June of 2009, but even though most Lupe fans would agree that it sounded terrific, it failed to make any noise on Billboard's Hot 100, which presented a problem for his label, Atlantic Records, who suddenly didn't have much faith in the commercial viability of Lasers.
For his first two albums, Lupe Fiasco retained complete creative control, and he still managed to squeak by with some mild hits, as his “Superstar” and “Kick, Push” both performed moderately well on radio. However, after the failure of “Shining Down”, Atlantic Recored retroactively decided that those earlier Fiasco tracks were flukes, and they were hesitant to press their luck any further. To press the issue, they held Lupe up to the same standards as the immensely successful Drake and B.o.B. (himself a product of Atlantic Records), two examples where it was clear that the label had plenty of input on how their eventual solo debuts turned out.
So this time around, they informed Lupe that he would have to record more mainstream-friendly tracks in order for the label to agree to back his third album, which eventually became Lasers. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Lupe wasn't very cool with this. He wanted Atlantic to have nothing to do with Lasers, except for when it came time to market it. A standoff then ensued, each side refusing to blink before the other, which lasted for days, and then weeks, and then months. Finally, after Lupe's fans protested on his behalf and Atlantic Records realized they were actually starting to lose money on the project, Lupe unleashed his tweet heard around the hip-hop world on October tenth, simply stating, “Victory!”
And yet it wasn't a complete victory for Lupe Fiasco. Mere months later, he announced that Lasers would include some club-ready tracks, which signaled that some sort of compromise was made in order for Lasers to actually see the light of day. Which brought about a more important question: just how much did Lupe have to sacrifice (aside from “Shining Down”, which didn't make the final cut) so that he could actually release his album?
The answers to that and more lie below.
1. LETTING GO (FEAT. SARAH GREEN)
For what is pretty much an intro, at least it has an interesting theme (that of “Letting Go”). This wasn't an especially dense track lyrically, but it doesn't need to be, thanks to the production behind it. The Future provides a spacey feel with a piano loop in the back that seems to fit the overall vibe well. It's also very bass heavy, which is another plus, as it lends the track more of the "wow" factor that is necessary to start an album. While the hook does get a little repetitive, it's still pretty catchy, and Sarah Green finishes the song off with some strong vocals. Overall, a terrific way for Lupe to get Lasers off and running.
2. WORDS I NEVER SAID (FEAT. SKYLAR GREY)
Skylar Grey (of Dr. Dre's “I Need A Doctor” fame) performs the hook to what was originally supposed to be a love song, but Lupe decided to add a political spin, resulting in a powerful set of verses that call out many of the issues that he sees in the world today (such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh both being racists, for example). His third verse is what really captures his audience, though: “I think that all the silence is worse than all violence / Fear is such a weak emotion, that's why I despise it / We're scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth / So scared of what you think of me, I'm scared of even telling you / I'm like the only person I feel safe to tell it to / I'm locked inside a cell in me, I know that there's a jail in you / Consider this your bailing out, so take a breath inhale a few / My screams is finally gettin' free, my thoughts is finally yellin' through!” I don't know if this is the best song of 2011, but it's certainly in the running. I have to give the man credit for not only putting “Words I Never Said” on the album, but for also releasing it as a single.
3. TILL I GET THERE
This brought back such good memories of Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, as it reminded me of “I Gotcha” and still worked beautifully. Producer Needlz, who worked with Lupe in the past on "Hurt Me Soul" (also conveniently found on Food & Liquor), does a terrific job with this beat, creating a light but fun beat for our host to run over with the four-key piano loop in the background. I also liked the additional piano loop used over the hook, which was extremely catchy. While "Words I Never Said" was great because of its message, this song is truly what Lupe is about. Best track on Lasers so far.
4. I DON'T WANNA CARE RIGHT NOW (FEAT. MDMA)
Well, the title says it all. I'm praying Atlantic was one hundred percent fully responsible for this song, because otherwise, I'm going to assume that Lupe has a serious drug problem for believing that this was worthy of making the final cut. Lupe's lyrics are pretty terrible, but so is the beat (from The Audibles) I don't even understand how Atlantic could have ever believed this song would become popular: it sounds like something Jason Derulo or Ke$ha should work with, not Lupe Fiasco. Note to self: skip this track at all costs in the future.
5. OUT OF MY HEAD (FEAT. TREY SONGZ)
Oh God, this is just getting embarrassing. It's one thing to have one awful track on your album, but two in a row? The production is just as bad as on the previous track, and Trey Songz supplies a forgettable hook (what a surprise). It's a disgrace that Lupe would allow Atlantic to do this to his music. Sure, the music industry is a business, and the label needs to actually sell records, but if Lupe cares so much about what his name is attached to, then this goes against everything he stands for. I'm trying to avoid slamming my headphones against my desk out of frustration.
6. THE SHOW GOES ON
Everyone that has ever heard of Lupe Fiasco has probably listened to this song by now. However, this track still sounds as fresh as it did when it was released nearly five months ago. The message on here is great, and Lupe proves you can create a popular single that actually has depth. What's funny is that I hated the production behind this when I first listened to it: I initially thought that using the Modest Mouse "Float On" sample was pretty lame. The track has grown on me ever since, though. The music video for this is also fantastic, so you should check it out if you get a chance. My favorite line had to be: “Tell em' look at me boy / I hope your son don't have a gun and never be a d-boy!” Interestingly enough, this was not Lupe's personal work: during an interview with Complex, he explained that Atlantic gave him both the beat and the hook and told him to turn it into a song. The rare occurrence of a record label actually giving an advantage to their artist, I suppose.
7. BEAUTIFUL LASERS (2 WAYS) (FEAT. MDMA)
I don't know how to really feel about this track right now, but my initial reaction is that it isn't all that special. Lupe's delivery makes me believe that this was originally a song he tried to put his all into, and I think he does a decent job when on the mic. The Future nailed the production on "Letting Go", but not so much on this. It's not necessarily a bad beat, but it can be hard to listen to. Lupe's rhymes are too fast for the instrumental to keep up with, and that ultimately hurts this song. The absolute worst part about this track, though, has to be the hook. You can get away with a poor chorus if it's catchy enough (see: Wiz Khalifa's "Roll Up"), but unfortunately, this one isn't. It turns what could have been a pretty good track into an average one.
8. COMING UP (FEAT. MDMA)
Clearly this is Atlantic Records on the mic and not Lupe. I've heard Lupe do heartfelt love tracks before (see: "Sunshine"), so I know that he's capable. However, this is nothing like what you would expect from him. To be honest, this really isn't a bad track: The Future's beat here is an improvement over the previous song (the piano/guitar loop actually works well) and MDMA is a great fit for the hook (unlike "Beautiful Lasers"). But the song isn't true to who our host is supposed to be. You can't tell me that it's all Lupe when the first lines he spits are, “This one goes out to the baby girls / In a rush to grow up in this crazy world”. Now, if an artist like J. Cole were given this, I think it would sound much, much better because it fits with who he is. But not Lupe Fiasco.
9. STATE RUN RADIO (FEAT. MATT MAHAFFEY)
A friend of mine, who also follows Lupe pretty closely, said that this was a song that Lupe performed a couple of years ago at a concert. He also mentioned that it sounded a lot different back then, and I believe we all know why it sounds shitty on Lasers. The hook, again, is awful and it begs the question: Who the fuck at Atlantic suggested that this sounded worthy of an album?
10. BREAK THE CHAIN (FEAT. ERIC TURNER & SWAY)
I'm at a loss for words at this point. I don't know if it's more out of frustration or disappointment. Another bad hook, another couple of meaningless verses, another fail. Notice how I've been writing less for each song as the album goes on.
11. ALL BLACK EVERYTHING
“All Black Everything”, which is actually a very good song, is something that Lupe clearly had complete control over, as there are absolutely no pop elements to be found. Lupe has said that this was his favorite song on Lasers, and after listening, it's not hard to understand why. The lyrics are some of the most creative to be found on the album, even if I'm not as excited about Buchanan's beat (although it's still pretty good). At least there was something to salvage at the end of this train wreck of an album.
12. NEVER FORGET YOU (FEAT. JOHN LEGEND)
Lupe has stated that he had nothing to with this track, which is surprising because it's actually pretty good. John Legend provides the best hook of the entire album (I kind of expected that, though) and I thought the beat on here wasn't bad. If this song suffers from anything, however, it's Lupe's lack of motivation: he sounds bland and careless. While it's still a good track (and one of the more entertaining ones on Lasers), it could have been better with some actual heart put into it by its host. Whatever, I'm just glad the album is over so I can go back to listening to The Cool again.
THE LAST WORD: My first thought when I finished Lupe Fiasco's Lasers was, "I waited three years for this?" Lupe, an emcee that I had so heavily respected for his creativity and "nerdy" flow, sacrificed everything he stood for with this album. Is it all his fault? Of course not: Atlantic deserves much of the blame for this mess. As Lupe has already said multiple times, the label took over the project and molded it into commercial bullshit. This isn't Lupe Fiasco's Lasers, but Atlantic's Lasers starring Lupe Fiasco, as there is a lot of material on here that isn't a proper representation of who Lupe actually is. Still, our host deserves criticism as well, as his voice does appears on every track. However, even within these mainstream boundaries, what's frustrating is that Lupe hasn't fallen off as an artist: in fact, he's actually improved, as tracks such as “Words I Never Said” and “Till I Get There” show. Bigger artists like Nas and Jay-Z also had their so-called fuck ups (see Nastradamus and The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse, respectively), so I don't want to hear everyone claiming that Lu has fallen off. However, as a fan, I can only hope that he recovers from his mistakes on Lasers and doesn't allow his label to release an album not true to who he is in the future (to that point, Lupe claims that his fourth album has already been completed). So what if you have to delay your album for four years instead of just the three? The product is what matters at the end of the day, not the release date. Pray that your one friend that doesn't know any better buys Lasers, as you won't want to waste your own money on it. There are some great tracks on here, even some of Lupe's finest, but for the most part, this is an album full of mainstream crap, rather than real music.
(Questions? Feedback? Leave your thoughts below.)