After numerous delays, endless speculation and rumors that the album was going to be shelved entirely, Lupe Fiasco’s latest, Lasers, is finally here. Expectations have reached a fevered pitch in recent weeks leading up to the album’s eventual release. Now that it is finally available for fans to buy and listen to, has Lasers been worth the wait? Read on to find out.
This is, by far, the most mainstream sounding of all of Lupe Fiasco’s albums and is likely to be the most accessible by those who aren’t hip-hop fans because of it. Fortunately for the fans, the album still features a good amount of Lupe’s particular brand of socio-politically charged rap but it is too often broken up by songs that sound annoyingly mainstream with their catchy ringtone-ready hooks and bubblegum pop-esque beats. Going from a song like Words I Never Said, a scathing political rant to I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now is jarring and hurts the album’s cohesion. While I like that features a number of different styles, from the eclectic electronic/house sound of I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now to the punk rock aesthetic of State Run Radio but there seem to be too many of the pop beats that he seemed so opposed to dating back to The Cool.
On that note, State Run Radio is one of the most intriguing songs on the album in that it seems like Lupe is using it as a way of thumbing his nose at Atlantic and label politics in general. With lines such as “Different is never good, good is only what we pick, you ain’t got a hit unless it sounds like these did”, it becomes clear that he is not a fan of the business side of the music industry. It is on songs such as this that Lupe sounds his best, even if he does seem to lack focus. Songs like All Black Everything, on which he tells a story of an “all black” alternate reality where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is still among us and Eminem and 50 Cent have swapped ethnicities and Beautiful Lasers, on which he talks about his personal struggles in a somewhat angsty, but not unbearably so, fashion best demonstrate his ability and are genuinely enjoyable.
As I listen to this, I keep thinking that this isn’t the album Lupe actually wanted to make and this is not the Lasers that he envisioned. It seems as though Lupe was phoning this one in to appease studio executives and get out from under their collective thumb.
It’s a shame that this album was locked in development hell for so long and a bigger shame that Atlantic was apparently able to strong-arm Lupe into making so many songs that he clearly didn’t want to make. Lasers seems like it could have been better without such interference but, to that end, I can’t actually blame Lupe here. Rather, it seems the same label politics Lupe addresses in State Run Radio are to blame. The influence executives have over the artists they’ve signed and the ways in which they can and do limit creative expression is disconcerting but that’s a story for another day.
Lasers isn’t the album I was hoping for and given the caliber of rap that Lupe Fiasco has ably demonstrated that he is capable of, I feel as though this was a half-hearted effort, at best. Despite my criticisms, I can’t say that I dislike Lasers as an album but it’s definitely a step down from Lupe’s previous efforts. Lasers is a good album on its own merits but considering the amount of hype it had going for it, good just isn’t good enough.
Favorite tracks – All Black Everything, State Run Radio, Letting Go, Beautiful Lasers