REVIEW: LUPE FIASCO – LASERS (2011)
Today we welcome our newest contributor, Christopher Stoppiello. Christopher currently resides in Boston where he works in an office by day and writes music and fiction by night. Music journalism just happened by accident. He hopes to drop the office out of the equation soon.
This is a painfully loaded album. Right from track one of Lasers, Lupe Fiasco is letting his fans know that this album has taken its toll on him. The man has been broken by everything it took to get it released, as made clear by the hook of into song, “Letting Go”, which states “Things are getting out of control/Feels like I’m running out of soul”. But be weary of the hooks on this album. More often than now, they are the very things betraying Fiasco. The history behind this album is too important to be ignored. In 2009 Lupe commented on his fansite forum about how excited he is for this album and how well he expects it to be received. Flash forward almost three years full of protests, stalemate negotiations, and petitions demanding that Atlantic Records release the album and we finally have it, but did we lose Lupe in the process?
There is a large disparity between the word in the choruses, how they sound, and what the songs actually say. The past two Lupe Fiasco albums felt like conversations. This one feels like we’re walking down the street past the police station and Lupe is sneaking little messages out the jail window. He even humors this metaphor on “Words I Never Said,” when he says, “I’m locked inside a cell in me, I know that there’s a jail in you”. this classic indictment of world issues is one of the few songs that sound wholly like Lupe Fiasco. Songs like “All Black Everything” and “Till I Get There” seem unaltered and faithful to Fiasco’s vision, but throughout most of this album he is imprisoned in this sound that Atlantic Records forced on him. The label waged a war of attrition to get what they thought would be chart toppers. Lupe is tired of fighting for his artistic integrity and that is a message even the choruses cannot belie. The title of “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now” says it all despite the club thumping synths behind it. Fiasco has long been revered for his passion, but this album fought hard to filter that out of him. On “Beautiful Lasers (2 ways)” he confesses his thoughts of suicide, possibly as a result of this album.
Maybe this album is wrought with clear label written songs but that can’t keep down Fiasco’s voice. His outspoken nature allows him to retain a great deal on this album as he undermines every song he’s forced to record including lead single, “The Show Goes On”. It’s impossible not to cringe when you head the Modest Mouse sample that turns “Float On” into a Black Eyed Peas jock jam, or the fact that this random producer is putting his sound bite on the track like some amateur mixtape. But then Lupe comes in with his opening line, “Have you ever had the feeling that you were being had?” with a line like, who cares how it sounds? Lupe Fiasco is using the songs to tell you how bad the songs are. Irony is laced over every foreign track. Take “State Run Radio” for example. It’s a crappy top 40 anthem about how crappy top 40 stations are.
Collaborations are an important part of good hip-hop but it’s clear that Fiasco had little to no say on who was singing on his tracks. A good number of tracks feature vocals from MDMA. They sound pretty good but it is hard not to hear long time collaborator, and 1st and 15th Entertainment label mate, Matthew Santos singing every single one of these melodies. Santos was a huge part of Fiasco’s last studio album, The Cool, so it’s hard to see why he wouldn’t be involved this time around. Sadly, the only track featuring Santos is banished all the way to the “Deluxe Edition” only. And then there is the uncomfortable John Legend cameo on “Never Forget You”. The only saving grace of this track is that it is the last and therefore easily skipped.
This is a difficult album to review because I’m not even really sure whose album it is. It doesn’t sound like Fiasco’s and the reasons why are easy to hear. Why is the album so short? Food & Liquor and The Cool both clocked in at over 70 minuets of music, Lasers is significantly shorter at 47 minuets. And then there is the fact hat might not be initially obvious: this is a dance album. Fiasco’s hip-hop has always been heavily rock based but Lasers is clearly chock full of synths trying to engage the dance floors. No, this is not Lupe’s album, and you would never get Altantic to claim fault for it. Perhaps it’s our album; the people who fought to have it released. Maybe it didn’t turn out to be the album we wanted to hoped for, but it’s ours, so I guess we won.