Monday, March 21, 2011

Lupe Fiasco still keeping his cool on Lasers

Since the release of his debut album, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor in 2006, Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco has steadily been building a reputation within many of the underground hip hop scenes.

Hip-hoppers who have tired of the lack of depth and materialism seen commonly in mainstream rap praised Lupe for his organic approach and for speaking on subjects people could connect with.

Now he's looking to ratchet his stock up even farther with the release of his third album, Lasers. But how does it stack up?

Lupe's latest is solid but suffers from a bit of inconsistency. The word about this album pre-release was that it has a much more commercial sound than Lupe's first two albums, and after having heard Lasers in its entirety I can say that assessment isn't far off the mark. The beats on this album tend to be hit or miss.

"I Don't Wanna Care Right Now" and "Break the Chain" feature all out club/rave beats that sound like they could have been snagged straight off the latest lame Greatest DJ Dance Hits Vol. 17.

As far as Lupe's emcee skills, I can say this: as somenoe listening to Lupe for the first time he's certainly a competent rapper who can deliver a repectable flow but he's not elite. His voice has a twang to it that annoys me sometimes.

The good news is that Lupe's writing skills are still top notch. "Words I Never Said" sees Lupe examing the country's social and political ills while Skylar Grey drops a breathtaking chorus hook. This is easily the standout track of the album.

"Til I Get There" features some of the album's most clever and witty wordplay while "State Run Radio" and "The Show Goes On" touch on themes dealing with inner city issues and offer messages of hope to those who are held back by circumstances.

I'm also quite fond of "Never Forget You," which sees John Legend laying down a soulful hook, while Lupe drops a 2Pac-ian type flow on "Coming Up."

The most interesting piece, at least lyrically, is "All Black Everything," which imagines a world in which the people of Africa never left the continent and slavery in American history never took place.

It's an interesting premise, but some of the situations Lupe dreams up are a little over the top. In Fiasco's alternate universe, Bill O' Reilly and George Bush are born in Iran, Ahdimenjad wins the Mandela Peace Prize, (that's right, the Mandela peace prize) and 50 Cent is a white rapper. Hey Lupe, does he still get shot nine times?

But he takes his hypothetical and turns it into a call to continue to improve race relations down the road:

"And I know it’s just a fantasy
I cordially invite you to ask why can’t it be?
Now we can do nothing bout the past
But we can do something about the future that we have"

Now, for what I didn't like. The chorus hook on "The Show Goes On" is a blatant rip off of Modest Mouse's "Float On," with the overall melody and even some of the lyrics being the same.

I guess Lupe figures most rap fans don't listen to Modest Mouse. He's probably right. But fortunately, you have multi-faceted music fans like me who can call you out on it. Try harder next time, Lupe.

I also want to pick on one of the guest singers in particular. On several tracks, Lupe is joined by a little known R&B singer/rapper whose stage name is taken from the active chemical ingredient in ecstasy.

You'd be best off avoiding both. His unoriginal, generic, awash in autotune vocals really add nothing to the album. And it seems like he pops up on almost every track. After listening to this album you're going to need to call an ambulance, cause you're going to get an overdose of MDMA.

So it's about time to wrap this up. With Lasers, Lupe Fiasco continues to cement himself as one of the finest writers not just in today's hip-hop scene, but in the current music scene period.

Musically and beatwise I think the album loses a few points. Still, Lupe fans should find much to like with Lasers, although there's a good chance this may not replace his two previous albums as your favorite.

Score: 70/100

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