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DJBooth Album Review
Food, film, music, they’re all completely subjective art forms, and how we experience them depends in large part on context. So if you have no idea about the circumstances surrounding Lupe Fiasco’s third album Lasers, you might want to stop reading now. I’m only going to dirty the purity of your listening experience. But for those of us who know about Atlantic Record’s refusal to release the album, the fan uprising, Lupe’s admission that he compromised the musical integrity he seemingly holds so dear (“Whatever. Another song, another day, another dollar.”) there can be no unknowing, and those who claim some sort of objective analysis are naïve at best and delusional at worst.
The effect of all that knowledge is to make listening to Lasers a sometimes paranoia-invoking experience. Every song, every note, every lyric has a question lingering like a shadow behind it: was that Lupe’s decision, or Atlantic’s? That question colors the entire album, and occasionally produces some strange paradoxes. For instance, he’s essentially disowned Lasers’ lead single The Show Goes On, saying” I didn’t have nothing to do with that record. That was the label’s record,” which is awkward on two counts. One, I really enjoyed The Show Goes On, it’s the album’s only truly uplifting offering. But now, if I want to support Lupe and by extension independent music, I suppose I should dislike it. Right? Two, Lupe fills the song with lines like “I don’t switch up I just laugh / unaffected by they threat” which suddenly seem confusingly contradictory; in reality he was deeply affected by their threats. Never Forget About You, another John Legend quasi-ballad he’s also distanced himself from, is somewhat easier to deal with – it’s not good enough to think too much about. But what should we make of records like Out of My Head, his electronically oriented collab with Trey Songz, the Neptunes produced I Don’t Wanna Know Right Now or the sweetly bouncing Coming Up? They all sound like hits, but are they Lupe’s efforts at expanding his sonic horizons (yeah!) or evidence of yet more label manipulation (boo!)? I wish I could travel back to a time before I knew enough to ask these questions, I really do, but until I figure out how to hook up my Mr. Fusion to my flux capacitor, I’m stuck in the present.
There are, of course, a few songs on Lasers that bear all the hallmarks of a more “traditional” Lupe record, most prominently All Black Everything. A gorgeously produced song that marries soaring strings with hard hitting percussion, All Black is a revival of the deeply thoughtful, lyrical and sometimes funny Lupe that first drew us to him in the first place. However history ultimately judges Lasers, he’ll always have All Black Everything. While at first blush Words I Never Said might seem like a label choice, uber-hitmakers Alex da Kid and Skylar Grey are behind it, in fact it’s the result of years of communication between Lupe and Alex. Originally intended as a dysfunctional relationship song, Lupe instead flips the song into a politically charged anthem in the tradition of previous efforts American Terrorist and Little Weapon. The Lupe Fiasco we heard on Food & Liquor and The Cool hasn’t disappeared, he’s just dressed a little differently.
To the uncaring I’m sure this seems like a ridiculous amount of thought to put into an album, but Lupe has always insisted that we view his music as an extension of himself, as a direct reflection of his mind and soul, and in doing so has made us invest deeply in both him as an artist and a person. Ultimately that means that I’m disappointed both in Lasers and in Lupe Fiasco, but we need to be careful not to let that disappointment cloud the past or dampen the future. Lupe seems to have accepted that Lasers is not the masterpiece he originally set out to make and is prepared to move on. Maybe we should follow his lead.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Mar 08, 2011
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