Suffering three years of delays at the corporate hands of Atlantic Records, and facing the threat of an expiration-less shelf life, Lupe Fiasco decides to compromise on his third studio album, Lasers and make those few bastardy radio-pop singles in order to achieve the greater goal of getting the album out to the public ear. What started off as a request for a couple harmless, attention-grabbing tracks mutated into an all-out combat between the two parties, as song after song was scrapped from the tracklist. That is, until the Fiasco fanatics held a full scale peaceful protest to prove their willingness to hand their greenbacks to Atlantic. And so, with the suits now eying a hefty return, they handed Lupe some musical stencils, the keys to the studio, and at long last, the much-sought after release date.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the record went rogue and though Lasers was designed to radiate fiercely, we’ve been left with a garbled heap of scraps that does little more than emit the occasional spark. Upon pressing play, the first noticeable element is the sonic departure from what we’ve gotten used to hearing from Lupe, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing by default. However, here, the overwhelming electronic sound that saturates the majority of this album just doesn’t work for him. Worse, it isn’t original, it isn’t innovative, it isn’t creative, and on occasion, it becomes borderline repulsive.
The album feels synthetically manufactured on a conveyor belt with interchangeable parts; a lifeless project as a whole. Even the underlying Lasers acroymn (Love Always Shines Every time Remember 2 Smile) packs in very little relevance. This go around, there is no Soundtrackk or Prolyfic, and no Kanye West. We’re left to deal with names like King David, and Alex da Kid, who’s known for nothing more than producing pop singles to the tenth power. Even Lu’s faithful, proven hook man Matthew Santos is nowhere to be found, replaced with the replicated yet incapable droning of Matt Mahaffey and MDMA.
The lyrical structure of Lasers isn’t much of compensation, either. At most times, Lupe sounds uninspired, as he hardly makes an attempt to mask the fact that he’s fulfilling obligations for the release. Uncharacteristically serenading women with Trey Songz for “Out Of My Head,” with cheese like, “Maybe was your hair, maybe was your flare/Maybe it’s the heels and the way you wear” is a fitting example. Or from a casual glance at the hook for “Till I Get There,” as he declares “I’ma keep it cool, and I’ma do me/It is what it is and that’s how it’s ‘gon be,” it’s clear that he does not want any part of this album. The passion and dedication to his content, has evidently been replaced by apathy. He’s half-heartedly trying to get by on talent alone, without any refinement to his technique for song writing.
Redundancy is another underlying theme of the album. Most verses of the majority of the records can safely be interchanged with any other hook, and with the exception of “Words I Never Said,” it would have a marginal impact, at most. The most enigmatic piece, however, is “State Run Radio,” where Wasalu declares his disdain for formulaic and mechanical songs…on a formulaic and mechanical song. Laid out on a predictable pop-esque beat and decorated with an equally expected humdrum multi-layered, electro hook, it screams hypocrisy. Not only would the entire album seemingly contradict this record’s ideology, but more than anything, so would this very track.
In a classic twist of irony, Lasers shines the brightest on its two singles “Words I Never Said” and “The Show Goes On.” Whereas most albums are critiqued despite their standalone offerings, here they are keeping this project afloat. Additionally the extended metaphor, “All Black Everything” is a rare sighting of vintage Lupe, and we’re treated to an ingenious alternate reality in which there were never slaves, but rather well paid laborers. Not surprisingly, here’s where the album peaks. For a singular moment, the electro-pop sounds click on “Letting Go,” and Lupe flaunts himself as an over-skilled rapper who can churn out rhymes in his sleep. Not great, intellectually stimulating lines, but enough to go bar for bar against any run-of-the-mill act whose tried to follow his path.
Despite its intentions to illuminate the night sky, Lupe’s 3rd is a black hole, not only meritless in itself, but also casting a dark shadow across Lupe Fiasco’s name and previous accomplishments. Whereas his previous works were a subtle, clever slap in the face to his detractors and label big wigs (see The Cool’s “Dumb It Down”), Lasers is a blatant sucker punch to his fans. The phenomenal quality and innovation that was integral in the creation of two of the most original, and all around best Hip-Hop albums has completely vanished. Lasers, on the other hand, is not cast out of the same enthusiasm that we’re used to seeing, but rather, it has silently become the very object that he once deafeningly condemned.