There’s a well-documented history of delays throughout hip-hop’s history, but there may be no other tale more interesting than Lupe Fiasco‘s Lasers. Announced initially in June 2009, the LP was held back by Fiasco’s label, Atlantic, for a perceived lack of hits. Finally, after fans held protests across the world, Atlantic crumbled and announced the album would at last debut. The effort the world finally gets its hands on is one where an artist is clearly inspired for action in some sections and being dragged along by his label in others. When crafting of his own volition, however, Fiasco stands tall as an counter-revolutionary leader for the burned out and the damned.
In an interview with Complex, Fiasco himself said he was essentially forced by Atlantic to record at least two songs: “The Show Goes On” and “Never Forget You”. Undoubtedly spurned on Atlantic’s presence, the rest of the record paints a portrait of a very bitter Lupe Fiasco, with his resentment manifesting in a few ways. On one end of the spectrum, there’s “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now”. The electro-esque beat would be at home at any disco in any part of the world, but the lyrics about forgetting life and one’s responsibilities are some very subtle jabs at the uncaring and uninformed nature of many in the rap/pop world and fans of each genre, many of whom will lose the the message in the very vibrant energy of the track. There’s also more explicit messaging. “State Run Radio” takes a shred of that Clash-esque, reggae-infused punk and sings the ails of the modern radio industry and how everything good seems to be choked under the surface by high-priced garbage. Fiasco’s quite skilled at making catchy what is inherently a message many don’t want to hear. He’s at his most blatant, though, when he mixes his unique voice for the truth with emotional sentiments.
“Words I Never Said” is the junk noise-fueled, all-out-lyrical-explosion-of-straight righteousness, from questioning the War on Terror (“I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit/Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets/How much money does it take to really make a full clip/9/11 building 7 did they really pull it?”) to our neurotic, self-destructive culture (“If you don’t become an actor you’ll never be a factor/Pills with million side effects/Take ’em when the pains felt/Wash them down with Diet soda!/Killin’ off your brain cells/Crooked banks around the World/Would gladly give a loan today/So if you ever miss payment/They can take your home away!”). As he spins a yarn of a world in the throws of destruction from all sides (“Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit/That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either/I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful/And I believe in the people”), he comes alive by finally accepting these things he once held back from spitting, celebrating the end of who he once was. Even without dealing with giant global issues, “Letting Go” is in the same vain; here, more digitally manipulated vocals help to get across a message of a man at the end of his rope (“Burning all my motors down/Inspiration drying up/Motivation slowing down”) as if the deeper he gets into his own doubts, the clearer and crisper the sound he makes becomes. Despite his own self-doubts, Fiasco still manages to deliver such a barrage of rhymes that even as he loses himself, he’s vastly superior to most MCs.
While Fiasco shines when he’s at his darkest, he also has always been one who is somewhat hopeful for a better day ahead. “All Black Everything” takes that concept to its most fantastical extreme, creating a world where “Malcolm Little dies as a old man/Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him/Followed by Bill O’Reilly who read from the Quran/President Bush sends condolences from Iran.” But Fiasco’s focus also hovers over an alternate reality where rap has forever changed, a place where “Uh, and it ain’t no projects/Keepin’ it real is not an understood concept/Yea, complexion’s not a contest/Cause racism has no context/Hip-hop ain’t got a section called conscious,” sounding his most optimistic and playful. But in terms of things that could actually happen, the love story in “Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways)” could be the most emotionally gripping and earnest cut on the LP. Again, more vocodered-to-oblivion vocals tell the story of a relationship of some unspecified variety simultaneously crumbling thanks to one party’s downward spiral and reaching a potential for rejuvenation, with lines like “No winners when it’s me against me/One of us just ain’t gonna survive/My heart been broke for a while/Your’s been the one keepin’ me alive” and “All you see is all my rights/All I see is all my wrongs/Door, keep telling me to fight/Gun on my table telling me to come home” delivered with such force and emotion, free of Fiasco’s trademark wit and wordplay, to deliver the most stunning summary of the album as a whole: There’s BS everywhere, but true Lasers can rise above.