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Lasers

Lupe Fiasco

Released March 8, 2011

Atlantic Records

Lasers is an album to die for. Just ask Lupe Fiasco himself, who once revealed to The Guardian that at one point during its production, he was “super-depressed, lightly suicidal, at moments medium suicidal — and if not suicidal, willing to just walk away from it all completely.”

Indeed, behind the explosion of compressed vocals and electronica-laced piano riffs, Lasers is an album mired in controversy, an internal struggle between creative genius and executive mandate. “I love and hate this album,” says Lupe. “A lot of the songs that are on the album, I’m kinda neutral to. Not that I don’t like them, or that I hate them, it’s just I know the process that went behind it. I know the sneaky business deal that went down behind this song, or the artist or singer or songwriter who wrote this hook and didn’t want to give me this song in the first place. The creation of the album was a very painful, dark, fucked-up process.”

I love Lupe Fiasco. I’ve loved him since his fiery debut cameo in Kanye’s “Touch the Sky,” followed him to “Superstar,” tagged along to “Kick Push,” trailed with him to “Daydreamin’.” To me, Lupe is the 21st century poster boy of hip hop. His imagination is unlike any other; he is not Afrocentric, not gangsta, not conscious or political. He is absolutely unlabelable. Lyrically, he’s a master storyteller, weaving vivid tales about indigency, parenting, romance, ambition, terrorism, religion, fame, child soldiers, robots, and skateboards. He loves to play with extended metaphors and unusual rhyme schemes, almost with the ease of a child prodigy. But aside from “Superstar,” few to none of his songs have been accepted into mainstream corpus. Critics point to his lack of ability to craft a catchy chorus, which has never been much of a priority for either Lupe or his fanbase. With Lasers, however, whether under pressure from Atlantic Records or simply on his own whim, this problem has been strongly and aggressively quelled.

Lasers is an album that straddles precariously between the mainstream and the independent. For the album, Atlantic has pulled a myriad of mainstream producers; uniquely, Lasers credits these producers in the titles of each song, a small touch that reflects Lupe’s distinct sense of pure musicianship. Lupe’s poignant, imaginative lyrics sound genuinely fantastic supported by these production giants.

What irks me most about the reception of the album is how many critics have accused Lasers of being a sellout album, a flirtation with the mainstream and a deviation from “the old days.” While the assembly of the tracks in Lasers is in no way as collective as those in The Cool (the latter being more of a concept album), it feels raw and genuine, pained and fought for. The accusation that the addition of catchy hooks and electronic baselines constitutes a cowardly retreat into the “mainstream” is hilariously misguided.

It’s difficult to select even a few tracks that can represent the album since each piece has its natural beauty, but for me, “All Black Everything” stuck out as more of a throwback to the Food & Liquor days, with simple production and lyrically dominated verses. It weaves a story of an alternate future of racial and secular harmony, where “black woman voted head of Ku Klux Klan, Malcolm Little dies as an old man, Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him, followed by Bill O’Reilly who read from the Qur’an.” It’s profound, and even a little funny, and a perfect reminder of Lupe Fiasco at his absolute best.

I feel almost impotent in writing this review, because Lasers needs no explanation, defense, or advocation. You simply need to listen for yourself. Lasers is Lupe Fiasco’s heart, naked and exposed, spilled onto spinning record disks and bouncing, electric waveforms. It’s an imperfect, pained ode to us, the fans, reminding us that when things feel down, just remember: Love Always Shines Everytime, Remember 2 Smile.