By the time you read this, you should have heard Lupe Fiasco‘s “Tetsuo & Youth” album. To celebrate the release of the Chicago emcee’s fifth instalment to his celebrated discography, I want to delve into the most ambivalent album from the artist who is undeniably one of the most thought provocative rappers of all time, and a top tier lyricist of the late 2000’s generation.
The third Lupe Fiasco LP, is heralded as “terrible”, “some of the worst music…ever paid for” and even the bar-smith himself has admitted that he contemplated suicide whilst making the much berated record. It’s widely regarded as not only Fiasco’s worst, but one of the most disappointing Hip Hop albums to have ever been heard – and yet, to me, it holds a special place in my CD collection (and not as a frisbee).
In fact, whilst I’ve listened to the ‘classic’ “Food & Liquour” debut and it’s well respected follow up and let the “F&L” sequel spin once or twice, none of these so-called “proper” Lupe discs managed to captivate me in the same capacity as “Lasers.” That’s not to say necessarily that “Lasers” is the best of the catalogue, only that I have maintained a connection with the LP that alluded me elsewhere.
As a seventeen (I think, maybe sixteen) year old, first really getting into Hip Hop. Sure I’d been vibing to the Eminem’s, Jay’s and Kanye’s, but this was my first venture into music that I hadn’t either heard on the radio, or been put onto by friends who had heard it on the radio, or music channels on TV etc. Instead, I was finding myself engrossed by music with deeper meanings and societal commentaries. Whether it was scoping YouTube for Alyssa Marie and Hyperaptive’s perception on their worlds, or dipping here and there into the likes of Joe Budden and first discovering The Roots.
I was a teenager in college, with no idea what I wanted to do with my life, what I was remotely interested in as a hobby, career or whatever. Way before anybody gave a fuck about my opinion on Hip Hop, and before I gave one about sharing it. Then, over here in the UK, David Cameron started unleashing a barrage of budget cuts, and I found myself finding a passion. A passion that was strictly anti-Tory, and subsequently I yearned for something to use as a vice for my burning anger towards a government that had seemingly just stripped away one-half of my choices as they raised the fees of University tuition.
It all seems a little ironic that now, around four years later, I’m sat in the library at University and the same government is loaning me over six thousand pound a year, to turn up to lecture and pretend I’m spending that money on books and other course required tools, and not at the pub or on snacks to fuel me to spend hours on end writing up blog posts that couldn’t be more irrelevant to my course. Of course, I understand that it’s debt, but if anyone thinks I’m ever going to earn the twenty two thousand a year, which is the point in which I have to start paying a percentage back – you’re deluded on my talents and how much monetary compensation that they might command.
But, back to 2011.
I heard the Skylar Grey featuring “Words I Never Said” and I was struck. The record perfectly encompassed my views and the effects they were having on my life. “Your childs future was the first to go with budget cuts” was swiftly quoted on my Facebook, and I’d often hit repeat on that one record for hours on end. Drowning out my anger, with Lupe’s understanding – and then came “Break The Chain.”
Assisted by Sway and Eric Turner, Lupe may have been rhyming about a black man growing up in the ghetto’s of Chicago but it hit a young white teenager from Newcastle, and opened my eyes a little. In hindsight, its a very “okay” at best record, that was now obviously made for a radio-ready sound. Yet the line about real chains in your mind, fuck. It’s really only now, writing this that I’m starting to think…Did Lupe open my eyes to conspiracy theories and not always believing what’s fed by the media?
Elsewhere, I’d skip over two-thirds of the MDMA assists (“Coming Up” & “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now“), The Trey Songz collab and “Never Forget You” featuring John Legend. But, I don’t like to focus on the minor negatives, considering the huge positives of not only the aforementioned songs, but the rest of the album which I believe (present tense) is a very solid all-round album.
“State Run Radio“‘s articulation on class warfare was a reinforcement of “Words I Never Said”, and together those two tracks might be my favourite of Lupe’s and stick in my mind so much more than anything else. The “Letting Go” opener is a perfect opener, articulating self-frustration with a pathos packed poetry that is unparallelled by many of Lupe’s Hip Hop peers. “Till I Get There“, one of the more up-beat records had some pretty stretched rhymes but it was an easy listening record that still managed to maintain an emotional resonance and the second verse is great story telling in how the industry reacts to Lupe not feeling up to being apart of it.
Getting to the mid-point of the album, “Show Goes On” might be a perfect example of a radio-ready record can still maintain a credible level of substance. The series of bars which semi-anaphorically salutes the people of the underclass and those who support them. Despite its melancholic undertoned, the motivational, communal message makes for one of my favourite tracks of around that time, and earned multiple spins on whatever I was using for music back then.
The race-fuelled “All Black Everything” hit a chord back then for educating me on certain musical advancements and cross-influences throughout the years. It awoken me to a world of racial history, that I was either never taught in school, or simply wasn’t listening. This was so much a better way of teaching, despite its shortness. Perhaps I should have already thought about the slave ships, civil wars and places like Somalia – but for whatever reason, it wasn’t until Fiasco forced me to listen to satirical flips on racial figures, that I began to think more about the world outside of the route between my home and college.
But, it was all about “Beautiful Lasers” in the end. Despite the pleasure taken in discovering the thought provoking social commentary provides elsewhere, the connection made as Lupe described his state of depression between a EDM-esque hook is the reason I continuously return to “Lasers.” In 2011, I was yet to go through anything that could remotely be considered a push into depression, but that is why “Beautiful Lasers” only got more plays since I did. Back then, I was still pretty much a parodox of pessimism and optimism, with one foot in utopia and the other stamping in dystopia. Bragging about my successes on social media – as timehop constantly reminds me – but inside acknowledging the pitfalls of my life – and doesn’t “Beautiful Lasers” provide a perfect reflection of just that?
I know that “Lasers” might not be a perfect album. It may not even be a very good one. But it is arguably a key reason, subconsciously why I’ve started blogging – and falling in love with Hip Hop at all. Having listened to the latest Lupe offering in the midst of writing, the Chicago emcee doesn’t have anything that remotely resembles the artist that segued me into a deeper realm of rap music and its culture and many others are better off for it. But I’ll be deleting “Tetsuo & Youth” from my phone, and replacing it with “Lasers”, once more.