“When I think about everything that I went through on [Lasers], I hate this album,” said rapper Lupe Fiasco in an interview with Complex.com of his continuing conflict with Atlantic Records. Atlantic Records controlled the content and selection of the tracks on Lupe’s latest, and their interference ultimately produced an album of which the rapper is not entirely proud. “A lot of the songs that are on the album, I’m kinda neutral to,” he has said. Indeed, Lupe’s indifference comes across as apathy on the album. Surprisingly, given Lupe’s past originality, it’s almost as if the record were composed from a formula for alternative hip-hop albums, with Lupe disengaged from the generic material. Lupe rose to fame as an idiosyncratic rapper who brought a new style to the emerging genre of alternative rap. However, his third album “Lasers” brings nothing new to rap, and instead finds Lupe settling for uninspired albeit pleasant pop-influenced tracks with catchy hooks.
Album opener “Letting Go,” a retrospective look at a failed relationship, features a strong chorus from Lupe: “Things are getting out of control / Feels like I’m running out of soul / You were getting heavy to hold / Think I’ll be letting you go.” The angst-ridden melody successfully supports the hopelessness evoked by the lyrics. Unfortunately, the following succession of tracks comprises at best an above-average alternative hip-hop album that just as easily could have been released by any of Lupe’s peers, but will undeniably play well in clubs and on the airwaves. Lupe also tries his hand at the techno genre producing “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now,” an upbeat, club-ready track featuring punchy synthesizers and a heavily Auto-tuned chorus—current party single staples.
Lupe’s thought-provoking lyricism finally emerges in “All Black Everything,” in which he imagines a world where the black slave trade never occurred, and racial discrimination is non-existent: “Malcolm Little dies as an old man / Martin Luther read the eulogy for him.” Similarly demonstrative of Fiasco’s lyrical skill is “Words I Never Said,” in which he unabashedly blazes through touchy political commentary, disdainfully addressing 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.” The track also features Skylar Grey, who lent her vocals to the recent Eminem and Dr. Dre collaboration “I Need a Doctor.”
“State Run Radio” is one of the weaker songs on the album, and it constitutes a blunt statement of Lupe’s views on the apparent monotony of popular music. Here, he replicates popular radio station singles, and deems level of talent inversely proportional to amount of airplay: “So beware what’s on the airwaves / And be more aware of what’s not getting airplay / Independent spirits you can barely hear what they’re saying / Truth ain’t getting on like shampoo on an airplane.” In mocking irritating pop singles, Lupe produces one with nonsensical claims and an overconfident but failed attempt at exhibiting the characteristics of songs that he disdains. However, Lupe makes up for the song by closing the record strongly with the John Legend collaboration “Never Let Go.”
“Lasers” is noticeably lacking in profanity, almost unheard of in a rap album; Fiasco often forgoes vulgar epithets for skillfully composed verses broken up by solid choruses. “Break the Chain” is the standard rags-to-riches rap with an up-tempo twist and a lyrical flow that few others can accomplish, and “Beautiful Lasers” opens with a poignant, memorable refrain and equally emotional lyrics. These songs present the perfect marriage of original lyricism and pop sensibilities that the rest of the album is woefully missing.
Though a few standout tracks bring this album up to par with Lupe’s previous work, overall it is a half-hearted effort. “Lasers” has undeniable radio playability and wide appeal, but lacks some of the heart and originality that Lupe Fiasco fans originally loved, and that critics so admire.