Friday, March 11, 2011

Music's Response to Finals: Lupe Fiasco's Lasers

When the public has been demanding an album's release for three years, everyone knows the day it finally drops is going to be a big one. Lupe Fiasco fought off the influence of his record company Atlantic Rights for the rights to publish his 3rd album, Lasers, the way he wanted. He settled on Lasers as an acronym for “Love Always Shines Everytime, Remember 2 Smile”.

With the album finally here, it’s time to see what this Muslim skater kid out of Chicago has given us and whether it keeps him at the top of the current rap/hip-hop leaders with the likes of Kid CuDi and B.o.B. Lounge back in your most comfortable seat, dim the lights and press the play button on Lasers.

Lupe didn’t try to include a single concept to the album like he did with his last release The Cool, but a sense of drained optimism shines through regardless. The album lends itself to a form of introspection and positive social critique, but one feels weighed down by a sense of disappointment with it all. Lupe touches on this himself, openly discussing his dislike of the process behind Lasers. This weight is delivered in the first four lines off the album from the song “Letting Go.”

“Seems I'm getting out of control / Feels like I'm running out of soul / You're getting heavy to hold / Think I'll be letting you go”

Later, in one of his more affecting songs “Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways),” Lupe asks his listener “If you feel like you don’t want to be alive / You feel just how I am / I’m on the dark side.” It’s easy to sense weariness with the world and perhaps the industry he has had to deal with. It comes out in the lyrics that are often at odds with the unauthentic pop sound in the background we know was put there by Atlantic Records.

Most of the initial reviews have knocked down the album because of this perceived corporate influence. Lupe did not hold back when addressing Atlantic Record’s interference and so the feud is common knowledge. The word compromise could easily be applied to the entire collection of songs. With additional electronic vibes and synthesizers meant to cater to the current pop trends, most reviewers have pointed to these additions as taking away from the activist lyrics of Lupe Fiasco. They dull his message behind repetitive chorus repetitions, a fact acknowledged by Lupe in his track “State Run Radio.” The song is highlighted by its repetition of the phrase “over again…and over again…and over again” for its chorus in a way that impressively mimics today’s most listened to pop radio.

Fortunately, even the dull pop can’t keep the naturally optimistic message Lupe is known for. His poignant critiques of society go hand in hand with a hope that we’re moving in the right direction. He admits in the song “Coming Up” that his career is “only moving forward homie, that’s that.” His resilience carries on (“Tell my enemies that they can’t injure me”) and ultimately leaves the listener with heavy shoulders but a certain confidence. The world weighs heavily, but “all the ups and downs will soon be worth it.” That’s all Lupe’s message has ever been. The industry can smudge the idea, but they can’t erase what he’s been trying to say the whole time.

"You just lift your arms higher / Raise 'em 'til your arms tired, let 'em know you here / That you struggling, surviving, that you gon' persevere / Ain't nobody leaving, nobody going home."

"Even if they turn the lights out, the show is going on."

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