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It’s been four years since Lupe Fiasco’s startling second outing, The Cool, confirmed the Chicago rapper as an important new maverick figure in hip hop. Since then, wrangles over creative direction with his label Atlantic (bizarrely, they wanted hits – as opposed to most major labels who are just begging for a King of Limbs from every artist) have delayed and derailed his plans for the follow-up.
The dispute between the forces of creativity and commerce are writ large across the finished product. "Things are getting out of control / Feels like I’m running out of soul" claims the opening track Letting Go, and yet the world-weary feel works well. Hip hop purists might baulk at the creamy melodies that dress up Lupe’s breathless diatribes, yet there’s something riveting about the undercurrent of confusion that envelopes this tune. Better still is Words I Never Said, taking scattershot aim at everything from Obama’s policy on Gaza to education budget cuts. It’s Lupe at his brilliant best – with ideas spewing forth at a rate which leaves your head spinning.
After that, though, RnB syrup starts to swamp the lyrical invention. It’s depressing that such an original talent still feels the need to coat every vocal melody in the electro-voiced gloop of A*to-T*ne, in stark non-contrast to 97% of current chart singles. Is the label solely to blame for that?
Cuts like the bouncing, urgent I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now are infectious pop-rap which would do lesser talents proud, while The Show Goes On engagingly samples Modest Mouse. But ultimately, where The Cool continually pricked up your ears, large swathes of Lasers go in one and out of the other. Then you hear the penultimate track, All Black Everything, and get another glimpse of what this man is capable of. It’s a ‘what if…?’ satirical reimagining of history wherein slavery never happened, considering its knock-on effects on modern cultural landscape. "The rat pack was a cool group of black men," he tells us, "that inspired the five white guys called the Jacksons."
For inspired moments like that, and a couple of other tracks where he lets his talent run wild, Lupe remains a singular hip hop voice, and Lasers is still worth a listen.
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