REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/07/2011
Every summer has its defining anthem, typically a sugary sweet, pumped-up pop song. But for me, every summer has an album I associate irrevocably with the season, with the slow-dripping humidity and that sense of ease you can only get in June through August. Though this album, the third major release by famed rapper Lupe Fiasco, actually dropped in March, I can’t help but think of it as this summer’s Recovery by Eminem, which I listened to on loop throughout the summer of ’10. There’s a heaviness and a headiness to Lasers, and Lupe’s lyrics are just as dagger-sharp as they were on 2007’s The Cool or the new classic, 2006’s Food And Liquor.
While critical reception to this disc has been so-so, I was bowled over from first listen in a way that I wasn’t with Lupe’s previous work. His albums are dense, chaotic, and complex, yet he’s got a strangely keen ear for crafting hooks. In many spots – and perhaps that’s why I love it so much – Lasers is so reminiscent of the aforementioned Recovery, whose bold honesty put Eminem back on top of the rap game. Songs like “Words I Never Said,” with Skylar Grey’s made-for-radio hook, turn the mirror on the MC himself just as much as they indict the agitated political culture. It’s none too hard to take on the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world, but lines like “I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence” and the bare emotion of the chorus take a different sort of boldness, one that makes Lupe so accessible and fascinating.
From start to finish, Lasers has a prickly beauty to it – take opener “Letting Go,” which pairs its fuzzed-over rhymes with a positively soaring hook and dreamy piano, a combination of strength and musical sensibility. Other tracks are destined to be gobbled up as singles, such as the slick beats and swaggering vocals of “Out Of My Head” (featuring Trey Songz) and lead single “The Show Goes On,” which has already become a summer staple. Incorporating the fancy-free melody of Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” this cut reconfigures that already amazing song and makes it a glorious and endlessly listenable reminder to seize the day while it’s still in front of you.
In some ways, Lupe even reminds me of Kanye West in his approach to soundscapes and the lyrical territory that West covered on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On Lasers, it’s “Beautiful Lasers (2Ways)” featuring MDMA that makes me think of West’s “Runaway” in its haunting honesty. Lines like “If you feel like you don’t wanna be alive / You feel just how I am” are elevated by the shimmering instrumentation, and the moment when Lupe shouts “My heart been broke for awhile / Yours been the one keeping me alive” it’s raw and beautiful.
There’s not a song on this album that I don’t like and that doesn’t fit into the vision of the album. “State Run Radio” has a chorus that will lodge in your head, while “All Black Everything” is signature Lupe, matching stark lyrics with a sweeping beat.
Though this album was barely even released as a result of controversy with Lupe’s Atlantic label, it emerges as a statement of integrity for the rapper. It’s definitely got a different sort of sensibility than his previous records – more accessible, a little more pop – but for me that just makes it all the more masterful, and all the better that messages like Lupe’s are becoming radio anthems. I for one will be spinning this on repeat long past the summer, and I recommend you try it out, too.