Review Summary: Lupe's latest offers songs with great production and terrible lyrics, songs with terrible production and great lyrics, and everything in between.
The story behind the making of Lasers is a puzzling one. Lupe Fiasco, while certainly not the most mainstream rapper in the game, had still shown plenty of pop savvy in his first two proper albums. Songs like “Kick, Push”, “Superstar” and “Shining Down” all enjoyed some amount of success on the charts. These songs, the first two especially, successfully balanced his pop sensibilities with his aptitude for storytelling and his desire to say something substantial. So why on earth did Atlantic interfere so much with his album? People who were worried when “The Show Goes On” was released had most of their worst fears realized. Few of the songs play to Lupe’s strengths as a rapper (poetic lyricism, uninhibited flow). Instead he finds himself paired off with various big names, such as Trey Songz, Skylar Grey and John Legend. As opposed to the organic partnerships with, say, a GemStones or a Bishop G that appeared on The Cool, many of these are incredibly ill-fitting, making a clearly less motivated Lupe Fiasco take a backseat in many of his own songs to the production and hooks.
Considering the melodrama behind the making of this album, “Letting Go” seems a fitting opener, with its vast overproduction and hard-hitting beat. It's expansive, intricate, and way too much. Lyrically, this song could be read almost as an excuse for how the album turned out, with Lupe complaining of being lost and tired, ready to "let go". It’s not a terrible song, but not memorable either despite all the theatrics, and it certainly gives us some warning as to what comes next.
Whatever your political beliefs are, you still have to admit that Lupe is going hard on “Words I Never Said”. It’s a shame, then, that his lyrics are nearly an afterthought with the loud, incessant synths and incredibly over-the top chorus. This song really could have been a standout, but instead it ends up more grating and uncomfortable than anything else. “Beautiful Lasers” also suffers from a similar amount of overproduction, but at least the verses place Lupe front and center, resulting in a much more enjoyable experience (and a song that I can actually listen to more than once).
Other parts of the album have catchy production but fall completely on their face. It’s clear Lupe is not cut-out for making club bangers, so why not leave that to the experts? “Out of My Head”, “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now”, and “Never Forget You” are simply garbage. These exist as particularly shameful attempts to manufacture hits out of an ill-fitting performer. We need songs to dance to at the clubs, but I don’t expect or frankly want Lupe to be coming up with those songs, especially since he has strengths that lie elsewhere. Only “Coming Up” ends up working, although lyrically it is still at a lower level than anything from his previous albums. “State Run Radio” seems like a missed opportunity, since he raps over a beat that does not fit his flow at all. Lupe almost seems confused as to what to do with this song, despite a concept that seems a natural fit. This beat itself is a messy hodgepodge of guitars and synths during the verses that perhaps any rapper would have difficulty saving, but Lupe is simply no match. The producers compound this mistake by placing an incredibly cheesy chorus that repeats itself over again, and over again, and over again...
“Till I Get There”, with perhaps the simplest beat of all (just a piano-driven, light affair), ends up as one of the strongest songs. I almost wish this song had not been included on the album, because it shows what a misstep most of the rest of these songs are for Lupe (who certainly deserves some of the blame) and the idiots at Atlantic. Lasers ends up being a mostly average experience, albeit one with some strong songs and ideas (“All Black Everything” jumps to mind), many of which are unfortunately stifled by overproduction. Which is the last thing we should see from a rapper as talented and innovative as Lupe Fiasco. Even if Lasers was destined to be a failure from the get-go, I wish it had been a failure on his terms.