Lasers (released March 8, 2011)
The story behind Lasers is far more interesting than the album, unfortunately.
Lupe’s third album was shelved by his record label Atlantic when he refused to record more pop-friendly material. Remember last year’s hit “Nothin’ On You?” Allegedly Lupe turned that down – and good for him. After the label played hardball and locked Lasers away, Lupe’s rabid fan base planned to protest in front of Atlantic headquarters in hopes of getting the album back on the streets. But before the historic Hundred Fan March took place, Atlantic caved in and Lasers was green-lighted.
But Atlantic would have the last laugh. Thanks to their heavy handed involvement, the album is overloaded with useless guest vocalists – nearly all of whom spoil the party. With one exception, EVERY SINGLE SONG has some man, woman on creature screeching in the background. Lupe has publicly stated that in many cases, he had absolutely nothing to do with the finished product.
It’s a testament to his talent that Lasers isn’t a total loss. We’ve discussed “Words I’ve Never Said” before, and while I don’t agree with some of the messages presented Lupe should be commended for stirring thought-provoking debates. As he says on the track, “If you don’t become an actor/you’ll never become a factor.” Hard to believe Atlantic originally intended the song to be another run-of-the mill, syurpy tale about a rocky relationship.
With his back against the wall, Lupe passive-aggressively speaks out against label politics. Lupe reimagines himself as a brain-dead record executive on “State Run Radio,” as he contributes to the sorry state of today’s radio stations: “Different is never good, good is what WE pick/you ain’t gotta hit unless it sounds like THESE did….” Preach, brother.
Sadly, tracks like “State Run Radio”; “Till I Get There,” a pseudo-autobiographical anthem for the downtrodden; and “Break the Chain,” which urges listeners to go against the grain, are all underminded by vomit-inducing hooks. Every so often, a track like “Letting Go” succeeds despite limitations but those are the execptions. John Legend and Trey Songz add nothing to their tracks (“Never Forget You” and “Out of My Head,” respectively) and are just window dressing. And trust me, avoid anything that says “featuring MDMA.” Your eardrums will thank me.
Where in the world is Matthew Santos when you need him? Lupe’s usual hook man is nowhere to be found.
The only track that seemed to escape Atlantic’s corrosive touch is “All Black Everything.” Not surprisingly it’s one of the better songs I’ve heard this year. Lupe imagines a world where slavery never occurred and blacks are the majority. The bizarre, yet hilarious alternate-reality storyline is what Lupe does best – weaving tales that push the boundaries of conventional rap.
Too bad Atlantic doesn’t get that.
Best tracks: “All Black Everything,” “Words I Never Said,” “Letting Go”
3.5 stars out of 5