As Bright as a 'Laser' Pointer

By: Danny Sedlezak
In 2007, Lupe Fiasco uttered what had been, and what he claimed would continue to be, his personal musical mantra: “They tell me to come down cousin, but I flatly refuse. I ain’t dumb down nothing.” What he truthfully should have said was “I ain’t dumb down nothing…until Lasers.” While this may be an exaggeration, Lasers is trying with (almost) all of its heart to be as cool as the popular albums. You know, like Flo Rida, Pit-bull, and Usher.
The warning bells first go off when you hear the numerous euro-trash beats that pull the album down faster than an airplane without fuel. I can think of three songs off the top of my head (‘Break the Chain’, ‘Out of My Head’, ‘Till I Get There’) that are tarnished by the techno-flavored club beats. The biggest problem on the album is frequent guest MDMA, whose techno-synthesized club beats and horrendously auto-tuned hooks turn songs that could have been great (specifically ‘Beautiful Lasers (2 ways)’) into nearly unlistenable to any person who is not a fan of Ke$ha. How did the man who made a whole song pointing out the mistreatment of women on his last album (‘Dumb it Down’) turn around and make ‘I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now’, in which he says, “I’m leaving the club with three [women]”?
Lupe sold out ­– literally. This album was his first to debut at the number one spot on Billboard Top 100 charts. Truth is he wasn’t even supposed to release this album. After The Cool, he was supposed to release The Great American Rap Album and Food and Liquor II. Maybe this was just a way to gather hype around him in order to sell those records. Who knows?
One song in particular exemplifies all that went wrong in the recording of Lasers. ‘State Sun Radio’ features a heavily auto-tuned guest performance by some no-name singer. The beat is a rock-club crossover beat with awkward crunches of punk guitars overlaying the traditional whining of synths. However, the worst offense is Lupe’s dumbing down of his lyrics. This is one of three trite love songs on this album, and Lupe brings no deep metaphors, no interesting wordplay, nothing to compensate for his lack of a meaningful topic.
That said, not all is bad in Lasers; most of it is surprisingly average. The big single, ‘The Show Goes On’, has an amazing beat that samples Modest Mouse’s 2004 hit ‘Float On’. The beat is a real banger, with rapid fire high-pitched guitar accompanied by triumphantly loud horns and some bombastic drums. While Lupe’s flow sounds half asleep sometimes, ‘The Show Goes On’ is an uplifting song with some decent rhyming. ‘Letting Go’ would be a great Lupe song if not for its obnoxious arrangements of synths, the annoying hook, and the fact that Lupe spits with his voice distorted. It talks about how Lupe sees all of the flaws that make him human, and him trying to learn to accept them. ‘Break the Chain’ is the more underground breed of ‘The Show Goes On’.
When the album does shine, it shines brighter than most modern artists could ever hope to. ‘Words I Never Said’ features a slightly dubstep inspired beat (very slightly) with massive sounding pounding drums and a baseline so dirty it belongs in the dumpster. Skylar Grey comes off of her great hook in ‘I Need a Doctor’ and delivers another powerful hook. Lupe spits hard hitting socio-political rhymes reminiscent of KRS-One: “I didn’t vote for [Obama] though, next when either/ I’m part of the problem/ the problem is I’m peaceful”.
‘All Black Everything’ stands as the best cut of the album. Lupe weaves an alternate past with no racism and no hate, then ties it up in the third verse by saying, “I know it’s just a fantasy/I cordially invite why can’t it be…we can do something about the future we have”. The beat features the cooing of a soul singer sped up to sound as haunting as it is beautiful, wrapped in an assortment of high-pitched strings with sharp snaps of drums echoing in the background. It is truly a work of art that must be heard.
Sure, ‘Never Forget You’ may be a trite love song; but it’s the most appealing of the bunch. Maybe it’s because I like John Legend, who supplies the soulful hook and the piano riff. But in actuality, it is simply because it’s the most relatable. It is a declaration that someone you love is gone (whether dead or has moved on), you miss them, but you will never let that dominate your life. You will instead move on and carry in your heart all the good times you had together. It should have been the only song of its ilk on the album; it said what all the other love songs on the album tried to say, but it did so more poetically and concisely.
Lasers let me down, coming off as slightly below average. I just hope that Lupe’s next offering doesn’t take a whole three years to see the light of day. I said in my year-end review that Lupe Fiasco is the future of hip hop. I still stand on that crumbling ground. He just needs to stop selling out and avoid going on auto-pilot. I just hope he can keep his plane skyward after this drop in altitude.