We ladies put up with certain things for certain benefits. We put up with painful high heels because they make us look leaner. We put up with grandparents who ask why we aren’t married with babies yet because we love them. And we put up with misogynistic music because hey, the beat is bangin’ and we like to dance.
But we don’t have to put up with that with Lupe Fiasco. On his latest album, “Lasers,” he gives us clever, eclectic, irresistible beats set to lyrics that we don’t have to ignore.
Now I don’t mean to say that Lupe is a figure for women’s rights. But even Jay-Z conceded that Lupe is the most creative rapper out there right now, and it’s probably because Lupe doesn’t rap about hookers or beer, about sex positions or beating up women, and because his album isn’t filler surrounding a single.
Instead, each song is delightfully catchy, laid-back and completely unapologetic about having a backbone. Often giving the feel that you’re at a huge, throbbing concert, “Lasers” offers a satisfying mix of heart and hits.
First, the heart: Lupe dreams about a bizarrely non-bigoted world in “All Black Everything,” a song which sounds blissfully fantastical – literally, because I swear it samples music from some classic Disney fairy tale. “Never Forget You” takes Lupe on a walk through his stomping grounds to a beat that smacks both industrial and epic while John Legend’s always-sincere vocals soar sky-high. “Shining Down” is so hauntingly gorgeous it hurts: “You thought I was gone, you thought I wasn’t around, that I left you alone,” heaves guest vocalist Matthew Santos (who helped make one of Lupe’s previous hits, “Superstar,” so unforgettable). “Look up in the sky…see that I’m everywhere, shining down on you.” And “Letting Go” manages to be deliriously melodic… and soul-crushing.
If all this sounds a little emotional, no worries: Lupe’s deliciously danceable tracks rock all things good about the present and the past. “Coming Up” feels like the party anthem of 1994, synthesizers, piano and all. But “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now” is so right now, I dare you to not to shake your booty the second it starts. If it’s not the next club staple, I will hurt somebody.
Lupe keeps the club pulse going in “Out Of My Head,” which features a glamorous beat á la Kanye’s “Flashing Lights” and a syrupy Trey Songz howling oh so sweet (good luck getting this song out of your head). But save your energy for the hurricane-rush of “Breaking The Chain,” which has the heavy grip of Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” and sounds like being hurricane drunk at 3 a.m. on some futuristic Saturday night.
The rumor is that Lupe hated making this album – that it was a compromise between his vision and the record label’s demand for marketability. The only time the label seems to have won is “The Show Goes On,” which reminds you that you’re not at a concert and that somebody recorded this calculated, forgettable hit in a studio. I suppose it’d make for a good Nike commercial. (After I wrote this, I heard it during a college basketball break on TV. Fitting.) I can’t help but wonder: Might the title of the song be a little snippy?
If “Show” is slightly bitter, Lupe gets over it in “Till I Get There,” an anthem for all the shoulder-shrugging one has to do when working for fame. It’s such a catchy, happy tune that it makes you wonder if Lupe doesn’t really care that he hasn’t “gotten there,” and that he may not ever get there, either. This isn’t the first time Lupe sings about searching for fame – the longing “Superstar,” anyone? – and it does seem like this uber-talented young man rightfully dreams of finally being recognized: Lupe, whose work is anything but cheap, probably doesn’t have the biggest appeal to record labels. But “Lasers” just reinforces how very little label appeal matters anymore. And I think Lupe finally gets that: Just see how big his smile beams in the video for “Beamin’,” in which he parties with fifth graders, cardboard cutouts and lots of pretty flashing lasers. “Today, nobody cares, but tomorrow, they will.” And they should.
–By Tara Cavanaugh