After Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco went gold and scored a hit single, “Superstar,” with his 2007 album The Cool, the stage seemed set for his long-delayed follow-up, Lasers. But to hear Fiasco tell it, his label dismissed The Cool and pressured him to go bigger and blander. Weary from fighting and just hoping to get Lasers released, Fiasco conceded, and the result is a schizophrenic record that even he feels ambivalent about.
While Fiasco told the Chicago Tribune he’s “comfortable and happy” with Lasers, he said in another interview that his memories of making the album have made him hate it. The label forced songs on him, such as the Modest Mouse-sampling “The Show Goes On” (warning him not to “rap too deep”) and “Never Forget You,” an orphan track from a label executive featuring John Legend. (The saga sounds an awful lot like “Dumb It Down” from The Cool.) But Fiasco was also able to include some songs that are distinctly his, such as the heavily political “Words I Never Said” (which takes shots at Obama, Islamic terrorists, and Israel) and the alternate-history fantasy “All Black Everything.”
The rest of Lasers lies somewhere in between. “Letting Go” sounds like a B-side from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, with its tortured-artist lyrics and Kanye-esque vocal hook. Much of Lasers is slathered in synthesizers, giving it an au courant hip-hop sound that may not age well. Lasers has plenty of moments that work, but they tend to be the ones that seemingly reflect Fiasco’s personality—and not, say, the “girl I can’t get you out of my head” shenanigans of “Out Of My Head.” Here’s hoping that whatever Fiasco does next, it’s more on his terms.