#2. The Fiasco Surrounding Lupe’s Lasers.
Our defining moments list up to this stage has revolved around growth and positivity across a few different genres. That all changes here, and I warn you not that this instalment will be very biased and completely lack subjectivity. Defining moment #2 is the release of Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers.
Cast your mind back to 2007. Lupe Fiasco released his universally-acclaimed album The Cool, an album that has solidified itself as one of my favourite ever rap releases, and cemented his fanbase of ‘real hip-hop’ fans who appreciated his gift at storytelling, diverse range of deliveries and general presence on the mic.
With The Cool being only his second full LP, many expected Lupe to continue his development and really solidify himself as one of the scene’s leading rappers with his follow up. Unfortunately, after the release, things began to unravel. He dissolved his F&F label, consequentially damaging relationships with collaborators who had contributed massively to the success of his first two albums (Matthew Santos in particular), and the pressure of record label politics started to show as he vented his frustrations at various live shows, in social media outlets and so on.
For a brief period, the burdens became fuel for positivty, as he began to almost develop a siege mentality in tandem with his fanbase, and an air of rebellion surrounded his very existence; the release of Japanese Cartoon’s edgy, rock-drive album was the perfect embodient of the oppression he claimed to feel due to his creatively-restrictive record label situation, and it seemed like a good avenue to release those frustrations.
However, it simply preceded what was to be one of the most spectacular falls from grace in recent memory. After delays, debates and debacles, Lupe settled his differences with Atlantic in October 2010 and announced Lasers for a March 2011 release. With the announcement made almost exactly 3 years after The Cool‘s release, hip-hop’s collective excitement was tangible, and buzz began for the release of the first single, The Show Goes On, one of the most spectacularly incorrect song titles of all time. The show didn’t go on, it was no continuation of the depth of the album that preceded it, and instead we were given a light, soft pop-rap track that was quite clearly aimed at an entirely new audience; no crime in going for a radio single though, so a little leeway was given at this stage.
Flashforward a few months to Lasers‘ full release. The autotune-laden, pop-filled, pandering-to-the-mainstream third album from a rapper whose previous album included Dumb It Down, a song emphasising his intentions of not doing exactly what the title said. Hip-hop breathed a collective sigh of disappointment: one of the few rappers many relied on to ‘bring lyricism back’ had officially sold out. Whilst it wasn’t entirely a failure (Letting Go and Words I Never Said were two beacons of hope for longtime fans to cling on to), many of the productions were downright awful, the features (Sway aside) and hooks reeked of a desperate attempt to garner mainstream approval, and the verses felt laboured, simplistic and devoid of originality. This was an almost unrecognisable Lupe Fiasco, one who had gone further than compromising with his label, and had instead seemingly been entirely corrupted by their incredibly successful business model of launching rappers into the mainstream.
The fiasco didn’t end there. Many fans clung to the belief that Lupe was forced into making this album, and that he was given no choice but to make the songs that were given to him. Lupe began to feed those rumours with quotes seemingly in support of that view, suggesting his hand was indeed forced and this wasn’t the album he wanted to make, placating many of his fans and offering an understandable (and hoped for) reasoning for the album. Unfortunately, this was then (repeatedly) followed with comments to the contrary, suggesting his ‘hate of the album’ was of the process in making it and not the music itself, which he liked. Cue fits of anger from those briefly-disarmed fans, with the knives out again in confusion and worry at what this meant for a rapper once viewed as having the potential to be regarded as one of the elite.
Narrowed down, the #2 defining moment of 2011 is the disappointment of Lasers. However, it is the wider implication that even Lupe the rebel, Lupe the creator of in-depth material, and fundamentally Lupe the rapper can be turned into another paint-by-numbers artist. The album had a couple of tracks that had promise, but the hope going into 2012 is that they’re signs he will return to that sort of material, and not fragments of a once glorious past.