By David Colburn
Two important aspects define contemporary hip-hop: the flow and rhythm of the rap itself, and the emotional effect of the beats and melodies. The most striking hip-hop albums strike a balance between these two aspects almost effortlessly. A genre packed with as much lyrical introspectiveness as aural diversity, well-considered combinations ascend beyond literal means and truly move the listener.
Lupe Fiasco has, for the most part, mastered the former aspect. The rhythm and flow of his lyrics are impressively smooth and equally clever. Lasers highlights the rapper’s talent in this area from start to finish, but the album’s introduction does not consider the significance of the latter aspect. Perhaps that is not the best way to phrase the issue, as both “Letting Go” and “Words I Never Said” falter slightly in the melodrama of their respective choruses and melodies that are ultimately less-than-interesting . The former’s “Seems I’m getting out of control/ Feels like I’m running out of soul,” is followed by the latter’s “It’s so loud Inside my head/With words that I should have said!/As I drown in my regrets/I can’t take back the words I never said,” in a chilled air of some late 1990s alternative reminiscence.
The music and choruses are not terrible, but the contrast of quality from verse to chorus results in two tracks that are not nearly as strong as their potential. Excerpts of social and political commentary roll comfortably across the highways of the listener’s mind, until the highlighted choruses send the sentiments toppling and swerving.
With the quirky piano hook and lively production of “When I Get There”, the album is able to “get there”, so to speak. The track easily serves as one of the strongest on Lasers. The importantly potent combination of lyricism and melody is reached, and the result is only more enjoyable with each listen. Everything is looking up for Lupe, but the album has not escaped conflict just yet.
“I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now” is a sound-scape saturated in studio effects and standard strains of electronica. The combination begins as somewhat catchy but verges into obnoxiousness as the stuttered sensation of the verses, “Oh-oh Go-Go-God over everything-thing/You fly but stars over everything-thing/And I’m one of them, yeah one of th-the-them/Oh I’m not o-o-one? Well I’m a hundred th-the-then,” arrives.
With those issues out of the way, it is time to consider a third aspect of contemporary hip-hop; the tendency to reveal its qualities over time. With each listen, tracks that are simply “decent” or “average” become much more memorable and appealing. Lasers is based in a quality similar to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy of last year. Lyrical excerpts scatter and eventually grow roots in the listener’s mind under the healthy guidance of masterful production. The sting of detrimental issues mentioned earlier becomes numb and fades away, while the positives remain and thrive.
When all is said and done, Lasers is not an essential listen. The strength of Lupe’s verses, and the general power of their sentiments, may make the album one of the most engaging non-essential listens of the year.