Fun fact: Lupe Fiasco himself painted this cover for his latest album.
Unabashedly, I would describe myself as a big fan of Lupe Fiasco. From his unique and recognizable delivery to his ambitious and colorful lyrics, he has been a mainstay in my music playlist since his first big LP: Food and Liquor. His willingness to compete for spotlight not by conforming to the more conventional template of rap which includes sex, money, and drugs, but by attempting to slip in social commentary when you would least expected is what is most admirable to me. However, saying he is his own biggest critic is an understatement. Now that he has broken ties with his former record label he seems to be at peace with himself and his work and his newest project Tetsuo and Youth seems to mirror that.
Every album Lupe releases always seems to have an agenda. As if he is trying to get some point across. As I have said I admire that (even though I don’t think he’s always right), but many of times that gets lost on many listeners. This 16-track album is much more palatable because it finds a sort of balance that allows people to listen to what Lupe does best (which is probably to his chagrin) which is just rap. Not that he’s talking about nothing (I don’t think he could ever do that), but just that he allows himself to go through the motions and let his delivery and vivid metaphors do much of the heavy lifting. Songs he’s put out before like “Bitch Bad” and “American Terrorist” have importance because of the message but it tends to wear on individuals (like myself) to hear the aggressive delivery from any rapper (especially him) and compound that with a kind of preachy and chastising tone. This time around, songs like Tetsuo’s “Prisoner’s 1&2” supply Lupe with the arena to show off his superior lyricism and pension for social consciousness while still sounding palatable enough for the casual listener to enjoy (despite the song being almost nine minutes long).
One of the biggest knocks against Lupe outside of his so-called “preaching” is the fact that the beats chosen for him are just not memorable enough to gain any mainstream recognition. The business nowadays puts just as much or even more on the production aspect of songs and the biggest part of that is the beats. Songs like “Little Death” and “Blur My Hands” which feature Nikki Jean and Guy Sebastian respectively are stark reminders of that. One thing I like is that he is often accompanied by great features, but flounders potential success with weary beats that lack innovation. However, songs like “Body of Work”, “Deliver”, and “Adoration of the Magi” are completely opposite. Songs like these still allow Lupe to do what he does best which is just rap with little filter better than almost anyone today while being accompanied by a bevy of beats that are sultry and provocative and leave little else to be desired.
Now while the album has 16 tracks, it seems to go in a three song format ending with an interlude named by a specific season of the year to mark the next section of the album. I don’t know what this is about as it doesn’t seem to signify anything of significance throughout the album (I could be wrong though as I usually am). Also, I am not a huge fan of long tracks, (mixtape or not) and this album has many of them. The average length of a song on the album excluding the interludes (which are always short) and the unusually long eight minutes tracks that precede them (one of which I mentioned before) still come out to almost five minutes long and that’s just a little too long for my taste.
Verdict: Lupe has some of the best talent of any one rapper when it comes to lyricism and this is probably his best album in quite some time to deliver that as well as it did. He’s been his own biggest critic from day one and that can work to your detriment. These days he seems content with his place now as he believes his peak is behind him. While some of it can be placed on him because of his combatant personality and unwillingness to bend a little to mainstream status quo, it doesn’t help when you are met with opposition from the very people who are supposed to be in your corner (talking to you Atlantic). I really do wish he would have just given in a little because this is still a business and he would’ve changed so many things. His flow is probably the most malleable of anyone’s and he can make amazing beats that lesser talents have been given that much better. Plus his content is rarely ever recycled or stale so when you see some of his contemporaries who enjoy more success with less talent, it hurts as a fan. Tetsuo and Youth is may be his best and most balanced album to date. It could have set the bar to which others are measured by for the rest of the year, but without the big machine behind him it’s hard to see that happening.
Tetsuo and Youth gets a 4 out of 5
+ Still the same Lupe
+ Love the change in the approach to his content and how much more acceptable it is
+ Features are always consistent
– Beats still kind of leave me wanting
– I’m not that huge a fan of long tracks (though some of them I do like)
Tetsuo and Youth is in stores now
Stephon W. is a contributing Editor for Teh Lunchbox Publications and sorry, he doesn’t do social media. But you can follow the team on facebook (Teh Lunchbox Publications), and on twitter @tehlunchboxpub.