From ‘Food & Liquor’ to ‘Tetsuo & Youth’: My Renewed Faith In Lupe Fiasco

Lupe-FiascoThis past Tuesday, Lupe Fiasco ended his fourth début week for an album release after dropping Tetsuo & Youth. There wasn’t too much hype beforehand, seeing as Lupe Fiasco’s fan base, including myself, has been, in a way, bipolar as of late. After releasing his top-selling but mixed reviewed Lasers, it seemed Fiasco was losing steam. So, when I turned on Tetsuo & Youth, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Chicago native. After two full plays through, I not only thoroughly enjoyed the album, but it also renewed my faith in Lupe’s career and revitalized my fandom for the MC. It’s been a long time coming for me, so I figured I’d give you a little background on my fandom and why everyone should be excited for the recently improved Lupe Fiasco.

My brother found Lupe Fiasco on Myspace (yeah, Myspace) circa 2004. He had 150 fans at the time and, amazingly so, my brother was one of them. After quickly becoming an avid listener and fan, my brother began calling into Fiasco’s radio station, FNF Radio, whenever he could. He called so much that Fiasco even addressed my brother by name. Eventually, calling into FNF Radio became a ritual for my brother, and he even brought family friends into the equation who sometimes called the rapper immediately after we did and even tried to play the “hater” once for a response. Yes, we were young and immature.

With my brother serving as such an avid fan, it didn’t take long for me to become one myself. Beginning with his feature on Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky” and his own single, “Kick, Push,” I began downloading everything Fiasco released. Every mixtape, every single, every album. Even his video, “I Gotcha,” was one of the first videos I purchased on the then rapidly spreading music application, iTunes. So, when it came to the release of his début album, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, my brother and I purchased it as soon as it hit stores. “Daydreamin'” became an anthem for me, “The Emperor’s Track” my pump up track, and “Sunshine” a part of my daily playlist. His sophomore album, The Cool, soon followed with “Paris, Tokyo,” that would eventually become the theme song for my four-week trip to Paris in 2011, and “Go-Go Gadget Flow,” which became one of the first songs I drove to after I got my license. By the end of The Cool, I was an avid fan of Lupe Fiasco.

Then, he released Lasers. Like any die-hard fan, I liked Lasers immediately. I didn’t like it because it was good, but because it was Lupe. Eventually, revealed by the amount of times that I actually listened to the album after its release, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did. Unlike the Lupe I’d grown to love, the album seemed uncalculated and, this might just be the hipster in me, grossly mainstream. At least, that was clearly the aim. And hey, for all intents and purposes, he did pretty well. The album marked the most first week sales for Fiasco, with 204,000 units. His lead single from the album, “The Show Goes On,” served as one of his highest sold singles, eventually going 3X platinum. Lupe did, in fact, hit mainstream. Well that should be it, right? He connected with more people than he ever had before. That’s the goal, right? Not really. According to the review aggregate site, Metacritic, the album received an average score of 57/100, indicating mixed or average reviews. Pitchfork gave it a 3.0/10.0, stating, “Lupe often has enough trouble staying out of his own way, yet Lasers doesn’t suffer for that reason; it just feels like the flaming wreckage of a project that never had a prayer.” HipHopDX gave it a two and a half stars out of five, stating, “Only traces of Lupe Fiasco’s greatness are present on Lasers, and even then he sounds less focused,” and that’s exactly how I felt.

I felt like I was looking for traces of the Lupe Fiasco I thought I’d hear through out the entire project. We heard bits and pieces during “State Run Radio” and “Words I Never Said,” but even they were diluted by the end of the album. Even Lupe seemed apathetic towards the project, sometimes audibly. On his single, “Never Forget You (feat. John Legend),” the rapper seemed uninspired. In an interview with Complex, Lupe even stated, “One thing I try to stress about this project is, I love and hate this album. I listen to it and I’ll like some of the songs. But when I think about what it took to actually get the record together and everything that I went through on this record—which is something I can’t separate—I hate this album.” Even Lupe didn’t like this album? There was a natural progression between his first two projects, and then a sudden a switch to tailor an audience that neither Lupe nor his original fan base wanted.

Following the release of Lasers, drama ensued between him and his label, Atlantic Records, leaving fans, mainstream and underground, to stand back and wait for the verdict. If Lupe didn’t negotiate a new deal with Atlantic soon, the Lasers Lupe Fiasco would most likely be here to stay. After months of deliberation, negotiations and re-negotiations, Lupe was let from under the chains of Atlantic’s strict creative control clause, giving Fiasco the freedom to create with more flexibility.

Soon after, Fiasco released the first single from his next album, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free).” Almost immediately, I knew which direction Fiasco was headed in. After releasing the shallow Lasers, Fiasco created the polar opposite with Food & Liquor II, making the most conscious album he’d release to date. As a whole, the project was a refresher for all of Fiasco’s fans who’d been patiently waiting since The Cool five years earlier. However, I left the album feeling unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, a solid project and, for what it’s worth, was nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammy’s the following year. But, after what Lupe went through, what else would you expect? Lupe could say mostly whatever he wanted it and flaunted it on Food & Liquor II. Despite my mixed to good review, Lupe needed Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1.

Now it’s 2015 and Lupe has done promotional work for a new album, Tetsuo & Youth. Between Lasers and Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, I wasn’t sure which Lupe we’d get. I knew I’d listen to the album but, to be honest, it wasn’t a priority for me up until its release date. When it released on January 21st, 2015, I decided to listen to the entire thing while getting ready for class and during my commute. To my surprise, I didn’t even get past the fourth song before hitting repeat. The album gave me the refreshing sound I’d been looking for since The Cool. So, did Lupe go the Lasers route or the Food & Liquor II route? Well, both. The album has Lupe’s consciousness over instrumentation accessible to a mainstream audience. “Blur My Hands,” as the third song and official introduction to the album, has become one of my top songs on Spotify while “Madonna” gives me the depth that I always look for in Lupe. He even included TDE member, Ab-Soul, on “They.Ressurect.Over.New,” making, so far, one of the best collaborations of 2015. Now, by no means is the album perfect. I had a beef with “Prisoner 1 & 2,” not because of Lupe’s addition, but because the producer used one of the most popularly used samples in Apple’s program, Logic X. But, that’s just a pet peeve of mine. Listening to Tetsuo & Youth gave me just as much excitement as when I heard Lupe’s verse on “Touch the Sky,” or when I heard “Kick, Push,” from his début album, signifying, in my eyes, a rebirth.

So, why should we believe in Fiasco will continue to deliver? Because it’s pretty clear, at this point, Lupe won’t stop. He won’t stop growing, changing, shifting, and becoming the Lupe Fiasco that both he and his fans want, even if he does have Lasers on his résumé. Pick up Tetsuo & Youth, in stores now.

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