Release Date: Jan 20, 2015
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Rap, Alternative Rap, Midwest Rap
Lupe Fiasco :: Tetsuo & Youth1st & 15th/Atlantic RecordsAuthor: Steve 'Flash' JuonLupe Fiasco says that "Tetsuo & Youth" was not directly named after Tetsuo Shima from "Akira," either the manga series or the anime movie based upon it. At the same time Mr. Jaco admits to "inspiration" from the character, adding that "Tetsuo sounds cool." Yes - it does - especially if you're the kind of person who has been watching anime for 20 years.
Album rollouts don’t come much odder than Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth. Since the Chicago-emcee announced the project during the 2013 GRAMMY Awards, there’s been several delays and supposed singles. There was Ed Sheeran-featured “Old School Love” and “Next To It” with Ty Dolla $ign, both of which received videos. There was “Mission” and the remix “Remission” with Common and Jennifer Hudson which were dedicated to cancer survivors.
If there is a title of “The Houdini of Hip-Hop”, Lupe Fiasco would be the candidate most likely to claim it. Few other contemporary artists seem to relish trapping themselves artistically, only to find a way to break free in thrilling fashion. For example, Wasalu Muhammad Jaco laid out some of the most biting criticisms of commercialism in hip-hop with Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor and Lupe Fiasco’s the Cool, only to succumb to a withering critical (and fan) backlash from his own flirtation with commercial mainstream with 2011’s Lasers.
Tossing off fans with the Eurodance, EDM, and the unexplainable album Lasers, and then returning to form with Food & Liquor II, Lupe Fiasco finds himself free to soar and aspire on his 2015 effort Tetsuo & Youth, an album inspired by the rapper's upbringing in Chicago. It's also an LP that's conceptually structured, with "Summer," "Fall," "Winter," and "Spring" interludes dotting the track list, but any reservations that the sometimes "preachy" rapper has gone full sanctimonious are wiped away by the easy-rolling opener "Mural" and its elevated series of "LOL" punch lines ("Unless you Virgin Mary, nothin' do it but the truest/Believe all that unless you Jewish" or "And I feel like a missionary to a clitoris"). Guy Sebastian joins for the more poptacular "Blur My Hands," which seems a play for radio at only five-and-a-half minutes, as many numbers stretch longer, sometimes because of musical noodling (a banjo kicks off the great "Dots & Lines") and sometimes because it's a huge posse cut recalling the old days ("Chopper," the album's longest cut at 9:32).
Lupe Fiasco is back on his cool, nerdy rap shit with Tetsuo & Youth. He didn’t cater to radio and tried to steer away from the heavy-handed, pseudo-intellectual, political talk that made his last two studio albums disappointing to say the least. He’s been keeping himself relevant, for better or worse, by trolling and getting into spats on Twitter.
People were mad at Lasers. More specifically, they were mad at Lupe Fiasco, once considered a savior of hip-hop by listeners who needed one, for making such an overtly commercial album on just his third at bat. Lupe maintains that he’s never released any “bullshit,” and he’s not wrong, per se. Apart from its Bill O’Reilly-baiting political correspondence, Lasers’ themes — self-confidence chief among them — were welcome enough.
Lupe Fiasco seems exhausted by his own career. "I think I had my peak and now I am coming down in relevancy," he told Billboard recently. "It's not a sad thing for me...I can't compete with a Wiz Khalifa for the attention of a 12-year old." This doesn't make for inspiring promo copy, but there's no arguing that his run has been a wearying one: From 2006's Food & Liquor, which suffered from leaks and a Billboard mishap misreporting his first-week sales, to 2011's reviled Lasers, which his fans had to storm Atlantic’s gates to get released, Lupe is forever swimming upstream, his hands tied behind his back.
Lupe Fiasco ended “Form Follows Function,” a song from Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1, his last album, with confidence, saying, “If you function properly, then the form will come out of it, and whatever it is, it just be what it is, you know?” On that same album, Lupe functioned as a didact, addressing social and political topics with dry righteousness and flat song structure. The resulting form was a messy and dull album that lacked both feeling and swagger. On Tetsuo and Youth, he functions as a rap purist.
Spending too much time decoding this 78-minute behemoth might break your brain. Lupe Fiasco's fifth album is a swirl of double meanings, extended metaphors about yoga and math, and increasingly labyrinthine ways to say "I'm dope" ("Nerd gang, make Mandelbrot sets when we handshake"). Even on its surface, though, it's the meatiest set he's produced in years.
If there’s anything to be learned from Lupe Fiasco’s online presence over the last few years it’s that the long-time Atlantic signee has grown weary of his role as rap’s perennial social justice warrior (a role he has often thrust upon himself by publicizing controversial, sociopolitical opinions and seeking out conflict), or rather, the often thankless response it provokes. He locked his Twitter account in 2013 following backlash from comments about the George Zimmerman trial. After unlocking last year, he went through public online feuds with Azealia Banks and Kid Cudi.
Lupe Fiasco’s career has been a mix of blooming ingenuity and surprising mediocrity. After a turbulent mix of starts and stops, Tetsuo And Youth, his fifth LP and reportedly his last for Atlantic, is an album that both meets fans’ exalted expectations of the Chicago native while surpassing them in the process. Sonically separated by the four different seasons, Lupe has arguably released his most thematically layered and engaging album to date.
Here you'll find reviews of four much-discussed albums released in January that, forsomereason or another, we couldn't get to in time. Natalie PrassNatalie Prass Natalie Prass (or, your fool, as she mostly refers to herself on her stunning debut) is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. She began her career as a back-up singer for Jenny Lewis. Spacebomb’s Matthew E.