Lupe Fiasco: Lasers (Atlantic)

It wouldn't surprise me if the well-publicized story of Lasers' corporate neglect and its subsequent rescue from some Atlantic Vault of Lost Records (hey, Lasers, did you run into Missy Elliott's Block Party in there?) by fan rioting has all been pre-scripted.

Lupe has stated that Lasers is a watering-down of his vision by Atlantic. If that's true, here's an instance where big-label machinations win.

I've never quite bought Lupe as an underdog auteur. For as great as his first two albums are, they're also quite bloated and self-serious. Here, he's still "conscious"—like on "All Black Everything"—but the studio gloss makes him less smug. (Plus, Das Racist are smarter and funnier cultural critics than Lupe's ever been.) Lasers is Lupe judiciously edited. Still ... is it weird to hear Lupe channel Taio Cruz on "I Don't Wanna Care Right Now"? Yes! Also, get over it.

The spirit of Lasers doesn't deviate wildly from the aesthetic universe of "Kick, Push." Retro soul-sampling is replaced by sky-high mechanized beats—there's less texture, but it's a whittling away that creates magnitude, not disintegration. "Words I Never Said" is staggeringly good—a thundering riposte to Eminem and Rihanna's boorish anthem.

Lasers is a commercial record, and a damned good one. It's like that pretentious kid who went away for the summer and came back with a fashionable haircut and a tan. It's OK if you think he's cuter this way; you don't need to hate yourself for it.

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