In his new album “Tetsuo & Youth,” Lupe Fiasco dives back into the rap game with a fervor that produces his best work in a long time. While there are moments where the energy falls a bit flat, this album is a mix of imagery and interesting political statements that require multiple listens to truly appreciate.
Lupe Fiasco has been off the radar for a while now, and rumor has it he did not even want to release “Tetsuo & Youth.” Some sources attribute the album’s release to the hackers in a group called Anonymous, who publicly threatened Atlantic Records if Lupe did not release his album. Coincidentally, Atlantic announced the release of the album just a few days later.
With a name like “fiasco,” you had better be incredibly confident or ironic. Lately, Lupe has taken it a bit too literally and downplayed his own music even before it was released. His doubts are evident in this album, and his reluctance to venture outside of his comfort zone permeates the work with a sense of his lacking confidence.
The album opens with “Mural” in which Lupe raps for almost 9 minutes with no hook and no guests. Listeners get a seemingly unfiltered look into Lupe Fiasco’s thoughts from rhetorical questions to the phases of any party he throws. His stream of consciousness, set to a beat, seems to start the album off on a disjointed, but introspective, note.
Disjointed may in fact be the overarching theme of the album, but it seems fitting. With fewer upbeat songs than previous albums, Lupe explores the advantages of a variety of instruments such as the banjo in “Dots and Lines” and trumpets in “Body of Work.”
His strongest tracks are the ones that tell stories where his lyrics can really shine. In “Prisoner 1 & 2” he attacks the systematic problems of prisons for eight minutes. He first raps from the perspective of a prisoner; about halfway through the song, his tone changes as he portrays a guard who is equally constrained by the existing prison system, only in a different way.
The weakest part of the album lies in its production. While many more mainstream rappers are finding increasingly interesting beats and using them to create variety within their albums, Lupe Fiasco’s fall flat. At the most energetic parts of the album, his lyrics carry him as he engages with meaningful issues, but he rarely receives support from the other musical elements.
Four of his tracks are instrumental interludes, one for each of the seasons, but despite their careful lyrical construction they fail to add anything significant to the album. These low-key interludes are unnecessarily sandwiched between tracks which are already fairly relaxed. The album finishes with “Spring,” featuring the sounds of birds chirping and children playing, neither of which are impressive or memorable. It’s in such uninspiring moments that a new producer or artistic director should come in and push Lupe in a new direction to add some variety and apply his lyrics to a slightly different sound.
While this album probably won’t be winning any music awards, it is some of his better work since “The Cool.” It suffers from a lack of consistency and could be strengthened with more input from better guest artists.
Overall, there is a sense that Lupe Fiasco rapped about whatever he wanted, but because of this experimental freedom, the lyrics are the sole highlight of “Tetsuo & Youth.” This album requires more than one listen, as well as careful attention to the lyrics, but it is worth the time for fans of Lupe Fiasco and even those who had forgotten about him.