By Rathan Paul Harshavardan
Released January 20th, 2015 - Warner Music
His recent spats on Twitter with the who's who of hip-hop and not his music keep him relevant, but few in the music industry have fans as dedicated as Lupe Fiasco. Lasers, which the fans fought for was a fiasco by Fiasco from the start, but that didn't stop it from gaining the attention it did. Although releasing Tetsuo And Youth was no piece of cake, this fifth and final release from Atlantic Records, forced byAnonymous, a group of hackers, whom Lupe acknowledged with a wordless V on Twitter is probably his best in a long time since Lasers. Behind all the drama, a tired, religious, observant, self-critical, and nerdy Lupe is back to remind us why he is good at what he does.
On Tetsuo And Youth, Lupe breaks the record and tracks down to seasons with Summer being the first. Mural, a 9-minute track is the first thing to hit you and like Lupe says, it is the precursor to a party that he throws in parts. Lupe spits his vicious and honest bars over the church like sample from the Cortex's Chanson D'un Jour D'hiver, reminding you that despite his interest in anime and nerdy stuff, the rapper is far from what his contemporaries peg him to be. Aussie Idol winner Guy Sebastian joins Lupe on Blur My Hands. Tinged with rock and roll, sick beats, piano hooks and the very pop-esque voice of Sebastian, Lupe's pop-rap combo is a sure-fire hit if it were to hit the radio stations. Whoever paired the two artists after their earlier collab Battle Scars - a rather pop-themed collab from Food and Liquor II, deserves an award for pairing chalk and cheese to such perfection. Dots & Lines is a perfect example of despite the association of rap with the ghettos and the projects, it is also the birthplace of another major contribution to music, R&B. At his lyrical zenith, Fiasco raps his way through what would have been a perfectly sung dark R&B song by The Weeknd. The production quality on this track is excellent starting from the rather disconnected banjo instrumentations at the beginning and the end of the track to the violin solos backed by a choir like treatment of the chorus and the soulful almost religious fervour Lupe shows in attempting to break his deal with Atlantic records after being trapped in all the dots and lines on their contracts for years. Translate it whatever way you want to, but Tetsuo and Youth has something for everyone.
Winter led by Prisoner 1 & 2 Ft. Ayesha Jaco is the rap version of Chicago's Cell Block Tango, except Lupe plays both sinner and savior on a track that talks about how his friend and himself are locked in prisons of their own. Life in the prison is not glamorous whether it is the actual one or ones we've put ourselves into and so is the track. Harsh, real, gritty and loaded with vocal references to prisoners, the song is interposed with gospel-tinged violin solos and hooks proclaiming that 'Love is Looking Over Various Errors And Hate is Habitually Accelerating Terror'. As the violins interspersed with the sounds of bars and chains kicks in, winter turns harsher when Prisoner enters its other half. Assisted by his sister, Lupe leads a successful transition to Prisoner 2, where looped synths, electronica and thumping beats replace the violins and comforting choruses from the first half.
Body Of Work ft. Troi is a rap/soul collab about Lupe's relationship with hip-hop and drugs. R&B and rap are mixed to make of the album's unmissable tracks. The track is all over the place with its references to modern pop culture, religion (might sound blasphemous, but you've gotta give it to Lupe for writing lyrics like Write it in lights, molly in the body of Christ/ Fourteen broads like the king of Norway/Fourteen broads having dreams of foreplay/Fourteen arm Shiva/If the government get it I'm a fool) and culture with a reference to the great Greek playwright Sophocles' Oedipus with 'Oedipus wrecks, motherfucker this better than sex'. Politics, religion, sex, culture, and science, I mean there's nothing Lupe has left untouched on the track that ends with a jazzy saxophone solo played on the sound of simulated fireworks, a solo that runs for almost 2 minutes before the song climaxes to a somewhat understated end.
Nikki Jean features on 3 of the tracks that made the tracklist, the first being Little Death. You'd have to hear the track carefully to understand that Lupe plays with religious paradigms, sex, animal cruelty, justice, and politics, while the sultry hooks by Nikki Jean are actually the enticing voice of the devil as she challenges his views all through the song. References to the French term, "la petite mort" isn't obvious until the last hook, but like its literal translation the song is a spiritual release from a eargasmic experience.
On what is arguably one of the best songs on this album, Lupe shines his best with Nikki Jean by his side onNo Scratches. Comparing a relationship doomed to end up in heartbreak with a crash, Nikki's hooks and Lupe's bars ooze experience and wisdom urging one to pull out from a relationship that has no future. The less I talk about it, the better. And, I mean that in a very good way. Listen to skilled wordplay. This track is a lesson to up and coming rappers. Nothing can beat simple English played to a beat that's catchy and is more meaningful than any combination of words that come up after you hit the thesaurus. That hook is probably another reason why -if released on the radio- this track will be scorching the charts.
Winter with its eerie sounds and ominous notes starts with Chopper Ft. Billy Blue, Buk Of Psychodrama, Trouble, Trae Tha Truth, Fam-Lay & Glasses Malone. The album's only multi-feature is impressive but clocking at 9:33 minutes feels out of place with the themes Lupe played with on Tetsuo and Youth.
On the 12th track on the album comes Deliver, the first single that announced the record. One of the best tracks besides the others mentioned earlier, peace is likened to the pizza delivery man who doesn't visit dangerous neighborhoods anymore. Ty Dolla $ign who features on the track is just as good as Lupe himself. The rookie upstages his senior in a few parts of track, making this his Nicki Minaj/Monster moment.
Nikki Jean returns to play Lupe's disciple/sidekick as he preaches his way on Madonna (And Other Mothers In The Hood). For all the backlash we Catholics receive for being sticklers to rituals and rigid ways of the centuries gone by, no other faith allows itself to be abused and figuratively used in a way Catholicism does. Lupe's fascination with faith is manifest in the way he's arranged the last three tracks on the album to sound like the Madonna gives birth to the Adoration Of The Magi Ft. Crystal Torres, only to be resurrected as T.R.O.N. Madonna, the Italian name for the Virgin Mary, is a reference to the single mothers raising children in the ghettos. This song is a homage to worried mothers and and the bids they make to keep the kids safe, with Crystal Torres even mouthing the response to the Hail Mary in Spanish before the best verse on the song makes its debut. Lupe's fixation with Jesus and his crucifixion receive an intelligent and excellent transfiguration making the final verse the best on the track. Just the comparisons alone to that epic event in history are epic in a way elevating Lupe to another realm among the hip-hop greats. Nothing beats the intro though. Who nowadays writes lyrics like 'Immaculate mother of the holy soul/On behalf of the overdose/We come to you uncomfortable in our ways/Please don't slam the door all in my face'. Nothing screams prayer and fervour louder than the intro itself.
Symbolically, Madonna gives birth to Adoration Of The Magi Ft. Crystal Torres. Released on Jan. 6th in Australia, the release was timed with The Epiphany, a lesser celebrated Catholic feast. Lupe's favourite track is my favourite too. I've heard a lot of contemporary rap, but no one I know has tackled wordplay at this level. This song is the proverbial next level shit. Listen to it and you'll know what I mean.
The last track before the instrumental signalling Spring is They.Resurrect.Over.New. Ft. Ab-Soul & Troi. Stylized as T.R.O.N, Ab-Soul and Troi together with Lupe bring the album to a fantastic end. Religious in its theme, yet nerdy and loaded with pop culture references, Lupe digs into tracks from the past to serve as musical fodder for a finale on his last outing with Atlantic Records.
Granted this review is long, but it needed to be a take on one of the best albums in a lyrical sense from one of hip-hop's most underrated, misunderstood, and overwhelming artists. Lupe Fiasco will always be the misunderstood genius, lyricist par excellence, and rap-god that he is but, for now I hope you soak in the genius that he is as you lose yourself in his world on Tetsuo and Youth.