Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo and Youth
The Chicago rapper’s fifth album finds him running a marathon on his music rather than his weighty lyrics. In the past he’s been an outspoken critic of power in all forms, whether he has community support behind him or not; this is, after all, the man who was thrown off the stage at Obama’s second inauguration after performing a thirty-minute version of the anti-Obama track “Words I Never Said”. When it’s worked – as on Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool or the classic Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor – it’s been a strident, creative, mind-altering breath of fresh air for hip hop. When it hasn’t – Food and Liquor II, mostly – it drags badly, becoming the hip hop equivalent of that militant vegan who will just not shut up about Monsanto and makes dark allegations about GMOs and vaccines.
Tetsuo and Youth takes a different approach, which is a relief after the slog of Food and Liquor II. It focuses more on apolitical themes, taking a look instead at the experience of growing up poor and black in the bad parts of Chicago. The lyrical changeup gives him an opportunity to get more experimental with the musical side, and he takes that opportunity and runs straight ahead into near-ridiculousness. I thought Joey Bada$$’s album was long; Tetsuo and Youth redefines long hip hop songs in 2015. There’s a big emphasis on bars over hooks here, which means that when the tracks go over eight minutes – as three of them do – you run the risk of going numb before the finish line. Still, the beats hit hard and his flow’s on point, so it comes out as his best album since 2007. There’s a certain appeal to the non-commercial aspect of it, but man, do you feel the burn when you finally make it to the end.
At the very least, it’s better than Lasers.