Lupe Fiasco, ‘Lasers’ (1st & 15th/Atlantic)
Lupe Fiasco’s oft-delayed, way too overthought third album fuses the seething, political rap of the underground with the motivational, occasionally emo fist-pumping that’s been at the top of the charts in the past year. “Words I Never Said” is like B.o.B’s “Airplanes” or Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” with a dash of early-’90s Ice Cube and a whole bunch of Evanescence angst. Armed with that wonky combination, Fiasco smuggles 9/11 conspiracies and a fairly sophisticated take on the Middle East into a pop-rap anthem. Compared to Lasers‘ other confrontational crossover songs (the flimsy “State Run Radio,” the nearly clever “All Black Everything”), “Words” is an effective attempt at culture-jamming the Billboard charts.
Lasers works best, however, when the grabby hooks, electro beats, and conscious rap rants are all turned down a notch. “Till I Get There” is a playful mission statement and, well, that’s all it is. “The Show” provides earthy inspiration while critiquing dope-dealer culture (and interpolating “Float On” by Modest Mouse). And the for-the-ladies rap “Out of My Head,” featuring Trey Songz, skips icky lover-man clichés and employs an extended music-industry-as-romance metaphor instead. If “Out” doesn’t become a hit, it will be more of an injustice than “Words” failing to subvert corporate-controlled radio and start the revolution. Just don’ttell Lupe that.