Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lupe Fiasco - Lasers

I remember the first time I saw Lupe Fiasco was on some Channel 4 Russell Brand vehicle a few years back. The former seemed like a pleasant, intelligent young man, and he did a rap about skating which was probably great if you were a skater, but didn't have much to say for those who weren't.

The second occasion was while I was researching my first article on Occupy Wall Street. Here was the same young man, a little older now and a little more serious-looking, Tweeting to his legions of fans to join him in rebellion against the oligarchy. That was just before Occupy reached its tipping point, and the vast multitudes went beyond merely following it online. Clearly, a lot had changed for Fiasco.

So I decided to check out his latest album, Lasers, and I'm glad I did, because in some ways it is the most intriguing album to come out this year. Here is the 'manifesto' which Fiasco released to promote it towards the end of 2010:
"To every man, woman & child... We want an end to the glamorization of negativity in the media. We want an end to status symbols dictating our worth as individuals. We want a meaningful and universal education system. We want substance in the place of popularity. We will not compromise who we are to be accepted by the crowd. We want the invisible walls that separate by wealth, race & class to be torn down. We want to think our own thoughts. We will be responsible for our environment. We want clarity & truth from our elected officials or they should move aside. We want love not lies. We want an end to all wars foreign & domestic violence. We want an end to the processed culture of exploitation, over-consumption & waste. We want knowledge, understanding & peace. We will not lose because we are not losers, we are lasers! Lasers are revolutionary. Lasers are the future."
Fiasco has been involved in protracted struggles with the Atlantic label, and in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, he explained how this affected the production of Lasers: "The climate of this record was very weird, in some instances surreal. I became very abstract. I had to create this commercial art that appeases the corporate side. I had to acquiesce to certain forces. Hopefully within that I snuck in some things I actually wanted to say any way I can."

Lupe Fiasco donated tents in Denver, and is helping Occupy in any way he can
All this is very evident throughout the album. Some of it sounds like any other song you might hear on commercial radio, especially in the last couple of years, when escapist impulses have seen paeans to an artificial, hedonistic lifestyle dominate. Yet on much of it, Fiasco takes that very formula and does subversive things with it, consciously or unconsciously echoing the situationist technique of détournement. This reaches its height on State Run Radio, which is bouncy, hooky and catchy as fuck, but rails against a corporate media where "Truth ain't never getting on like shampoo on an airplane", and "Propaganda's everywhere, constantly on replay".

On the other hand, there are clearly moments when Lupe has felt the need to cave in, just to get the record out. Lead-off single The Show Goes On is particularly dire, and the artist apparently behind it has made little secret of his distaste for it, telling the Chicago Tribune that:
"I was literally told for “The Show Goes On” that I shouldn’t rap too deep. I shouldn’t be too lyrical. It just needs to be something easy on the eyes. Like a record company telling Picasso that we don’t need these abstract interpretations of life, where people have to sit down and look at it and break it down. It was better to paint the Upper West Side lady and her poodle so everyone could look at it right away and understand what was going on. I felt like I was painting poodles. It’s why in the first line of “The Show Goes On” I paraphrase Johnny Rotten at the Sex Pistols’ final show: “Have you ever had the feeling that you were being cheated?"
Third single Out Of My Head is similarly bland, and similarly disregarded by Lupe (it "doesn't have any deep meaning behind it, and is for the chicks"). But Fiasco was pleased to wring Words I Never Said (see video below) out of the company, with its simple yet effective melody, beautiful female backing, and attacks on the banks, the 'war on terror', and Israel's occupation of Palestine.

Elsewhere, All Black Everything is a heartfelt, utopian evocation of a backwards - but somehow almost the right way round - world where "Malcolm Little [X] dies as an old man/Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him/Followed by Bill O'Reilly who read from the Qu'ran/President Bush sends condolences from Iran". And later: "Everybody rappin' like crack never happened/Crips never occurred no Bloods to attack them/Matter of fact no hood to attack in/Somalia is a great place to relax in".

The limitations of this album are the limitations of the entertainment industry as a whole. Lupe Fiasco is political activist who is searching for a perspective on the troubles of the world, and is dedicated to shedding a little light on the gloom using his artistic talent. At every turn, he finds himself frustrated by the whims of the giant corporations in charge of the industry, and every song seems to be a personal struggle between him and the company. The Occupy movement heralds the coming of a time when people will look for answers in the culture they consume, and hopefully Lupe will emerge from the midst of the battle reinvigorated and even more enthusiastic than ever.
Post a Comment

Disqus for Infantile Disorder