Whether hip–hop fans love Lupe Fiasco’s latest album or hate it, few would deny that Lasers is a big deal. It took a long, publicized battle between the artist and Atlantic Records, a fan petition and multiple title changes to finally get released more than three years after his second LP, The Cool. And somehow, the music has spawned even more drama. Fans have eviscerated the album and Lupe himself has been quoted saying alternately that he loves and hates Lasers. What’s a well–meaning listener to believe?

Not surprisingly, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It’s true that Lasers is not up to par with either of his previous efforts, but it’s also not the appalling piece of trash so many fans have described. It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect to happen when an artist whose identity hinges on originality loses creative battles to a huge record company.

In come electro–pop hooks, Autotune, overdone guest appearances — and to compensate, Lupe lays on the social commentary too thick. Many tracks are laundry lists of what he considers to be wrong with the world. While that can also be said for Food & Liquor’s “Hurt Me Soul” — quite possibly one of the most insightful hip–hop tracks of the past five years — the contrasts between that song and everything on Lasers provide perhaps the best key to understanding why Lupe’s latest doesn’t measure up.

In “Hurt Me Soul” Lupe points a finger at himself as much as anyone else and his verses take center stage as he touches on problems without easy answers. Now compare that to the glossy obviousness of, say, “Break the Chain” or “State Run Radio,” and Lasers’ shortcomings become clearer.

It has its moments, including the down–to–earth “Till I Get There” and irrepressible “Words I Never Said,” and even on his worst days Lupe can’t hide the fact that he’s smart. A flawed creative process just produced a disappointment, and he’ll have to redeem himself somehow — or else he’s going to be the target rather than the hero of the next fan petition.


Sounds like: An album that took too long to make 99-cent-pick: “Till I Get There” Good for: Building anticipation for another Lupe release