Album Review – Lupe Fiasco, “Tetsuo & Youth”

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After a lengthy battle with Atlantic Records, countless Twitter statements, and maybe even some help from hacker-group Anonymous, Lupe Fiasco has finally released his 5th album, Tetsuo & Youth. Despite two less-than-satisfying albums in 2011’s Lasers and 2012’s Food & Liquor II, T&Y sees Lupe returning to his old form a la The Cool. The album, framed between four seasonally themed instrumental interludes, starts with “Summer,” its most diverse and palatable section. “Mural,” a close to nine minute piano-driven beat, features some of Lupe’s fiercest lyrics on the album. “Mural” is followed by “Blur My Hands,” featuring Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian, which serves as the breeziest, popcentric song on the album (fitting of the “Summer” section. The section is finished with “Dots & Lines,” Lupe’s coming-out track against Atlantic Records, that is backed by a relaxed, sexy beat (I mistook this for a love song before reading the lyrics!).

While Tetsuo & Youth may not yield many Top 100 singles, if any, it rebounds by showcasing a number of lengthy tracks suitable for relaxing or driving. With eight songs clocking in over five minutes, and three over eight minutes, Lupe’s latest is more of a cohesive collection rather than a chart-topper.

Here-in-lies the album’s major flaw: it is too cohesive, as many of the songs are fairly indistinguishable in terms of tempo. While these songs do display a wide range of influence such as the jazzy “Little Death”, the dimly lit “Deliver”, and the synth and auto-tuned sounds of “Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood),” which sounds like it belongs on Kanye’s 808 & Heartbreaks, the album otherwise fails to distinguish its other tracks.

This is not an indictment of Lupe – in fact his lyricism is spot on throughout most of the album – but rather his production team for being unable to craft tracks that break free of mid-tempo. And while Tetsuo & Youth bears resemblance in is ambition to Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet and Ab-Soul’s These Days… it lacks Gambino’s singing, spastic tempo and mood changes and Soul’s brooding introspect that would allow it to maintain a single tempo throughout.

Despite its over-consistency, we have Lupe’s best work in the last seven years. Tetsuo & Youth is not trying to be a hit, just as its not trying to be a masterpiece to be canonized. Rather, this is Lupe regaining control of his career and reaching out to his fans to regain the trust they once had when he was hailed as the savior of lyrical hip-hop, which can be seen on his strong verse on “Mural” and “T.R.O.N” (featuring Ab-Soul & Troi).

Standout Tracks: “Mural,” “Blur My Hands,” “Dots & Lines,” “They.Ressurect.Over.New”