By Brier Stucky
Lupe Fiasco’s career has been a rather interesting one, filled with ups and downs. After being thrust into the spotlight by a high profile feature on Kanye West’s song “Touch the Sky” in 2005, Lupe went on to release two great albums, Food & Liquor in 2006 and The Cool in 2007. After a nearly four year gap and feuding with his label, Atlantic, Lupe released his third album, Lasers, which was a major disappointment to fans and critics alike, mostly due to its horrible pop-rap production and an over-abundance of poorly written, R&B flavored hooks. His 2012 follow-up, Food & Liquor 2, was even worse, with a bloated track list and a terrible production value.
Tetsuo & Youth is Lupe’s first full length project since F&L 2, and is a great comeback for the talented emcee in many ways. It’s an ambitious, lengthy project that is reminiscent of his first two releases in that it is a sort of concept album. The first track following the opening instrumental, “Mural”, is one of the best tracks the rapper has released ever. It’s nearly nine minutes long featuring a great boom-bap beat, a catchy piano loop, and an old school feel. What makes the track great is that Lupe raps relentlessly over the entire track with no hook. His lyrics are poetic and require multiple listens to fully grasp its theme.
However, the second track, “Blur My Hands”, has the same problems that plagued his last two albums, stemming from its unoriginal song structure and blandly sung hook by Guy Sebastian. Lupe’s verses are solid, but the track feels uninspired. These issues pop up throughout the album, a rather annoying aspect of an otherwise great project.
“Prisoner 1 & 2″ is an amazing track telling two stories, one from the perspective of a jailed criminal and the other from a parole officer, both displaying problems within the American prison system. It’s insightful, thought-provoking, and displays a change Lupe has made since his last album. His lyrics are far less preachy and tell interesting stories, allowing the listener to find lessons in the tracks rather than have lessons explained to them. The same goes for “Deliver”, which describes a neighborhood so dangerous that the narrator cannot get pizza delivered to his house. It may sound ridiculous at first listen, but becomes a poignant picture of violence plaguing inner-city neighborhoods.
Tetsuo and Youth is without a doubt Lupe’s finest work since The Cool, but is still not on the same level of his first two albums. It’s brought down significantly by over-stuffed 78 minute run time and a handful of boring tracks. Despite this, it’s great to hear an ambitious and solid work. This album finally allows the emcee to rap over a solid production and let his intricate wordplay shine. After nearly nine years, it seems that Lupe is on the right track.