Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth Review
Tracks/Length: 16 tracks, 78:27
Notable Guest Appearances: Nikki Jean (“Little Death,” “No Scratches,” and “Madonna”), Guy Sebastian (“Blur My Hands”), Ab-Soul (“T.R.O.N.”)
Album Genre/Tone: Conscious rap, heavy on instrumentals and complex lyrics
Lead Single: Numerous songs that never made the album. Surprise! However, “Old School Love” was probably the most recognizable.
Purchase on Amazon.
The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.
A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.
B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.
C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.
D: This album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs.
F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.
History Behind the Album
Lupe Fiasco is no stranger to controversy. Through the last few years, various Twitter beefs (whether they were actually full of animosity or not) and off-putting political comments have made Lupe somewhat of an outcast in the Hip Hop community. Even us here at Hush, who have been Friends of the People since “Touch the Sky” were beginning to waver in our support for the Chicago artist after the years of oddity. Hell, we even put our The Cool-themed group tattoo on hold. Lupe had become bigger than the words he spit, but rather he became the voice of the people. That’s a heavy burden for anybody in their late 20’s (he is now 32) to carry, especially when he was having to fight his own label, Atlantic Records, to put out the same music that got him that acclaim in the first place.
The relationship Lupe had with Atlantic was a doomed one from the start. Inked in 2005, Lupe signed at a time when the era of pushing an artist to create quality albums was coming to a close – just before the explosion of independent artists, viral video A&R and the comeback of one-hit wonders would become norm for the industry. What followed were outcries of apathy and angst surrounded the release of the albums that followed The Cool, openly accepted as modern day classics in the Hip-Hop community for anybody with two ears connected to a brain. Lasers and The Great American Rap Album had some solid tracks that are still on rotation, but you could almost feel the heart soul that was missing from the records; plus, the depression of being enslaved to his record label, Atlantic Records, had begun to affect his passion for making music. It was like they took away his voice – and just left his Instrumental.
Fast forward to Tetsuo & Youth, the highly anticipated, and LAST album on Lupe’s contract. While the album has been shrouded in mystery (and nearly a year of release delays), Lupe has released upwards of ten tracks in steady of the delays – most notably of which, “Old School Love,” was a radio-made hit with blooming sensation Ed Sheeran. Strangely enough, none of these tracks compiled in the past year and some change made the cut. None of the features (Rick Ross, Big K.R.I.T., Chris Brown) made the album, either. Was this Lupe just reverting further into his shell or was he just starting from scratch? Lupe might be bruised from all his attacks, but in order to shut critics up, he needs to do it with his music, not through Twitter. I’m betting One Ring to Rule Them All that Lupe can get back to his super-lyrical roots and unabashed social commentary that made him beloved on his first album, close the gates of Mordor and return to the Shire with Tetsuo & Youth.
What You’re in For
After four studio albums and witnessing the rise and fall of Lupe Fiasco, Tetsuo & Youth may be the the most appropriate way for Lupe to break free of Atlantic Records and show the world what is to come. With Tetsuo & Youth being his fifth studio album, it is quite possible that Hip-Hop is seeing Lupe for who he truly wants to be as an artist. With his first two albums, I believe we saw the Lupe who wanted to enter Hip-Hop strong and produced track off of the life he knew. Contrasting to his first two albums, the next two appeared to be a Lupe who lost passion due to contract restraints which in turn forced a misrepresentation of character. However, this album shows Lupe’s balance. Be wary though, this album is not for individuals looking for street jamz, protest music, or simple lyrics. Tetsuo & Youth is pretty much an entire album of “Dumb it Down”-esque songs. If you don’t like to think when listening to music, then this is not for you; however, do not let that deter you from the quality it offers.
Above all, the word that would describe Lupe on this album is “comfortable.” There is no more need for him to be the young kid he was, or the outspoken conscious rapper he came to be. He has matured and I believe is finally allowing fans to view his “art.” Tetsuo & Youth offers a mixture of street and conscious tracks like, “They.Resurrect.Over.New (TRON)” which speaks upon substance abuse, and “Prisoner 1&2,” a track that outlines the similarities of prisoners and guards – how they are both trapped. The soulful “Little Death” featuring long-time collaborator Nikki Jean is another reason that this album excels at being Lupe, while still offering something new to long-time fans. The album is not without its missteps, though, as the lead single (of songs that actually made the album) “Deliver” takes a promising concept and makes it all too literal, which can be hard to take seriously. Also, the group track “Chopper” is nearly nine minutes of entirely forgettable and misplaced features with artists that do not deserve to share a track with Lupe; what happened to All-City Chess Club (Asher Roth, B.o.B, The Cool Kids, Blu, J. Cole and others)?
Overall, the theme of Tetsuo seasons plays very well into the flow of the album, with the songs getting progressively “darker,” before getting more and more hopeful towards the tail-end tracks. Tetsuoa & Youth is the most complex and complete records that I have heard in years, and the fact that there is a whole other (FREE!) mixtape full of other tracks that did not make the album make this a subtle win for fans everywhere. After announcing that “ATLANTIC RECORDS won’t release the album until they get a ‘pop’ single” on his Instagram, it’s clear here that Lupe Fiasco is getting the last laugh with the record label that has tried to stunt his growth for years as he releases an album with no discernible “pop song” to fulfill their quota. Maybe Atlantic is tired of the struggle, or perhaps Lupe has pulled the wool over Atlantic’s eyes and has not yet seen the fallout from his actions; either way, the risk was worth it.
Songs On Repeat
“Blur My Hands” featuring Guy Sebastian
Lyrics to Go: “Were you just being polite with your hands?/And it really means I’m number one, and you’re a fan/Well that’s cool, cause I think you’re number one too”
If you don’t analyze the lyrics in this track, there is a good chance the whole concept will go over your head. However, once you understand exactly what Lupe is saying, the creativity is pure genius. This could be the greatest anti-hater track since “Dirt Off Your Shoulders.” To put a positive spin on the negativity and ill-will Lupe Fiasco gets (and let’s be honest, he gets a LOT), Lu imagines that all those middle fingers sent his way are just a unique way of telling him that he is number one? All of the middle fingers Lupe received, both literal and metaphorical, this whole time were they really just another way of saying, “Hey Lupe, you are number one, man!”
“Dots and Lines”
Lyrics to Go: “And your reflection is your connection to more collections of more directions and paths/If your reflection is a mask, then you’re reflective of mass”
Did you think Lupe Fiasco’s dislike for Atlantic Records had piqued? You would be wrong. Although many of his tracks focus on Atlantic, “Dots & Lines” may be the most telling. This song is a warning to future artists looking to find a record deal. The track explains how Lupe wishes he wouldn’t have signed the contract which took away half the person he is, and how he is counting down the days until he once again becomes an independent artist. Witnessing Lupe lose some of his creative freedom throughout his career has hurt both himself and his fans. It’s hard to listen to his second studio album, The Cool, and then his third studio album, Lasers, and believe they came from the same mind. The technical rhyme scheme and intricacy wasn’t apparent anymore. Yet, this has all changed after hearing this album. In order to understand “Dots & Lines,” you have to have a basic knowledge of mathematics. That’s how you know you’re listening to a Lupe Fiasco song – when you have to explain his lyrics using trigonometry. It’s obvious Lupe Fiasco covets nothing more than to be free of his contract, and if he plans to continue to make songs like these, then I hope he never signs another contract again.
“They.Resurrect.Over.New” featuring Ab-Soul & Tori
Lyrics to Go: “Medusa in the go/’Fore Versace turned words in to turquoise/Medusa turned coke into stone/With a hand on her thigh, she looked me in the eye and said/Proceed to the next level”
Only Lupe can create an entire song about drug use and have you so confused you think the song is about video games. If Eminem is a Rap God, that would make Lupe Fiasco Galileo. Only Lupe will make you want to sit down and read his lyrics just to try to understand what is happening. In case you were wondering, that is exactly what happened with, “They.Resurrect.Over.New (T.R.O.N.).” This is perhaps the most beautiful way to see the combination of “street” Lupe, and “activist” Lupe. This song shows you that gritty side of the streets through a poets tongue. “TRON” is Lupe demonstrating the artist he truly is. I believe with songs such as theses, we are witnessing the artist Lupe wants to be. Whether you see this song being about substance abuse or gateway drugs or how to proceed to the next level in Tron, this song will blow (haaa… get it?) your mind.
The Quick and Dirty
Most Hip Hop artists get credit for making this rap thing look easier; well, Lupe Fiasco gets credit for making rapping look very, very difficult. The rhyme scheme Lupe uses is most like a lyrical jigsaw puzzle, one that takes hours of attention to even hint at seeing the bigger picture. Tetsuo & Youth is not just an intellectually superior album, but one that musically complements the analytical style of rhymes that can be a little hard to digest at times. The beauty of each track’s instrumentals, coupled with the overall uplifting tone of the album, gives off the impression that Wasalu Jaco is finally at a place where he wants to be. Regardless of his troubles on social media, he has at least found peace on the mic, and the result is gorgeous.
Written by Sherif Elkhatib and Evan Lowe