The last 5 years have been trying times for Lupe Fiasco fans. Once a pioneer in the world of hip hop, with universally praised classics under his belt like 2007’s The Cool, the Chicago native seemed to had dug himself into a grave that he seemingly could never get out of. After 2011’s Lasers, Fiasco faced criticisms from fans about his change in sound, his often controversial messages and personal beliefs. Laser’s follow-up Food and Liquor 2, a sequel to his debut album, was an improvement, but was nowhere near as noteworthy as his first two efforts.
While his skills were never in question, long time fans (dating back to his guest verse on Kanye West’s “Touch The Sky”) longed for the Lupe that kept his conscious, creativity and smarts without being overbearing. The Lupe that didn’t have to sacrifice his Chicago sound for a more pop oriented affair like heard on Lasers and to a lesser extent, 2012’s Food and Liquor 2. Those fans will be happy to know that Tetsuo and Youth not only fulfills all of these desires, it exceeds all expectations. Tetsuo and Youth can easily be considered Lupe Fiasco’s finest work that matches, if not exceeds the greatness of The Cool.
Right from the start, Fiasco sheds the tone established from his two previous works. Rather than solely letting mood and message take prominence from his opening track “Mural,” Fiasco showcases raw talent. He raps nearly nine minutes straight with no breaks, hooks or chorus. Just a continuous stream of slick, fast hitting and impactful lines over a (thankfully) hip-hop inspired beat. That isn’t to say his signature messages aren’t there. They just aren’t as preachy as songs like “Words I Never Said.” Instead Lupe presents the thoughts and observations on his mind, lets the the listener do the thinking and moves on. Gone are the days well meaning but often irrational “Social Justice Warrior” Lupe and here returns the socially aware, intelligent and subdued Lupe of old.
And that’s a common thread of Tetsuo and Youth. The album is a return to old. It can best be described as everything a follow up to The Cool should have been. An evolution of his voice, his genius and his production sound (no cringe worthy hooks and features on this one folks). It is like he is picking up where he left off in 2007. Fans of Lupe’s double meaning songs and metaphorical ways found on The Cool will be happy to know this album goes for broke continuing that tradition with masterful results. Songs like “Prisoner 1 & 2” and “Deliver” will keep listeners busy for years to come trying to crack the proverbial codes and meanings he left behind. The replay value of Tetsuo and Youth is immeasurable. Expect to find new caveats of his lyrics for years to come.
As great as the album is, there is one noticeable quirk. There are no fun tracks to be found here. Chances are you’ll never hear any of these songs in a club. Where as his first two albums had love jams like “Sunshine” and “Paris, Tokyo” and the catchy “I Gotcha” and “Gold Watch,” this release has nothing for the casual listener. This is pure, unadulterated Fiasco doing what he does best and doing it the best he’s done in years. While it may be impenetrable for those not used to his style, those who are will remember why he stood out in the first place.
Tetsuo and Youth is a surprising achievement for Fiasco. It is almost a plus that not many expected much from this release due to his previous two efforts. It is a return to the flair and uniqueness and skill that gained him his cult following in the first place. It is once again fun to listen to a Lupe Fiasco album as he didn’t leave nothing to the imagination as he did on Lasers and F&L2. He seems to have finally let go of his self proclaimed responsibility of being the conscious of hip-hop and has decided to worry about more pressing matters like making good music and making people think, rather than yelling at them for not thinking like him. Fortunately for fans, it’s a fantastic look on him.