Album: Tetsuo & Youth
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Released: Jan 20, 2015
Prior to the release of his fifth studio album, Tetsuo & Youth, Lupe Fiasco’s track record was the very definition of hit-or-miss; his first two album, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor and The Cool have been widely acknowledged by fans as modern day classics but his subsequent efforts have been just as widely been classified as abominations that should never have seen the light of day. Season this track record with increasingly eccentric behaviour on social media and record label troubles aplenty and it is understandable why, in some quarters, fans assumed that Lupe had lost whatever inner fire had set his debut albums ablaze. Tetsuo & Youth will be a breath of fresh air to his long-suffering fans not only because it marks a return of his effortless flow and his natural talent for lyrical depth, but also because for the first time in a long while, it doesn’t feel like Lupe is telling us what to think and what to believe. In place of that preachiness comes a maturity, both in album’s words as well as its sounds that gives Tetsuo & Youth a beautiful timelessness and makes it an early contender for one of the year’s most interesting projects.
That lyrical density in Tetsuo & Youth is not something that should be underestimated. It is fairly common for some songs to only really resonate with the listener after a few listens but Lupe takes this to an extreme on this album. The album’s first post-intro song, ‘Mural’ is a nine minute long monster that gets progressively more abstract; it is not a bad song, not by any means at all, and Lupe deserves all the credit for his delivery but having an album filled with that level of abstraction makes the entire album seem like a lot longer than it really is. Furthermore, although all good art makes the consumer work a little to appreciate it, Tetsuo & Youth positively becomes a burden by its end. The last few tracks have as much to offer as the album’s opening salvo but by that time the listener can be forgiven for being too saturated and exhausted to give those tracks the attention that they deserve. On the other hand, Lupe tackles an incredibly broad range of topics on the album and that alone keeps the tracks from feeling repetitive. From the prison-industrial complex to religion to family, the albums touches on many subjects but all in keeping with Lupe’s origins as one of the more modern socially conscious rappers. Though these topics take a fair amount of time to really digest, they present Lupe Fiasco’s fairly intriguing views on the topics at hand.
The album’s density also stems a great deal from the production. Split roughly evenly between S1 and Dj Dahi, both well known for their involvement in some of the biggest hiphop and R&B projects of the last few years – S1 is most famous for producing tracks for Beyonce, Talib Kweli and Kanye West (he is signed to G.O.O.D Music) while Dahi, the more profilic of the two, has produced for Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar. Yet, Tetsuo & Youth sounds like nothing you would hear from any of those artists though some influences do still linger on in the album’s final sound. It is uncommon for the production in hiphop albums to sound so rich and expressive; it often feels like the music is telling the track’s story just as much as Lupe himself and there are times when the production flat out overshadows him, particularly on tracks like ‘Body of Work’ and ‘Adoration of the Magi’. The album’s four sections are named for the seasons and the production reflects this as the sound morphs gradually and subtly from the fragile, bittersweet beauty of fall to the airy optimism of summer. It is a nice touch and gives the album a sense of progression.
If we’re being frank, as impressive as Tetsuo & Youth is, it is just simply not enough to restore Lupe to relevance again. It is an album that the hardcore hiphop fan will slaver over, playing it over time and time again just to extract the meaning behind every intricate piece of imagery and subtle simile but no other demographic will take the time to penetrate the album’s depths. This is truly a shame because while the album can be an intimidating mountain to climb, it raises some truly thought provoking questions about us and our place in society while simultaneously providing us with amazing music. There are certainly some problems with the album – it is too long, too dense and perhaps just slightly too self-indulgent but even outside of the fans of the album and the genre, anyone with an appreciation for poetry and creative writing will find Tetsuo & Youth an interesting experience.
|Blur My Hands||Lupe Fiasco||4.5|
|Dots & Lines||4.0|
|Prisoner 1 & 2||S1||4.5|
|Body of Work||S1||4.5|
|Little Death||DJ Simonsayz||4.8|
|No Scratches||DJ Dahi||4.5|
|Madonna (And Other Mothers In The Hood)||DJ Dahi||3.0|
|Adoration of the Magi||DJ Dahi||3.5|