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Empty words: Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Tetsuo & Youth’

| Wednesday, January 28, 2015

empty-words-webSusan Zhu

On Lupe Fiasco’s early album centerpiece “Murals,” the Chicago rapper talks a lot, but doesn’t say much. Across its repetitive, hookless, one-verse, eight-and-a-half minutes of a recycling piano line, Fiasco at one point plays a game of word association that comes across like an amateur improvising a freestyle, scrambling to string together just enough syllables to justify passing the mic off to the next in line. This string of words happens only five minutes into the hour-and-twenty-minute long “Tetsuo & Youth,” a rather empty album full of empty, longwinded choruses on empty, longwinded songs.

On “Tetsuo & Youth,” Fiasco attempts to progress his sound, but sheer quantity and overindulgence cannot adequately mask his shortcomings. The album bounces from classical instrumentation (“Mural”) to soulful hooks (“Little Death,” “No Scratches”), trap (“Chopper”) to cloud (“Deliver”) and jazz (“Adoration of the Magi”). Nothing he tries is overtly bad, but it’s all cripplingly formulaic. Kanye West, whose influence is largely heard on the whole of “Blur My Hands” and the autotuned “Madonna” — and also, perhaps embarrassingly, Fort Minor’s “Believe Me” (“Prisoner 1 & 2”) — has explored all of these variations in more robust, more successful ways 10 years ago.

Fiasco relegates his grander experimentations to standalone sections that will not jeopardize or interrupt his base songs. A unique, question-raising banjo riff enters during the intro to “Dots & Lines” — which does exhibit one of the better choruses and aural hooks on the album — but fades before the real meat of the song, which features instead a melody-mimicking violin line, and only comes back into play to bookend the song. Not once does Fiasco incorporate the banjo’s distinctive qualities into the main production of “Dots & Lines,” or any other track across the album. Similarly, a saxophone solo closes out “Body of Work,” but is otherwise completely unrelated to and separate from the rest of the song and album.

Elsewhere, the empty sonic gestures are even more unforgiving. Nine-minute posse cut “Chopper” drives home a hodgepodge reduction of buzzworthy social and political issues faced by Fiasco and his peers. The sloppy hook quickly alludes to food stamps, medical cards and background checks for guns in an aimless manner, ad nauseam. Thankfully, Fiasco chooses a somewhat dynamic drill beat, so he does not put his audience through the vague suffering detailed by the song’s hook for nine minutes, and it’s broken up by some standout verses from Glasses Malone, Buk of Psychodrama and Trae tha Truth. “They.Resurrect.Over.New” name checks a loving tribute to a fallen friend in “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” and turns it into a glitchy, cacophonous TRON reference that has nothing in common with the superb Pete Rock and CL Smooth original. And Fiasco’s flow, here and on other tracks, confirms that punchline rap died with Lil Wayne’s rap career in 2010

The most appealing elements of the album lie in the consistencies. When Fiasco employs acoustic instrumentation on “Little Death,” the track gains energy and soul, like in the Jazzy horns on “Adoration of the Magi,” which actually stick around past the intro. Unfortunately he strays from this aesthetic too often. Otherwise, the most welcomed sections of the album are the shortest: the instrumental interludes depicting the changing of seasons throughout the album. These short wordless compositions are much more varied and beautiful than anything else on the album and offer short respites to gather oneself before having to embark on another single minded, five-plus minute track. Still, by the time “Winter” rolls around 10 songs in, Fiasco might have done better condensing the album rather than including the now necessary interludes.

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About Matt McMahon

Notre Dame Class of 2016 student studying Finance and English. From Mercer County, New Jersey. Interests include music, television, film, and writing. Also food.My Mom didn't like what else I had to say here so I took it down.

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  • Tad Braxton

    Wow, someone clearly missed all the clever connections this album makes. If you had listened (from 16-1) to it backwards you would have noticed how clever and filled to the brim with content this album is

    • Craig Stewart

      This album is indeed one of the best albums I’ve heard in a very long time. The reviewer is an idiot and obviously all of Lupe’s metaphors flew over his head. Lupe has never just rhymed to make words fit. Every word is crafted to paint a Mural.

  • Osyris Antham

    “Nine-minute posse cut “Chopper” drives home a hodgepodge reduction of buzzworthy social and political issues faced by Fiasco and his peers.”

    Lol why do these online mags have writers who are out of touch with the genre writing reviews? I respect your POV, but to not understand what Mural is about… or to say the best parts of the album are the interludes, makes you sound like a passing mainstream hip-hop fan.
    Mural and the rest of this album is like Jackson Pollock’s Number 5: Without context, it seems like a bunch of stuff just thrown together.
    You’re not at fault for not understanding but, you don’t understand. But nevermind you just a baby, lol.

  • savion

    This person is crazy and out of touch. lol

    This album went right over his head big time.

  • Taylor H

    Hey Matt did you hear that?
    The sound of the whole album going right over your head…

  • pinkgingerale


    The reviewer should read this. Lupe isn’t “scrambling to string together just enough syllables to justify passing the mic off to the next in line.”

  • SoulCityAM

    Bravo, Matt! Good night for now and quit your day job.
    Wasted my time with his non sense. Just wanted to keep reading to see where he was going.

    There we are, we have an album we can feel good about which makes us think more than the usual rap song that’s playing on the radio, and on the other side there is Matt.
    Matt, just shhhhh!

  • steven

    Clearly wrote this to get hits to the article, trying to hard to be different. anything can sound stupid or poor when you apply the sarcastic tone with which this entire article is written. Complete nonsense.

  • Waseem

    This guy is sad. He spent all that time writing a good article. But it’s all bullshit lmfao!!!! Turn that in to ur professor and get an F on the whole course ahaha. The whole album literally went light years over his head. You have poor listening skills for pure art and lyricism. The Madonna and Adoration of the magi are the most amazingly crafted songs. Adoration of the magi has 3 or more narratives throughout the whole song. That’s genius. And all the other songs are just amazing. TETSUO & YOUTH!!! First album I’ve actually bought. Cd format

  • Anthony Redgrave

    Fire him. Either the album went over his head, he’s an idiot, he doesn’t enjoy hip hop music and took that into his review of the album or he simply doesn’t like Lupe fiasco. Whatever his reason he has totally missed a great album and though the year is no where near over is a strong contender for album of the year.

  • Austin19

    This is seriously one of the worst articles I think I’ve ever seen. I mean being opinionated is one thing – being completely ignorant and blind is another. Matt clearly did not do his homework prior to writing this review. Just take this whole thing down. It makes The Observer look like it employs amateurs.

    • Austin19

      I just read Matt’s small bio. He is literally a total amateur. So disregard my last comment and leave it up then, I suppose. Dig deeper next time, Matt. This was pitiful.

  • Jack

    GTFOH and don’t review hip hop anymore. You clearly didn’t take the time to fully digest or understand this album. There’s always more to lupe’s music than what’s on the surface, there’s layers to it. Do you even know what an extended metaphor is? how about a double entendre? And sonically, this album is lightyears ahead of what he had to offer on his previous two albums. The BRILLIANCE of the conceptual connections of the record as a whole aside, these tracks as stand alone songs are fantastic. this whole thing went over your head, it’s clear reading this you only listened once half-heartedly, and quite possibly don’t even like hip hop at all. Oh, and BTW, TRON has absolutely NOTHING to do with TROY and it wasn’t supposed to. moron

  • Jordan E Russell

    Sooooo… does this writer not listen to lyrics?