Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lupe Fiasco - L.ast A.lbum S.ans E.rroneously R.ecorded S.ongs (a misshapedmixtape)

[Pre-warning: this post is my shambling mess of a ramble of some loose-thinking semi-logic... and there's no download link... so buy the tracks and then re-sequence them like this (oh what fun!)... see comment below...]

"I remember bein' in Chicago the day Obama became president-elect. He was playin' basketball, and I was actually in the gym where he was playin'. The people I was with was shakin' hands and takin' pictures, and I was like, I can't shake his hand because I don't know what he's gonna do. It would be dishonest of me to shake his hand 'cos I don't really believe in the American system like that. So I went home, because I didn't want to go to Grant Park to be in the midst of the madness, and watched his speech on television. As soon as he said, 'We need to get our troops out of Iraq,' I was like, 'Yaaaay!' But then he said, ' … and get 'em to the real war in Afghanistan,' and I was like, 'Aw, fuck. I gotta pay for some more bombs.' That kinda pissed me off." – Lupe Fiasco (quote from the March 3, 2011 issue of The Guardian)

Lupe Fiasco doesn’t fuck around. He is a free thinker. He challenges us. He challenges himself. He’s a brilliant artist. I consider Lupe to be one of the greatest writers of our age (rappers are in the Norton Anthology now too, in case you didn’t realize it).

Then, last March I heard “Lasers” (his third album). Simply put, I was flabbergasted. His first two albums were perfect 10s for me. Not many albums of the last five years are up there for me. But then “Lasers”? This one was... um... maybe a 6... with a couple songs that flat out sucked. What the shit happened, Lupe?

Well, many would say that the answer to that question is simple: Atlantic Records.

"We wanted Lasers to be a humongous record. There are so many ways of doing that. You can approach it in a very sleazy way – just throw money at it, go get a lot of the big-name artists, let them hijack it for you and just ride that wave into success. Or you can knuckle down and try to make a really great, different, classic, Kid A kid of thing, with commercial appeal and broad subject matter. The label wanted to do it the sleazy way." – Lupe Fiasco (from The Guardian

So why am I posting about this on misshapedmixtapes? After all, none of this is news to anyone who remotely follows good hip-hop (and therefore has heard ALL ABOUT Lupe’s fallout with his label on the internet).  

I guess the reason I’m writing about Lupe today is that on Tuesday night (this week) the whole “Lasers” saga came full circle (in my eyes).

Here was Lupe on stage at the BET Hip-Hop Awards performing “Words I Never Said” (a song off of what has become a commercially-successful "Lasers" album) while wearing an #OCCUPY t-shirt alongside Erykah Badu providing backing-vocals (who was concealed for most of the song behind a burka).

And you know what? It was awesome. It’s a great song. And I can’t fault his message. It rings true. And while I’m sitting on my ass watching the baseball playoffs, I’m sure that there a lot of Lupe fans (or other smart free-thinking people… maybe Animal Collective fans?) who are out and part of the #OCCUPY movement now. And this movement has a lot going for it. I think that it’s pretty neat.

So, in that way, the BET performance felt redemptive of what has been a strange past twelve months for Lupe. However… while watching the performance, I couldn’t help but getting a weird double-take feeling in seeing Lupe in full-on activist/protestor/bad-ass mode. After all, it was last October when the whole “petition to release the album!” movement was going on in full-force and a number of Lupe’s fans protested outside Atlantic Records' offices in New York City on October 15, 2010 (Atlantic and Lupe had reached a stand-off at this point and Atlantic was seemingly never going to release ANY of his shit).

I’m all for protesting and exercising our right to free speech and shit… but what did those Lupe fans end up with? A pop-rap album with SOME good shit and some songs that completely blow (Trey Songz needs to step off my favorite artists’ albums). This doesn’t even mention the song that DIDN’T make the (label’s) cut and was passed on to his label-mate B.o.B. – who made “Nothing On You” a smash hit. [sidenote: I have heard Lupe’s verses on the original, never-officially-released “Nothing On You” and they were probably the most lackluster lines that he ever wrote… so maybe it never seeing the light of day was for the best. {side-sidenote: I thought that B.o.B. actually pulled the whole “pop-rap album” off remarkably well – even though the cool-kid critics gave him SHIT for it… though I hope that he can one day break free of Atlantic Records and can put out the kind of music that he wants to… or just keep dropping mixtapes on the side that are better than his actual albums like most rappers do these days} end side-sidenote. Wait. [re-start with side-sidebar {oh yeah, I put Lupe’s version of “Nothing On You” as a bonus track to this week’s misshapedmixtape coz it’s REALLY bizarro to listen to}.].

(Fuck worrying about putting periods inside or outside of brackets/parentheses?!?! I’m going to protest that!).

Where was I? Oh yeah, I guess I’m just thinking out loud about where this whole #OCCUPY movement fits in as its own populist movement? What expectations do we have for it? In short, what’s going to be the net gain? I don’t mean to sound cynical (a number of my friends are into the #OCCUPY movement and I respect them for that), but what are we going to end up with?

(I want to put a footnote here but I don’t know how to do it on blogspot. As you can tell from this post [spoiler alert] I’m attempting to equate #OCCUPY with “Lasers”… and while I’m not sure they’re perfectly synonymous to each other, I do want to cite the earlier Lupe quote that he had hoped that “Lasers” would be “a Kid A kind of thing, with commercial appeal and broad subject matter.”) {Follow-up question: how many people have listened to Kid A and even know what the message behind it is? I saw Radiohead at Bonnaroo. I would say maybe 10% if I was being generous}

I truly adore Lupe. He can be sage-like. I respect the fact that he didn’t shake Obama’s hand at the basketball court… and that “Words I Never Said” calls Obama out (lyric: “Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit / That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either / I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful / And I believe in the people.”) He’s brave. No doubt.

That said, we need to tread carefully in these times and keep our heads on as straight as possible and our expectations in check. Coz maybe in the end, our protests will bless us with something like “Lasers”… an album that is exasperating and in the end falls short in SO MANY WAYS.

As you can tell, I’m a pessimist. But that’s just because I used to be such a die-hard, never-flinching optimist... who springs from the grave, leaping gracefully onto my right shoulder now and screams: “Hey! In retrospect “Lasers” did have its moments of greatness and (by re-sequencing the album and cutting out the bullshit) it can be appreciated and treasured! Think globally, act loca---”…

So I’m going to do a misshapedmixtape on “Lasers.” 
Shit, I BETTER do one. I’ve written enough about it already!

I could go into an in-depth analysis of each of the strange creatures that inhabit Lupe’s “Lasers” album as songs (Exhibit A would be the ultimate fuck-you-to-the-label-if-you-listen-carefully-to-the-lyrics Modest Mouse sampling song that Atlantic Records forced on him and Exhibit B would be the really grating “State Run Radio” that I hate SO MUCH but I had to put on this mixtape because it’s basically the theme song of this post).

However, in the end, all of that would serve as side-chatter to my main concern of living in this modern age as an artist/human being. Lupe was quoted saying that the process of “Lasers” made him suicidal. As an artist, he was UNABLE to compromise. But he was locked into a contract. And we, for better or worse, are locked in the American system and/or any number of other disconcerting big intangible thingies.

I’ll stop my post here… because I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this… Instead, I’ll let Lupe finish this off:

“Solzhenitsyn put it very quaintly. Basically, there's a duality in everything – there's two sides to every story. Sometimes they complement each other, and sometimes they conflict… I can be Picasso if you want that, and I could do Guernica for you all day. Or, if you want me to paint your dog, I'll come to your house and paint your dog. Once I know my role, I'll play my role to a T. If I'm supposed to be the slave artist, chained to the desk, painting poodles, so be it. Make me rich! You'll get rich in the process as well. But I'm gonna let the world know I'm painting poodles." – Lupe Fiasco (from The Guardian)

Here's the tracklist for Lupe Fiasco - "L.ast A.lbum S.ans E.rroneously R.ecorded S.ongs (a misshapedmixtape)" [you can check for a few added notes -- I obviously added lots of songs that weren't on the original album -- in "comments"... but no link]:

01 : Letting Go (ft Sarah Green)
02 : Words I Never Said (ft Skylar Grey)
03 : Beautiful Lasers (2Ways) (ft MDMA)
04 : Break The Chain (ft Eric Turner & Sway)
05 : All Black Everything
06 : If You Want To (ft Travis Barker & Pharrell Williams)
07 : State Run Radio (ft Matt Mahaffey)
08 : The Show Goes On
09 : Till I Get There
10 : I'm Beaming
11 : Shining Down (ft Matthew Santos)
12 : Never Forget You (ft John Legend)
13 : We Can Do It Now (ft Common & Jennifer Hudson)
14 : Resurrection (ft Kenna)
15 : Don't Look Down (ft Mos Def, Kanye West & Big Sean)
16 : Don't Stop! (ft Pharrell Williams & Kanye West)
17 : The National Anthem (ft Thom Yorke)
18 : Us Placers (ft Pharrell Williams, Kanye West & Thom Yorke)
19 : Building Minds Faster
20 : Tightrope Remix (ft Janelle Monáe & B.o.B)
21 : Nothin On You (ft Bruno Mars & B.o.B)


  1. UPDATE: The download link has been taken down as per a complaint (DMCA). So I am sorry about that. Atlantic Records is probably just annoyed that I made a terribly sequenced album WAY better.

    Alternate title for this (do-it-yourself) mixtape: L.ast A.lbum S.ans E.ffing R.etched S.hit

    BTW, Lupe's going to drop a new (free) mixtape on Thanksgiving... which (based on his excellent FNF mixtapes from the past) will almost certainly be better than "Lasers."


    Tracks 1-12 are tracks that were on "Lasers" or SHOULD HAVE been (track 10 & 11 were pretty decent bonus tracks on the "Lasers" disc and track 6 was on Travis Barker's album that was released at the same time and is FIRE).

    Tracks 13-20 are from various sources and are all pretty dope. 13 is from Gatorade's "REPLAY" series. 14 is from the "Donate for Haiti" project. 15 & 16 were featured as part of Kanye's Good Friday online releases. 17 & 18 have a Radiohead connection. 19 was released online by Lupe for his fans in the midst of being pissed at Atlantic. 20 is an awesome Janelle Monáe song that Lupe jumped on for the remix.

    Then there's track 21. Had to put it here.