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Tetsuo and Youth Album Review: Lupe Among Lyrical Elite

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Lupe Fiasco has had an interesting ride in his career.  In the early goings he was looked upon by many to be “the next big thing.”  He is without a doubt one of the more lyrical rappers of the last decade and has a confident approach on the microphone.

He has worked with the best in the industry and has been Grammy nominated multiple times but for some reason Lupe seems to be lost in the shuffle.

Mostly of his own doing.

Lupe has been politically outspoken and has been critical of the hip hop community as a whole.  At times he comes off preachy while other times he comes off as if he doesn’t care if you understand what he’s trying to tell you.

On “Tetsuo and Youth” Lupe runs through tales of growing up, the streets and knowledge of self.   Lupe is an intellectual wordsmith and likes to flex his skills as often as possible.

After the album’s intro comes a lyrical onslaught called “Mural,” a nearly nine minute song where Lupe runs straight through the beat with no hook delivering rapid word play with lines like: “Reign like queens that reign over made men / And not Queen like Queen killer, rhapsody bohemian Queen / But Queen like white glove wave hand / and not wave hand like it’s a heat wave/ so you make a fan by waving your hand / I’m talking wave like you sayin’ ‘hey . . .man’ / not hay for horses and hoarse like you almost voiceless / you gotta treat your vocal chords like it’s a fortress.”  

The song “Dots and Lines” which opens with a cool banjo solo is Lupe’s warning (or self tale) of being wary of signing your signature on any contract’s dotted line.  He equates it to selling your soul “ To make gold from garbage is not the alchemical point of this math / Truth be told it’s the pursuit of gold that turns the goals of men into trash/ The soul’s gold and they turning gold to cash / and your reflection is your connection to more collections of more directions and paths.”  Lupe’s tone is not one of being “preachy” on “Testuo and Youth”, but more like “listen if you wanna learn something. ”

Lupe takes an interesting concept of taking the Virgin Mary’s plight and comparing it to single mother’s raising their son’s in bad situations.  For many this concept may come out forced and stretched, but Lupe – ever the song writer – delivers three short verses with each line getting to the point.

He does something similar on the album’s single “Deliver” in which he playfully describes how the pizza man won’t come to his neighborhood to deliver any food because of the surrounding conditions.  The “pizza man” isn’t the focus of the song though – Lupe details everything about his neighborhood that makes it avoidable for most :”The ghetto was  a physical manifestation / Of hate in a place where ethnicity determines your placement / a place that defines your station / remind you n*ggas your place is the basement.” 

Lupe speaks to younger folks in this “selfie-era” who are trying to grow up too fast on “Adoration of the Magi”.  He paints the picture that the best thing you have is your youth and innocents so there is no reason to rush to be an adult and all that comes with it.

Within “Adoration” Lupe delivers his most remarkable set of bars on the album: “You not the first person / the first person from your first cursin’ / to your first cursive / and your curse words is in the curve version / it occurs virgin is the word version / that refers perfect to the first person in the third verse, who’s really me / In the third person but prefers the first one, that’s me again.”  Wrap your head around that one.

The problem with the album is the lack of a high point.  Although the production is good it’s the same vibe on every track.  There is a lot of self-indulgence for Lupe and the album is actually difficult to get through without becoming bored or losing complete focus.

Tracks like “No Scratches” which details trying to get out of a bad relationship and “Little Death” which has “Preachy Lupe” back in full form talking about religion and politics – make it easy for one to get bored with.

Once again it’s not the message that’s boring just the overall presentation.

Even “Blur My Hands” which features Guy Sebastian falls way short of their last collaboration “Battle Scars.”  The hook is corny and no matter how many times you play it back, you end up losing interest half way through.

“Chopper” is a track that has no place on this album as it’s a nine minute posse track with six rappers one can care less about (Glasses Malone, anyone?. . .)

This album is difficult to break down because lyrically, Lupe has not lost a thing.  His concepts are on point and his persona is clear and honest – the album’s production although creative becomes too repetitive and laid back. If there were more tracks like “Prisoner 1 and 2″ which was produced by MoeZ’art.

The track uses a simple piano loop accompanied with strings and escalates with a more violent string arrangement when the beat switches up.  The song itself has Lupe once again very skilful with his wordplay describing how the jail system itself is corrupt and how these conditions do nothing for the sake of rehabilitation: “They made electric chairs for his dying days / last meals, no appeals for him to try and stay / On Death Row like Suge and the late Pac / Maybe he can dig a tunnel out of A Block / And wear gloves for the razor-wired gate top / Scared thugs going crazy in a caged box.” 

“Tetsuo and Youth” separates Lupe from the masses in terms of talent and although lyrically it is hard to find flaws in what he does, the overall feel of Tetsuo is one that can be unfortunately easily forgotten.  If Lupe had the production of his “Lasers” album, combined with the concept of this album – it could’ve been something really special.

Rating 7 out of 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio


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