Frosted tips and eight-track tapes might just make a comeback if Lupe Fiasco can.
Considered a poster boy for conscious hip-hop after the 2006 debut “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor,” Fiasco’s place as a top-flight rapper plummeted after three subpar releases. However, “Tetsuo & Youth,” his fifth LP, features the wordplay and themes that made Fiasco’s early work acclaimed.
“Tetsuo & Youth” ensues full-force; track two, “Mural,” clocks in at eight minutes — for a majority of which Fiasco deploys introspective but energy-pumped raps. Both philosophers and high school football players would listen to “Mural” and take something from Fiasco’s words hovering over piano loops and chants in the background.
With “Mural” and most of his latest album, Fiasco creates images for listeners that include enough vividness to picture but that don’t have so much clarity they can’t interpret the lyrics in a personal way.
Fiasco lambasted his audience with stories rooted in his past on “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor.” Now, he still raps with the passion of a dying grandpa telling long-lost anecdotes to grandkids — but Fiasco also invites listeners to get what they want from every song.
And this method produces a collection of Fiasco’s most diverse work.
Not long after the hard-hitting “Mural,” “Dots & Lines” fades in for six-plus minutes of grandeur string arrangements and R&B motifs. Despite the intricate instrumental, Fiasco prioritizes tight rhyme schemes over all other aspects: “The applause and patience of the laws in nature / override lies and law of nations / Pilgrims bear witness at all the stations.”
Arguably “Tetsuo & Youth’s” strangest quality is its ability to feature pop and R&B sounds — like Fiasco’s last few mediocre albums — but still appeal to a hip-hop audience.
“Body of Work” also shows hints of Fiasco’s applause-worthy balancing act. Here, guest artist Troi sings the hook, and Fiasco drops punch lines like Lil Wayne or Drake. But stanzas such as “Quiet in the court for the courtship / Marriage of the dork and the gorgeous” highlight Fiasco’s strongest lyrical effort since “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor.”
“Tetsuo & Youth’s” strongest song, “Body of Work” includes an incredibly catchy hook; surrounding it, however, are Fiasco’s biblical and literary references.
Those references aren’t the album’s only feature that will keep music geeks busy.
Songs titled “Summer,” “Fall,” “Winter” and “Spring” pepper the LP’s sprawling, 16-song track list, so determining whether the music matches each season or not takes more than one listen. Track 12, “Deliver,” follows “Winter,” and Fiasco’s frigid tale of town’s most rundown neighborhood indicates this might be the case.
“The pizza man don’t come here no more,” Fiasco sings on the chorus — chronicling the projects’ complicated plight in a simple way.
Not all of “Tetsuo & Youth’s” parts prove as effective as “Dots & Lines,” “Body of Work” or “Delivery.” Nothing excites the Album Analyzer more than a near-10-minute hip-hop posse cut, but “Chopper’s” length detracts from the album’s flow. “Blur My Hands” belongs on Fiasco’s disjointed 2012 release “Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part 1” (it wasn’t the “Great American Rap Album,” if you were wondering.)
Overall, hip-hop fans in general will find Fiasco at his finest since Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath casted large and Jesse McCartney still made headlines.
Final Rating: Four Out of Five Suns