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Take 2 Album Review: Lupe Fiasco's "Tetsuo & Youth" (Lupe Back?)


Yesterday someone accused me of procrastinating on this follow-up review for Lupe Fiasco's Tetsuo & Youth, and they were right. I was procrastinating. Honestly, I was hoping that if I just melted into the shadows, distracted you with articles about Drake and his plethora of vaginas, you'd forget I owed you a "Take 2." No such luck. The internet never forgets. It's been nearly two months since Lupe dropped his latest magnum opus and by "1 Listen Review" law I'm required to do a follow-up. No man is above the law, even the the man who created the law. Especially the man who created the law. So here I am, turning myself in, bowing before the law. 

I wasn't hesitating in writing this review because I grew to love the album and didn't want to give Lupe his due, and I wasn't hesitating because I grew to hate the album and was afraid to say it. No, the truth is far more boring. The truth is, I didn't want to write this review because I hadn't listened to the album much over the last few weeks, and worse, I wasn't really sure why. The first week after Tetsuo & Youth dropped it had a regular spot in my headphones and just didn't anymore. All of those moments when I needed music, in the car, walking home, just hanging around the crib, it just didn't particularly occur to me to reach for Tetsuo & Youth. It wasn't an explicitly concious choice, and it didnt' make any logical sense. I was genuinely excited about this album when I first heard it. The production was superb, the lyricism was next level, the concepts were perfectly executed. Lupe wasn't preaching and he hadn't dumbed himself down, he seemed to have finally found that perfect balance we heard on an album like The Cool again. It was exactly the kind of album that I should have obsessively poured into my skull over and over again. I should have put "Murals" on repeat for an hour like I did "The Die." 

And yet, I just didn't. My lack of interest was almost frustrating, confusing. It was like when it's midnight and I know with every fiber of my rational being that I should just go to bed, but then I end up staying up until 3 A.M. nursing a bottle of Jameson and watching Breaking Bad. In the morning my wife looks at my beleagured face and asks why, why did I do that to myself? I never have a good answer; because I often have a hard time making good life decisions, that's why. Is that a good answer? I have no idea why Lupe's latest hasn't held my attention, it could quite easily be my fault. Is that a good answer? 

Even more strangely, it seemed like I wasn't alone. When Tetsuo & Youth only sold about 40,000 copies in its first week I was legitimately shocked. Sure, album sales are dropping for everyone, but 40K was still a freefall from the 80,000 that F&LII sold. Again, it didn't seem to make any sense. The music was great, his fanbase seemed as large and loyal and ever, it was getting heavy coverage, the proverbial buzz was high. How could half his album sales disappear that quickly? And true, sales don't truly matter when we're talking about art, but they are still a good indicator of public interest, and the public doesn't appear to be nearly as interested in Lupe's career in 2015 as they had been even a couple years ago, even though I'd argue he's making better music. Could whatever sickness was plaguing me be an epidemic?  

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Believe me, it'd be far easier to simply pretend I'd grown to love the album. I could have easily written about how many hours I'd spent breaking down "Prisoner 1&2," accepted the warm congratulations from those who genuinely loved the album, and faded into the background, no one the wiser. Hell, I'd even rather be writing about how repeated listens made me realize just how wack Tetsuo & Youth really is, at least that'd be an interesting take, stir up some controversy, and some pageviews. There's nothing more boring than indifference, and I'm in the business of writing interesting things.

I'm also in the honesty business though, and the honest truth is that I'm listening to the album as I write this, and it still sounds excellent. Just like my first impression, "Deliver" is still the kind of catchy but deep single only Lupe and a handful of others could pull off. Just like my first listen, I fucking love an album creatively fearless enough to include an extended horn solo on "Body of Work." Or rather, I feel like I should love it, I want to love it, but it's just not happening. Maybe this will be the listen that finally flips the switch for me, makes me come back to the album for years to come, but I doubt it. If you haven't fallen in love with someone by the tenth date, an eleventh date rarely does the job. 

And so I'm left with far more questions than answers. Have I finally just killed so many brain cells I've grown unable to appreciate greatness? I'd like to believe not, but I have to admit it's a possibility. Has Lupe's window closed? Sometimes that just happens in music, with incredibly rare exception no one in any genre has kept the public's attention for years on end. Has the hip-hop world, myself included, simply moving on from the Chicago emcee? That seems ridiculous to think, he's still obviously capable of making great music and far from irrelevant, and I know there are people who, unlike me, genuinely have kept this album on repeat. So what happened? 

I almost wish the album had been too pop, or too preachy, or whatever other complaint I could throw at it, at least then I'd be able to point at the problem, and if you can identify the problem then you can identify the solution. I just don't know what more Lupe could have possibly done to make me love Testuo & Youth, and yet it somehow wasn't enough. On the most objective level I can muster, this album is one of the best of the year so far, but I just don't know how I can call it truly excellent, let alone a classic, when it leaves me so personally lukewarm. 

I'm well aware that this is an extremely unsatisfying answer, it'd be far more entertaining for me to get on my Skip Bayless, stake out a stance and stand behind it all costs, no matter the truth of what I actually feel, but I really don't know what other answer to give. 

[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]



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