The tragedy of Lupe Fiasco's triumph
Lupe Fiasco's Lasers was the album he didn't like and the label didn't want to release. It's a disaster of pandering, middle of the road pop from a rapper, who, at the very least, seemed full of fight until now. Most of the album couldn't hold its own in a crowd of flash-in-the-pan Top 40. Lasers is also an unqualified commercial success, moving over 200,000 copies in its first week and debuting at number one on the Billboard 200. Champagne for everyone.
The lesson, here again, is that quality does not sell much of anything. Nicki Minaj is as exciting a rapper as there is currently, capable of more arresting weirdness than even her mentor, Lil' Wayne. And yet her own album, Pink Friday, is a caked over pop bid that sees her playing to all her weaknesses and smiling for the cameras. It, like Lasers, is selling incredibly well.
What is clear is that these albums sold well because the people buying them would have bought them pretty much regardless. Top 40 friendliness doesn't necessarily move plastic in record stores -- the name on the spine does. A safe album, which Pink Friday and Lasers both unquestionably are, might sell better simply because it is likely to offend fewer people, and one truth of a crowd sourced critical landscape is that the lowest common denominator will often rise to the top. Kanye West, who definitely wasn't going for commercial viability with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, sold a lot of copies in the first week and then has experienced scarily diminishing returns since then. Let's just say there's no way he recouped what he spent on the album on sales alone.
Lupe has had particularly damning things to say about Laser's lead single, "The Show Goes On." The way he tells it, the song was entirely a studio production, given to him as a cookie-cutter to stamp straight down, produced and written without the artist's input and even given a content outline. If they told him what to say on the song's first verse, which you can read below, it is a cruel joke, and if they didn't it's a delusional, half-hearted way to try and fight back:
Have you ever had the feelin' that you was bein' had?
Don't that shit there make you mad? They treat you like a slave
Put chains all on your soul and put whips up on your back
They be lyin' through they teeth, hope you slip up off your path
I don't switch up, I just laugh, put my kicks up on they desk
Unaffected by they threats, then get busy on they ass
See, that how that Chi-town made me, that's how my daddy raised me
That glitterin' may not be gold, don't let nobody play me
If you are my homeboy, you'll never have to pay me
Go'n and put your hands up, when times is hard, you stand up
L-U-P the man, cuz, the brand that the fans trust
So even if they ban us, they'll never slow my plans up