Lupe Fiasco’s “Lasers” And Why Rappers Need To Learn to Take Criticism
Lupe Fiasco’s LASERS only just missed the social-media boom, but the lackluster response to the album’s backpack-rap-to-empowerment-pop must be something he still labors with.
Lupe recently took to Facebook and posted a picture of the album’s artwork, offering fans who didn’t like LASERS the opportunity to have their physical copies destroyed by an actual laser.“The fact still remains that a lot of people really loved LASERS (me included),” he wrote, “despite the popular myth that it’s one of the worst rap albums ever.”
As if the initial gesture wasn’t strange enough, the hard sell afterward—not to mention the sign-off using hashtags like #TheReturnofLasers—makes the entire jig seem less about the negative response to a four-year-old album and fake brag that he’s been unmoved by it this whole time.
Lupe’s Jedi mind tricks being just the latest example, the tendency of rappers to turn fair criticism into a pantomime of ego-tripping does nothing to advance the art. In the long run, it usually works against the artist by making them more detached from public perception (read: reality).
No matter how many new, creative ways technology allows artists to respond to criticism, the only real way to respond is by adding something valuable to the music. All the other stuff is cosmetic. Just look at J.Cole’s career arc after he released his epiphany-having “Let Nas Down.” This year, Cole sold out Madison Square Garden performing Forest Hills Drive, his most visceral project to date.
As for Chris Brown, he’s the prototype for offensive and flippant social media posts which he always—frustratingly—apologizes for. But who could forget about the iconic BET Awards tribute to Michael Jackson, in 2010? The emotional moment proved that it doesn’t just have to be getting in the studio and making a hit record; the onstage showcase of music is just as important. Likewise, Drake’s mea culpa regarding the importance of live performances, admitting he “took an L” at this year’s Coachella, only to come back with more ammo in weekend two.
That’s not to say, though, that all criticism is fair criticism. It would be careless to forget about the label woes of Lupe in the years leading up to LASERS or, in the case of rap’s prolific fall guy, Tyga, pretending like the Kardashianizing of his career didn’t play a significant role in the sweeping contempt for The Gold Album this summer. After his album sold just 2,200 copies its first week, it was still hard to imagine him blacking out in the studio in response.
It was much easier, however, to imagine him recording a track like “Stimulated” instead—the standout from his recent self-released mixtape where he delves into a different, non-rap related censure: his relationship with Kylie Jenner. It’s a welcome distraction to the Internet trolling of an album that Tyga himself barely sounded excited to be on.
The goal of an artist under scrutiny shouldn’t be appeasing every thinkpiece’s hot take, of course, so long as it’s a respectable stride towards reprisal. In sports, some guys play better when angry, and some guys don’t. Perhaps rap has a different issue, though: one where artists play sideline games instead of lacing up enough.