He did it. I really didn’t think he had it in him, but damn it, he did it. Lupe Fiasco made a very, very good album with Tetsuo & Youth.
Lupe’s career has really gone downhill since 2009, what with label drama, uninspired pop songs and pretentious bullshit plaguing his albums. I’m not all that surprised that Tetsuo & Youth is his best album since The Cool (mainly because his last two albums were really, really bad), but I am surprised to say that this is right up there with his best work.
Lyrically, Lupe is among the best in hip hop. Other than about half of Lasers, Lupe has always been among the most technically proficient emcees in hip-hop. But this album really takes his writing, cadences and wordplay to the next level. This is probably the sharpest Lupe has ever been. Opening an album with an 8-minute epic is a really bold move. Admittedly, I was ready to hate on “Mural” before I heard it. I had words like pretentious, self-indulgent and unfocused all locked and loaded to describe this song. But instead it’s everything Eminem wished “Rap God” would’ve been. It’s next level lyricism over a beat that never switches up, but also doesn’t ever feel monotonous. Lupe weaves in and out of different flows with little effort and displays some of the best rapping of his career.
But like I said, his lyrical abilities were never really in question. My least favorite project he’s ever done, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, was chalked with excellent rapping from front to back, but was still total bullshit and among the most forgettable albums I’ve ever listened to. I questioned whether or not he could still write a good song. The Chicago emcee really comes through on Tetsuo & Youth on that tip.
“Deliver” is the closest we get to a pop song on the album, but it’s also his best example of songwriting. It reminds me of songs like “Kick, Push” and “Hip Hop Saved My Life,” which are among Lupe’s best songs in his discography. His best songs often present a simple concept at the surface (i.e. this is a song about skating), but then he evokes different emotions and unveils subtle details with each listen. “Little Death” and “No Scratches” (both of which feature Nikki Jean) are also good examples of this as well.
The production on Tetsuo & Youth is also among the best he’s ever had. The Cool and Food & Liquor for the most part featured excellent production, with a few missteps here and there. But Lasers and F&L2 were a complete mess. I do miss Soundtrakk on this album, as I feel like he brought out the best in Lupe, but DJ Dahi, S1 and Moe’Zart all provide an excellent soundscape for the project. The production pushes boundaries and is musical, but also accessible. DJ Dahi has done a lot of excellent work with TDE, and I think it was a great call by Lupe to link up with that sound
The lone complaint I have about Tetsuo & Youth is the length of the album. I’m avid believer in the “less is more” approach. This record pushes the limitations of an 80-minute disc, with a run time of just over seventy-eight minutes. Furthermore, the album has three songs that exceed eight minutes, and another five songs that exceed five minutes. Some of these tracks benefit from a long run time, but other tracks are unnecessarily long. “Chopper” is a banger and could’ve been a single, but for some reason it is over nine minutes long. It features six guest rappers, and frankly doesn’t need to be longer than four minutes.
Tetsuo & Youth will likely be the last album Lupe Fiasco releases with Atlantic Records. This will almost definitely be a good thing. If he would’ve released an album of this quality back in 2009, I think we’d be talking about Lupe Fiasco much differently today. He would’ve been considered one of the best rappers of the 2000s, which would’ve been him in a class with Kanye West and Lil Wayne. While we can’t go back in time or re-write hip-hop history, we can take solace in that Lupe Fiasco is back, and it is among the best comeback stories hip-hop has ever seen.