After announcing his departure from Twitter just earlier this week, the unusual Lupe Fiasco released his fifth studio album, Tetsuo & Youth, yesterday. The explanation for who or what “Tetsuo” remains just as much of a mystery as the man himself. Regardless of Fiasco’s decision to stray from the cultural mainstream, his music has not at all suffered. In fact, his desire for isolation might be what makes this album so effective. Tetsuo & Youth, compact with 16 tracks, makes use of historical knowledge to critique contemporary society, while remaining uncontrived. From reading the track list, and then taking a look at the features (among them are Guy Sebastian, Nikki Jean, and Ab Soul), I expected (and hoped) that this album would provide a fresh perspective in the hip-hop world. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.
Released back in November, the album’s downtempo first single, “Deliver,” resonates harshly. . Despite its catchy chorus, the song, which features Ty Dollar $ign (an artist previously unknown to me), is noticeably less creative than than the rest of Tetsuo‘s tracks, presumably because Fiasco wanted to emphasize its content.
It was “Adoration of the Magi” that sells the album, probably because it exemplifies both Fiasco’s individuality and intelligence. Upon hearing a downbeat electronic-jazz intro, the song was already a clear album front runner. Strangely enough, “Adoration of the Magi” alludes to the 1304 proto-renaissance painting by Giotto, which portrays the birth of Jesus Christ. Fiasco literally addresses the baby Jesus in the chorus, “Why are you ready to die? You just a baby.” Surprisingly, Fiasco does not use one curse word in the song (this isn’t true for other songs on the album). Allusions to classical art elevate Fiasco’s wit to Kanye West levels, however, Fiasco is infinitely more tasteful in his presentation.
“Madonna and Other Mothers in the Hood,” featuring Nikki Jean, is remarkably similar to songs on West’s, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: a creative song, both sonically and lyrically. Given the themes in “Adoration of the Magi,” Fiasco seems to remark upon another piece by Giotto, Madonna, and Child Enthroned. Yet, this song clashes religious imagery with vulgarity and urban allusions.
The album’s remaining songs are all just as interesting, each with a different theme (although many incorporate religious imagery). Coming from a person who isn’t familiar with Lupe Fiasco beyond “Superstar,” “Touch the Sky,” and “Kick Push,” I can confidently say I wished I checked out his work sooner. Tetsuo & Youth is certainly worth a listen: it adds a much needed level of depth that contemporary hip hop often lacks.