Live Review: An Ambivalent Lupe Fiasco Takes The Stage In NYC

Live Review: An Ambivalent Lupe Fiasco Takes The Stage In NYCPhoto by Rachel Topping.

Lupe Fiasco and Friends
Where: New York City, New York
Venue: Irving Plaza in Manhattan
On: 10:32 p.m. Off: 12:12 a.m.
Crowd: Less white-washed than you'd expect.
Note: Bronx conspicuously absent from “the house tonight.”
Overheard: "Bang, bang!"
Spotted: Bald-era Lupe doppelganger standing at my right for the entire show. 
Basically: Exceedingly polite rascals wrapped in headphone cords and romantic stability, ankles planted to cement, shoulders teetering like prom.

Written by Justin Charity (@BrotherNumpsa)

Up in the balcony of Irving Plaza, a broseph couple is cupping hands to mouths, hollering two songs titles in alternation—“Put You On Game!” and “Cold War!”—at Lupe Fiasco. Lupe notices. “Please,” says Lupe, pointing to the pair whom we’re all starting to resent. "Shut the fuck up.”
And the crowd goes wild.

In the first 20 minutes of his Tetsuo & Youth Preview Tour set, Lupe shouted out two crowd disruptions: the aforementioned riffraff and a young woman up front who, apparently, was chatting on her phone through an acapella of "Words I Never Said." “Baby girl...I’m not enough of a distraction?” And then another woman nearby, “Was you just yawning at 'Words I Never Said?' You didn't just win these tickets, right? Like, you bought these?”

No introduction, then ten minutes of temper, yet melted by the subsequent penance that Lupe grants to one and all comers. He reactivates with a sly smile and jokes. A pivot from teasing a few scapegoat offenders.

“Why you got your coat on? Take your coat off. Like you finna go somewhere. We got a whole other hour and a half in this bitch!”

Finally, then, he greets us.

He opens with "ITAL" from Food & Liquor II and, for the most part, works backward. Both Food and Liquor albums dominate the night: FLII’s anthems matched against the choice cuts from his debut. A spree of 16­ bar suicide dashes, too many moments of cruel foreplay when it comes to "Sunshine," "Paris, Tokyo," "Hurt Me Soul," and "Dumb it Down"—punctuated as snippets, one cherished hook bleeding stillborn to the next. There's delighted frustration all around, as the rapper snickers into his mic.

And then Lupe cools it. Introducing his tour protege, Dosage, who performs a techno-backed track that's received warmly. Lupe falls further back, as Tetsuo’s friends then emerge from the backstage shadows. We get a cypher with Immortal Technique, Dosage, and the rest of the pre-show set. Standing back by the peripheral equipment, just shy of the curtain, Lupe nods. Lupe does not spit.

He talks. “I was given many chances in my career," he says. "People gave me great opportunities to come out and do my thing. And it’s my privilege to pass that along."

Nostalgia convened us; nostalgia, alone, sustained us. Despite popular uncertainty of his present creative state, Lupe teased little and didn't explain much of his new ground. Three Tetsuo songs scattered throughout the set, plus "SLR 2," Lupe’s response to Kendrick Lamar’s "Control" verse. Yet Lupe didn't editorialize, instead resuming by fickle segues and observational humor as the rare excuse to catch his breath. The crowd­sourced verses were mandatory participation: Admission to the venue was contingent upon ticket holders rapping the first verse of "Kick, Push" to the bouncer bar­ for­ bar, backwards. (Flying colors right here.)

But hearing him rap "Crack" and "Drizzy’s Law" live, you get the sense—especially with that latter track—that finally Lupe’s punching to hyperspace, ready to confront a brave new world of Drake, Kendrick, and those galactic Maybach Music bass lines. But the millennials of general admission, most of them fluent in "Superstar," "Kick, Push," and "Bitch Bad," lifted minimal applause in conscription to "Drizzy’s Law," a track owing as much to Drake as to Lupe’s underrated pop sensibilities. It’s Lupe, but not...but no, really it is. 

Setlist
“ITAL”
“Put Em Up”
“Lamborghini Angels”
“Around My Way”
“Words I Never Said”
“Old School Love”
“Out Of My Head”
“Bitch Bad”
“Always Shine”
“Touch The Sky”
“Kick, Push”
“Hip-Hop Saved My Life”
“Go Go Gadget Flow”
“Dumb It Down”
“Sunshine”
“Hurt Me Soul”
“American Terrorist”
“He Say She Say”
“SLR 2”
“Crack”
“Superstar”
“The Show Goes On”
“Drizzy’s Law”
“Paris, Tokyo”
“Daydreamin’”

We’re left wondering, who’s this latest Lupe? Is he about to take us for a ride? That’s always the question, right? And who knows? It’s Lupe, so he’s as capable of reviving by a radio­/stadium hook ("Drizzy’s Law") as he is by outrapping, or else imitating, your favorite rapper ("Old School Love"). Yet "Drizzy’s Law" is a recent teaser from the new album, "Old School Love" dropped back in October, two months after "SLR 2." Not many in the crowd knew the words to either, or knew much about the tracks at all.

“I keep finding reasons to retire," he says.

Midnight struck as Lupe hopped and hyped through "The Show Goes On," at which point the plump pixels of the widescreen behind him blinked 00:00:00 in digitally sour pink. “Make sure you support all the artists that you seen up here tonight...unless you a bitch.” A few more spins before bedtime, "Drizzy’s Law" (“this that new­ school love”), "Paris, Tokyo" (“this that old­ school love”), and “some bon voyage music,” "Daydreamin." Fade to black, then to the waking white of the floodlights.

We spill through the doorways, to the tables of merchandise. T-shirts, hoodies, bandanas mostly branded for Lupe albums past, or for the horde of rappers that hyped Lupe’s arrival. Evacuating cramped down the hallway, we're murmuring satisfied by the run of our favorite Lupe cuts and verses. Still, none of us are sure what the hell Tetsuo is all about. No idea whether Lupe Fiasco is coming or going.

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