Lupe Fiasco has long been a vexing case for the many devotees who've sympathized with his label quarrels and frustrated output, even when they couldn't respectfully support it. But with his major label bid finally coming to a close with this one last record, Lupe has returned from a few years in the artistic wilderness, supercharged no doubt by his impending freedom and nothing-to-lose position, to deliver his best work in ages. Tetsuo & Youth is Lupe's "magnum opus" record — a serious, detail-rich production free from the binds of a previous story or series, and one that turns its back completely on any pressure to placate commercial radio. His primary focus, like the days of old, is on turning out bar after bar of supreme, multilayered, metaphor-laced wordplay, and that's exactly what you get on marathon tracks like the ultra-descriptive "Mural" or the incarceration-themed "Prisoner 1 & 2."
Significant attention is also paid to the expansive soundtrack that sees the rapper through the record's four emotive seasons, with memorable hooks and melodies poking out from each profuse arrangement to provide an important home base during some of Lupe's longer-winded raps. To that point, it must be mentioned that this is a pretty long album, with most tracks stretching beyond five minutes, and some reaching to between six and ten. It's a lot to digest, but Lupe's refound vigour and poignancy make it largely worth the effort, despite one or two tracks ("Chopper," for example) that you'll no doubt find yourself drifting in and out of. (Warner)