Tossing off fans with the Eurodance, EDM, and the unexplainable album Lasers, and then returning to form with Food & Liquor II, Lupe Fiasco finds himself free to soar and aspire on his 2015 effort Tetsuo & Youth, an album inspired by the rapper's upbringing in Chicago. It's also an LP that's conceptually structured, with "Summer," "Fall," "Winter," and "Spring" interludes dotting the track list, but any reservations that the sometimes "preachy" rapper has gone full sanctimonious are wiped away by the easy-rolling opener "Mural" and its elevated series of "LOL" punch lines ("Unless you Virgin Mary, nothin' do it but the truest/Believe all that unless you Jewish" or "And I feel like a missionary to a clitoris"). Guy Sebastian joins for the more poptacular "Blur My Hands," which seems a play for radio at only five-and-a-half minutes, as many numbers stretch longer, sometimes because of musical noodling (a banjo kicks off the great "Dots & Lines") and sometimes because it's a huge posse cut recalling the old days ("Chopper," the album's longest cut at 9:32). These flights of fancy are interesting, intoxicating, or both to varying degrees, but when "Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood)" hits the speakers as a poetic and majestic ode to those raising kids in the land of poverty and crime, Lupe offers a purposeful, and arguably perfect, song to anchor it all. His 2006 debut may still be the one to pick, since it's leaner and more instant, but Tetsuo & Youth strolls its way into greatness after a couple listens and wipes out all the bitter aftertaste of Lasers as if that misstep never happened.
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries