"I'm a part of the problem," Lupe Fiasco raps on this track, but jokingly. "The problem is I'm peaceful."
Well, according to some, the music on "Words I Never Said" is really a part of the problem, even if the lyrics are a part of the solution to the many political troubles Lupe Fiasco addresses. Guardian reviewer Alex Macpherson described the music on Lasers as "[s]ynthy choruses that Taio Cruz would reject as too generically Auto-Tuned, trite empowerment anthems as subtle as a Katy Perry hit." And indeed, even "Words I Never Said" has a pop hit sound to it that could easily back a Katy Perry song (or at least a popular Jay-Z collaboration with someone like Alicia Keys; click here to see what Shmoop had to say about that one). Skylar Grey's lagging hook lacks the emotional intensity of Lupe Fiasco's fast-paced political critique and comes off as a concession to the pop-oriented powers that be. The L.A. Times called Grey a "rent-a-Rihanna" in their review, and it may be mean, but that doesn't necessarily make it untrue.
Clearly the critics had a field day with this one, but on the other hand, there are reasons that "pop songs" are created to sound like this. The song's heavy beat and synthed-out samples make a great dance floor song out of a serious political critique. It's no small feat to set a song up for ubiquitous radio play even as the lyrics propose 9/11 conspiracy theories, criticize Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and express anger at President Obama for not opposing Israeli bombings of the Gaza Strip. The music is, in effect, a thin veil of frivolousness hung by Atlantic Records over a serious and challenging piece of music. They got the formula for success from the source: the track, produced by Alex da Kid, reminds us of his production on one of the most popular rap tracks of 2010.
Haters on hip-hop's crossover tendencies won't like it, and some Fiasco fans didn't either, but it's not half bad to listen to—and listen to—and listen to—and listen to. Still, if Atlantic hoped for a huge, controversial hit on a par with "Love the Way You Lie," they unfortunately didn't get it. They got a popular song full of unpopular compromises. So it seems the jury is still out on whether pop concessions were the way to go on "Words I Never Said." Do you think the music on this track an asset or a liability?
Lupe Fiasco has a bit of a calling card problem. Nobody really knows where to find the man these days.
Fiasco built his reputation alongside Kanye West as a Chicago-based "alternative" to gangsta rap, rejecting violence and sexism in his lyrics and making it big with a sweet hit about a skateboarding love affair. His inspirations ranged from West to A Tribe Called Quest, and with big corporate backing, his fan base exploded fast. Reviewers ate him up, too: HipHopDX called Lupe Fiasco's Food and Liquor "above and beyond anything heard in the last decade," and dozens lauded his 2006 debut as the one the best hip-hop albums of the 2000s. Reviews for Lupe Fiasco's The Cool continued in the same vein. The main thrust of all the praise was that Lupe was loved for doing something different in mainstream hip-hop.
Well, you can see the Meaning tab for the whole sordid story, but in the case of his third album, Lasers, which was delayed for years, a large dose of Lupe's beloved different-ness was lost in a sea of attempts at making top-40 hits (few of which, ironically, became top-40 hits). "Words I Never Said" stands out as a track that remains in the spirit of Lupe Fiasco's politically charged and verbally brilliant reputation. In the confused land of Lasers, "Words I Never Said" might be about as close to a calling card as it gets. With Mr. Fiasco, though, no one knows what the future holds.