Some analogies for what seems to be happening in the career of a one-time hip-hop wunderkind, Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco: The bloated former high school football star reliving old glory days on the field at his neighborhood pub comes to mind; so does the teen screen star who reveals an appalling lack of chops, which longtime actors develop during live theater boot camp.
Lupe Fiasco’s underwhelming stand Friday at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium cannot be attributed to a sophomore slump. This performer, who struck a nostalgic chord with lovers of old school hip-hop with his 2006 debut “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor,” is now touring behind his fourth studio album. Nonetheless, when fans surf over to lupefiasco.com, they are greeted with a promotional screen for the Fifth Anniversary edition of “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor.” From there, it’s painfully easy to navigate to a recently-uploaded vlog in which Lupe Fiasco reflects on the accomplishment that was that album.
Ur, awkward … five years must seem like an eternity in pop music. In real time, it really isn’t that long. Unless what you did five years ago is all you’ve got to stand on …
Three things are certain about the Denver stop on Lupe Fiasco’s Generation Lasers Tour: The venue — capacity 3,600 — was maybe half-full. The result was what played like an overproduced musical and surely would have gone over better in a smaller venue. None-the-less, Fiasco flaunts true charisma and a palpable love for his audience.
His stage was predominantly dark, outlined with runway floor lights and backed by a red neon anarchy sign. Touring with three bombastic female vocalists and a live band, Lupe Fiasco reminded the crowd of his pinache for cerebral lyricism by opening with “Words I Never Said,” a song that also showcases the overblown choruses and schizophrenic production that’s characteristic of “Lasers,” his album out earlier this year.
The headliner rewarded the many loyal fans in the house who mouthed his lyrics throughout, with a fist-pumping rendition of his calling card hit, “Kick, Push.” But there was a general lack of cohesion to this night, leaving the impression that Lupe Fiasco is an artist with an identity crisis: Whether to be the MTV-friendly radio rapper, throwing water on the crowd and shaking skinny hips like some sort of hip-hop Mick Jagger? Or to stick with the high-minded, lo-fi flow and lyricism that once buoyed Lupe Fiasco to what seemed like an overnight sensation?
Disappointment set in early on this night when what should have been an exciting opening act, up-and-coming British rapper Tinie Tempah, was dropped from the line-up at the last minute (or at least after the show posters were printed).
Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an editor at The Denver Post and a longtime music fan.
Dave Gannon is a Denver photographer and new contributor to Reverb.