After a tumultuous two years that saw the release of his album “L.A.S.E.R.S.” pushed several times, rapper Lupe Fiasco is due for some happier times. Following some disputes with his record label Atlantic, the Chicago native finally set forth his latest musical effort last month. His current tour in support of “L.A.S.E.R.S.” saw him take on Cornell’s Barton Hall on Sunday night.
Somalian rapper K’naan opened the show to a meager audience that filled less than a third of Barton Hall’s general admission floor. While the energy was present onstage, it failed to transfer to the floor. Most spectators simply bobbed their heads obediently and offered up obligatory foot tapping.
The lack of energy was even too much for K’naan to ignore. His ballad “Take a Minute” took more like ten minutes as he and a band member tried desperately through the majority of the song to cue up some chanting. At one point, K’naan addressed the audience’s lack of participation by saying, “you look more powerful than you sound.”
Apparently the energy was being stockpiled for the man on the top of the bill. As the lights cut out and Lupe’s backing band took the stage, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause. The instrumentalists broke into a rocking interlude as Lupe burst out from the side of the stage and was greeted by his screaming fans.
The entire concert played out less like a rap show and more like a hardcore rock rager. The head-nodding spectators of K’naan’s set had been turned into rock-ready headbangers.
Lupe even broke out an abbreviated version of a track he wrote and produced for the “Twilight Saga: New Moon” movie soundtrack called “Solar Midnight.” While this song went mostly unnoticed by the fans, the electric energy was not lost in the slightest.
The Cornell Concert Commission should have put up signs advising that the first several rows were at risk of getting soaked. As Lupe launched into “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now,” a track off “L.A.S.E.R.S,” he and his hype-men grabbed bottled water and began dousing the audience with each pounding kick drum beat that shot out of the speaker towers. Unfortunately, Lupe suffered a minor leg injury during the song after he went to mount a speaker. But after a short break, he was back in action.
The rest of the set continued without incident as breakout single “Kick, Push” and newer track “Words I Never Said” received a roaring reception from the crowd. Unlike many rappers with backing bands, Lupe promotes his guitar player and even had him at the front of the stage showcasing his virtuosity with frantic riffs.
After closing out the main set, Lupe reemerged to deliver a lengthy and rousing encore, which was led off by “The Show Goes On,” a track made for introducing an encore. The track samples a juiced-up riff from the song “Float On” by indie rock band Modest Mouse. Toward the end of the encore, Lupe apologized for hurting his leg and took another stab at “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now” which resulted in more water being sprayed on the audience.
As he left the stage, Lupe left behind his legacy as one the freshest and most innovative rappers on the scene today. In a time when most rappers dream of breaching the chasm that divides rap and rock, other rappers’ dreams are Lupe’s reality.