The Hero of Hip Hop

Lupe Fiasco Food and Liquor Image

Many music listeners feel today’s music has gone down the gutter since the “glory days” (the term ‘glory days’ itself being completely subjective). In some respects, I agree. The radio spews songs graphically describing hustling drugs, weapons, gang violence, and misogynistic tales of sexual relations with various women, among other intensely vulgar and offensive topics. Fear not, citizens. One of hip-hop’s emerging heroes is here to purify music and provide listeners with positive ideals and stories. This visionary artist goes by the name of Lupe Fiasco.

Lupe Fiasco grew up Wasalu Muhammad Jaco on the West side of Chicago. Lupe accredits his father, a prolific African drummer and a member of the Black Panthers, with showing him the world – commonly picking him up after school to show him Chinatown, take him to karate class, teaching him how to use a gun, and teaching him and the Muslim faith. Lupe once described his childhood saying, “I grew up in the hood…but I also grew up juxtaposed: On the doorknob outside of our apartment, there was blood from some guy who got shot; but inside, there was National Geographic magazines and encyclopedias…we didn’t have cable, so we didn’t have the luxury of having our brains washed by MTV. We watched public television — cooking shows and stuff like that.”

Growing up, Lupe’s father introduced him to very eclectic genres and styles of music from N.W.A to Ravi Shankar to Benny Goodman (whom he idolized). Ironically enough, Lupe initially hated hip-hop due to it’s commonly vulgar lyrics. In eighth grade, however, Lupe’s ears were graced with Nas’ legendary album It Was Written. Upon hearing Nas’ album, Lupe was inspired to pursue hip-hop.

Fiasco began his hip-hop career in a gangster rap group called ‘Da Pak’ rapping about cocaine, guns and women. He realized the importance of lyrical content and the power of the spoken word early on, which led to his inevitable departure from the group. As he puts it, “I felt like a hypocrite…When the music cuts off, you have to go home and live with what you said.”

Before long, Lupe was creating mix tapes. “Conflict Diamonds” (a remix of a Kanye West song that discussed important facts about blood diamonds in Africa), caught the attention of Kanye, who invited Lupe to record a verse on his single “Touch the Sky.” Fiasco’s verse turned many hip-hop heads, and pushed the release of his the first single, “Kick, Push,” a story of two lovers falling for one another over skateboarding. The song was innovative, creative, and helped Fiasco steal the attention of the hip-hop community.

It was the release of his first full length album, entitled Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor, which helped him win GQ’s “Breakout Man of the Year” in 2006, as well as receive a Grammy nomination for “Best Rap Album,” and a Grammy victory in the “Best Urban/Alternative Performance” category. Fiasco explains the meaning behind the title saying, “[It] reflects on me being Muslim and being from the streets…I’ve always felt like liquor represents the bad, the food represents the good, and everyone is made up of a little of both.”

“Daydreamin'” was one of Fiasco’s first overtly political songs to receive broad attention.  In the song’s second verse, Lupe berates other rappers and their obscene use of drugs, sex and materialism in their music and videos. (I could have pointed out specific parts of the verse to make my point, but the entire verse is so brilliant I decided to post the whole thing.)

Now come on everybody, let’s make cocaine cool
We need a few more half naked women up in the pool
And hold this MAC-10 that’s all covered in jewels
And can you please put your t***ies closer to the 22s?
And where’s the champagne? We need champagne
Now look as hard as you can with this blunt in your hand
And now hold up your chain slow motion through the flames
Now cue the smoke machines and the simulated rain
But not too loud ’cause the baby’s sleepin
I wonder if it knows what the world is keepin
Up both sleeves while he lay there dreamin
Me and my robot tip-toe ’round creepin
I had to turn my back on what got you paid
I couldn’t see half the hood on me like Abu Ghraib
But I’d like to thank the streets that drove me crazy
And all the televisions out there that raised me

Lupe’s sarcastic references to the glamorization of guns and drugs, as well as the use of scantily clad women to make music more attractive, show his disappointment in modern music. He further attacks modern rappers by pointing out that they would never brag about these things in front of their own children. This song is only one off an entire album that pushes music back towards positive motifs, and sheds light on the ridiculous state of current radio hits.

Following the success of his first album, Fiasco announced that he would be releasing a second album in 2007 called Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. A significant track found on Lupe’s second album is “Dumb it Down”. This track was a clear shot at record label executives who were trying to persuade Lupe to go with a more mainstream sound so that might be more marketable for radio play, a.k.a.; don’t talk about enlightenment, but rather talk about guns and sex like everybody else. Lupe highlights this in the second chorus of the song when he raps (note that the words in parentheses signify words said by a demonic sounding voice representing the record executives):

You’ve been shedding too much light Lu (Dumb it down)
You make’em wanna do right Lu (Dumb it down)
They’re getting self-esteem Lu (Dumb it down)
These girls are trying to be queens Lu (Dumb it down)
They’re trying to graduate from school Lu (Dumb it down)
They’re starting to think that smart is cool Lu (Dumb it down)
They’re trying to get up out the hood Lu (Dumb it down)
I’ll tell you what you should do (Dumb it down)

With Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, Lupe successfully achieves a thrilling album full of tracks with positive messages, and songs pointing out important flaws in today’s pop culture and lifestyle. While I only presented a single song from The Cool, the entire record is a masterpiece, and a must listen.

For the past few years, Lupe has been pursuing the release of a third disk. Finally, after fan protests and petitions against Atlantic Records for withholding the album, Lupe Fiasco will be releasing LASERS on March 8th, 2011. The title stands for “Love Always Shines Everytime Remember 2 Smile.” Lupe claims LASERS is not necessarily what the people want per say, but what the people need.

The first release was “Never Forget You,” featuring the undeniably amazing John Legend. The song was a loving remembrance of Lu’s relationship with his father, who had recently passed away. It is nearly impossible to listen to the song and not feel happier about life, a trait that today’s pop music too often lacks.

Lu’s second single, “Words I Never Said,” is a very blunt confession of ideas that he held back, perhaps due to record executives, perhaps merely due to being lazy. Nonetheless, Lupe attacks issues that he feels need addressing, and does so in a very straightforward manner. Lupe addresses the war, as well as takes time to defend Islam as the peaceful religion it truly is (if anyone comments on this blog that Islam is a violent, terrorizing
religion, I may just have another blog with their name on it…and I am not Islamic).

I expect LASERS to be an album that signifies a movement in society’s mindset, and judging from the music he’s released off this record so far, it is sure to be full of positive energy. Lupe Fiasco is speaking up and releasing music with messages about peace and love–messages the world needs to hear. If you have been longing for the next John Lennon, he is here – or at least in his hip-hop incarnation.

I think that all the silence is worse than all violence
Fear is such a weak emotion, that’s why I despise it
We’re scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth
So scared of what you think of me, I’m scared of even telling you
Sometimes I’m like the only person I feel safe to tell it to
I’m locked inside a cell in me, I know that there’s a jail in you
Consider this your bailing out, so take a breath inhale a few
My screams is finally gettin’ free, my thoughts is finally yellin through!

Joe Tomlinson
Cutting Edge Entertainment

3 Responses

  1. Jack Duggan

    Yessssssss Joe! I love Lupe, I am pumped up for lasers i don’t quite know that it is going to be a new movement but it is going to be incredible. The track with John Legend was dirty and honest to god every song off Lupe’s The Ccool are great! Someone needed to write about Lupe! Thank You

  2. Nice article. I’m a fan of this dude and I look forward to any new music he puts out.

    When it comes to hip hop, I’ve always been about lyrical prowess. So any so-called negative content never really bothered me so long as it was amazingly delivered. Let’s face it: most hardcore gangsta rappers are studio gangsters. But I can understand Lupe’s dilemma early on and I’m glad he went the way he did. There’s room for everyone.

    Being an atheist, I have strong opinions on religion. But maybe that’s for your next post. 🙂

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