Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Lupe Fiasco: Take a bow

Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco Lupe Fiasco

On October15, 2010 the world witnessed what has since gone down in history as ‘Fiasco Friday’ - a day when hoards of devotees of Chicago-born rapper Lupe Fiasco stormed the Atlantic Records HQ in New York City to demand the label finally release their Grammy-nominated hero’s much-delayed third album… Five months on, meanwhile, and the big wait is finally over - as ‘LASERS’ this month hits music stores worldwide, having already been pioneered by its exuberantly-melodic, Modest-Mouse-sampling lead-off single ‘The Show Goes On’.

Indeed, with its title representing an acronym for “Love Always Shines Everytime; Remember to Smile” - and the album itself being a reflection of a l4-point manifesto Lupe composed to guide him on the project - the heavily-anticipated ‘LASERS’ typically combines the hyper-literate Muslim MC’s thought-provoking rhymes and concepts with irresistibly-infectious melodies, on mind-expanding tracks like the incendiary, Alex Da Kid-produced ‘Words I Never Said’ (which sees Fiasco unloading his frustrations with the media and politics) and the edgily-aggressive ‘State Run Radio’, which takes aim at (amongst other things) today’s hyper-regulated, repetitive radio industry... While elsewhere, other songs grounded in modern reality like the questioning ‘All Black Everything’ sit alongside non-political cuts like the funkily soulful ‘Never Forget You’ - a John Legend-featuring ode to the Chicago projects Lupe once called home - and the uplifting ‘Out Of My Head’, a smooth, synth-driven R&B cut featuring Atlantic labelmate Trey Songz.

Born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, the young Windy City wordsmith first trail-blazed his path to critical acclaim back in 2006, when his US Top l0 Atlantic Records’ debut ‘Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor’ (executive-produced by good friend and one-time mentor Jay-Z) was released. Possessing dazzlingly intelligent wordplay and a topical range more akin to the underground than the mainstream, the then-25-year-old lyricist quickly established himself as one of the most compelling thinking-man’s rhymers of his era by offering a rare combination of complex, thought-provoking lyrics coupled with sure-fire beats. All of which led to Lupe going on to crown a monumental first year in the spotlight by prestigiously receiving three Grammy nominations, while simultaneously being recognised as ‘GQ’’s ‘Breakout Man Of The Year’.

Two years later, meanwhile, the 2008 release of his hotly-anticipated sophomore LP - the dense, darkly-atmospheric conceptual tour-de-force ‘Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool’ - broke new ground by seeing Lupe score his first international Top Five single with the Soundtrakk-produced ‘Superstar’ (a semi-autobiographical account of his own rise to fame and the discomfort it brought him), while guest-wise combining such world-renowned talents as Snoop Dogg and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump.

… All of which - following a turbulent three years that have seen Fiasco both endure personal turmoil and squabble with his record company - now ultimately finds a mild-mannered, bespectacled and leather-jacketed Lupe finally reacquainting himself with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis within the comfort of his West End Hotel, to discuss in-depth his long-awaited new album and the unprecedented events that led up to its eventual release.

The events leading up to Lupe’s fans organising ‘Fiasco Friday’ - to protest about Atlantic Records delaying the release of ‘LASERS’

“Well, the story starts with me - Lupe Fiasco - walking down the street in New York City. A fan walks up and says ‘Yo Lupe, what’s up with the new album?’ - and I reply ‘Coming soon’… Then nine months later, Lupe’s again walking down the street in New York and a fan says ‘Yo Lupe, when is the album coming out?’ - and I reply ‘I don’t know’… Then about nine months after that, same scenario - but my answer now is ‘Ask Atlantic Records’… So from that a guy puts a letter of grievance together, builds a petition around it - and, over the course of a few months, gets 30.000 SIGNATURES! Which of course attracts a lot of press - CNN, ‘Village Voice’, MTV… So the petition gets turned in to Atlantic, and the response they get back is ‘Coming soon’ - which the kids felt just wasn’t satisfactory. So, maybe a week after that ‘Coming soon’ tweet, you then get those same kids - 17-year-old teenagers or whatever - going on this message-board saying ‘Man, they don’t really respect the PETITION! We should PROTEST!’... And from there it starts to SNOWBALL! To where people actually start to organise a protest and build a website they name ‘Fiasco Friday’, that’s got all the information on it about this march and protest being organised to take place outside Atlantic’s offices in New York on October 15, 2010 - even down to car-port information and details of flights!”

The actual protest itself

“Well, once news of the protest got out, again the big media - MTV, CNN, ‘Village Voice’ - all immediately started to cover it, to where the organisers THEMSELVES were now starting to get interviewed! So, with the threat of a potential press nightmare looming, I finally got a call from Atlantic who were like ‘Lupe, let’s have a meeting’… So from that I finally got a release-date for ‘LASERS’; on October 7 I tweeted ‘Victory!’ to the fans.... But then, instead of ‘The protest’s off’, now it was like ‘We’re still protesting, but we’re also gonna turn it into a CELEBRATION!’… So, on Friday, October 15, 2010 you had like 250 people protesting with picket-signs, singing my songs - and arguing with the head of the corporation, who’d been forced to come down and address the crowd!... Which to me was the most amazing, surreal thing EVER! Because, you know, there’d been nothing from me saying ‘Hey, you guys should do a petition for me’ or ‘You guys should protest for me’... It was literally all down to the dedication of my grass-roots fans!.. And that really touched me.”

Lupe’s original intentions for ‘LASERS’ and his ideas on the way it’s turned out

“With ‘LASERS’ I wanted to get away from the complexity of my last album - ‘The Cool’ - and do something that was just completely simple in its execution and in its pieces and parts. So, even before I made any music for it, I actually drew up something I called ‘The LASERS Manifesto’ consisting of l4 points that I thought EVERYBODY, from conservatives to radicals to liberals, could all relate to - like ‘We Want Substance In The Place Of Popularity’; ‘We Will Be Responsible For Our Environment’; We Want An End To All Wars Foreign & Domestic’; ‘We Want Clarity & Truth From Our Elected Officials Or They Should Move Aside’… And then from there I wanted to filter the music THROUGH that. So on the album you get that tone of social activity, social justice, social awareness... But, though I have rapped about similar things on my past records, this time I’m doing it in an even more consistent, visceral and clearer way... And then, once I get past all that and that side of things is satisfied, on the rest of the album you’ll find, say, a Lupe Fiasco club record, some celebratory songs… As well as more personal records dealing with the whole process of ‘LASERS’ - you know, stuff like the protest and the emotional toll all that took… So yeah, it definitely touches on a lotta different subjects and has a lotta different parts. But at the same time, it’s all put together in a very cohesive way.”

How some of the tracks have deeper meanings behind them than may be initially apparent

“I’ll use the example of a song on there called ‘State Run Radio’, where I’m basically saying that you only hear what the powers-that-be WANT you to hear, REPEATEDLY! But, while on the surface it alludes to traditional terrestrial format-radio, if you look deeper it also relates to television, or politics, or even schools of philosophy. You know, while I’m using a radio station and all its cliches and caveats - and basically just all the different little parts that make up what a radio station IS - I’m also relating what I’m saying to the way that we live our lives socially, politically, academically - and basically stressing how we should be thinking out the BOX! Like there’s a line in there where I say ‘Make ’em hear the records WE play; Build your own station, become your OWN DJ’... In other words, express YOURSELF and let YOURSELF be heard! Blaze your OWN trail, as opposed to just spitting out what you’ve been TAUGHT!... I’m essentially using things that are quite simple, to speak of a bigger IDEAL. And that to me typifies the kinda creative tone I’ve taken throughout the album. Where I’m basically taking these little conceptual things, flipping them, and turning them into a commentary about something much bigger.”

The diversity of the subject-matter contained within ‘LASERS’…

“Lyrically there is a lotta diversity on the album. Like my favourite track on there is ‘All Black Everything’. Where I basically just ask the question ‘What if black people had been PAID for slavery? What if it had been a BUSINESS transaction?’- and then go on to talk about how that would have affected American history! You know, it’s one of those debates that could just go on for EVER! Like hip hop might not have existed because it wouldn’t have sounded like it does, maybe Eminem would have been black... I mean, in some ways it’s kind of dealing with role-reversal, but even going a little DEEPER than that... But then, ALONGSIDE tracks like that - that basically deal with fantasy - you also have a song like ‘Beautiful Lasers’. Which talks about my wrestling with depression and suicide, and the crazy part of all THAT... So yeah, as I say, subject-wise there is definitely a lotta diversity and balance on there.”

… Finally, Lupe’s breakdown of possibly the album’s most controversial track - ‘Words I Never Said’

“Well, it’s a funny record, in that I guess the caveat of it would be that it’s a song that’s really not supposed to be HEARD - because these are the words that I’d never SAY! It’s basically me just giving a very honest kinda release about what I feel about certain things… What I feel about American foreign policy; what I feel about the financial institutions and the economic system; what I feel about diet soda; what I feel about 9/11; what I feel about religion; what I feel about the relationship between Palestine and Israel... You know, all these little subjects and little things that I feel a certain way about, that have just been wrestling in my HEAD! Whether it be a conspiracy theory; whether it be solid fact; whether it be some historical misinterpretation of something, some corporate nonsense, some secret bullshit that’s going on... You know, I basically just threw it OUT there, in a very visceral, hard-hitting way! So, while I’m generally known for dealing with those kinda subjects but in a very lyrical, metaphorical way - like on ‘State Run Radio’ or ‘All Black Everything’ - what’s different for me about ‘Words I Never Said’ is that it’s definitely NOT a lyrical Lupe record! Instead it’s very direct and straight-to-the-point!”

The album ‘LASERS’ and the single ‘The Show Goes On’ are both out now through Atlantic

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