Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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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 âFiasco Fridayâ - 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 heroâs much-delayed third album⦠Five months on, meanwhile, and the big wait is finally over - as âLASERSâ this month hits music stores worldwide, having already been pioneered by its exuberantly-melodic, Modest-Mouse-sampling lead-off single âThe Show Goes Onâ.

Indeed, with its title representing an acronym for âLove Always Shines Everytime; Remember to Smileâ - and the album itself being a reflection of a l4-point manifesto Lupe composed to guide him on the project - the heavily-anticipated âLASERSâ typically combines the hyper-literate Muslim MCâs thought-provoking rhymes and concepts with irresistibly-infectious melodies, on mind-expanding tracks like the incendiary, Alex Da Kid-produced âWords I Never Saidâ (which sees Fiasco unloading his frustrations with the media and politics) and the edgily-aggressive âState Run Radioâ, which takes aim at (amongst other things) todayâs hyper-regulated, repetitive radio industry... While elsewhere, other songs grounded in modern reality like the questioning âAll Black Everythingâ sit alongside non-political cuts like the funkily soulful âNever Forget Youâ - a John Legend-featuring ode to the Chicago projects Lupe once called home - and the uplifting âOut Of My Headâ, 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 Recordsâ debut âLupe Fiascoâs Food & Liquorâ (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-manâs 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 âGQââs âBreakout Man Of The Yearâ.

Two years later, meanwhile, the 2008 release of his hotly-anticipated sophomore LP - the dense, darkly-atmospheric conceptual tour-de-force âLupe Fiascoâs The Coolâ - broke new ground by seeing Lupe score his first international Top Five single with the Soundtrakk-produced âSuperstarâ (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 Boyâs 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 âBlues & Soulâ 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 Lupeâs fans organising âFiasco Fridayâ - to protest about Atlantic Records delaying the release of âLASERSâ

âWell, the story starts with me - Lupe Fiasco - walking down the street in New York City. A fan walks up and says âYo Lupe, whatâs up with the new album?â - and I reply âComing soonâ⦠Then nine months later, Lupeâs again walking down the street in New York and a fan says âYo Lupe, when is the album coming out?â - and I reply âI donât knowâ⦠Then about nine months after that, same scenario - but my answer now is âAsk Atlantic Recordsâ⦠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, âVillage Voiceâ, MTV⦠So the petition gets turned in to Atlantic, and the response they get back is âComing soonâ - which the kids felt just wasnât satisfactory. So, maybe a week after that âComing soonâ tweet, you then get those same kids - 17-year-old teenagers or whatever - going on this message-board saying âMan, they donât really respect the PETITION! We should PROTEST!â... And from there it starts to SNOWBALL! To where people actually start to organise a protest and build a website they name âFiasco Fridayâ, thatâs got all the information on it about this march and protest being organised to take place outside Atlanticâs offices in New York on October 15, 2010 - even down to car-port information and details of flights!â

The actual protest itself

âWell, once news of the protest got out, again the big media - MTV, CNN, âVillage Voiceâ - 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 âLupe, letâs have a meetingâ⦠So from that I finally got a release-date for âLASERSâ; on October 7 I tweeted âVictory!â to the fans.... But then, instead of âThe protestâs offâ, now it was like âWeâre still protesting, but weâre also gonna turn it into a CELEBRATION!â⦠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, whoâd been forced to come down and address the crowd!... Which to me was the most amazing, surreal thing EVER! Because, you know, thereâd been nothing from me saying âHey, you guys should do a petition for meâ or âYou guys should protest for meâ... It was literally all down to the dedication of my grass-roots fans!.. And that really touched me.â

Lupeâs original intentions for âLASERSâ and his ideas on the way itâs turned out

âWith âLASERSâ I wanted to get away from the complexity of my last album - âThe Coolâ - 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 âThe LASERS Manifestoâ consisting of l4 points that I thought EVERYBODY, from conservatives to radicals to liberals, could all relate to - like âWe Want Substance In The Place Of Popularityâ; âWe Will Be Responsible For Our Environmentâ; We Want An End To All Wars Foreign & Domesticâ; âWe Want Clarity & Truth From Our Elected Officials Or They Should Move Asideâ⦠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 Iâm 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 youâll find, say, a Lupe Fiasco club record, some celebratory songs⦠As well as more personal records dealing with the whole process of âLASERSâ - 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, itâs all put together in a very cohesive way.â

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

âIâll use the example of a song on there called âState Run Radioâ, where Iâm 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 Iâm 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 - Iâm also relating what Iâm saying to the way that we live our lives socially, politically, academically - and basically stressing how we should be thinking out the BOX! Like thereâs a line in there where I say âMake âem hear the records WE play; Build your own station, become your OWN DJâ... In other words, express YOURSELF and let YOURSELF be heard! Blaze your OWN trail, as opposed to just spitting out what youâve been TAUGHT!... Iâm essentially using things that are quite simple, to speak of a bigger IDEAL. And that to me typifies the kinda creative tone Iâve taken throughout the album. Where Iâm basically taking these little conceptual things, flipping them, and turning them into a commentary about something much bigger.â

The diversity of the subject-matter contained within âLASERSââ¦

âLyrically there is a lotta diversity on the album. Like my favourite track on there is âAll Black Everythingâ. Where I basically just ask the question âWhat if black people had been PAID for slavery? What if it had been a BUSINESS transaction?â- and then go on to talk about how that would have affected American history! You know, itâs one of those debates that could just go on for EVER! Like hip hop might not have existed because it wouldnât have sounded like it does, maybe Eminem would have been black... I mean, in some ways itâs 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 âBeautiful Lasersâ. 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.â

⦠Finally, Lupeâs breakdown of possibly the albumâs most controversial track - âWords I Never Saidâ

âWell, itâs a funny record, in that I guess the caveat of it would be that itâs a song thatâs really not supposed to be HEARD - because these are the words that Iâd never SAY! Itâs 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 thatâs going on... You know, I basically just threw it OUT there, in a very visceral, hard-hitting way! So, while Iâm generally known for dealing with those kinda subjects but in a very lyrical, metaphorical way - like on âState Run Radioâ or âAll Black Everythingâ - whatâs different for me about âWords I Never Saidâ is that itâs definitely NOT a lyrical Lupe record! Instead itâs very direct and straight-to-the-point!â

The album âLASERSâ and the single âThe Show Goes Onâ are both out now through Atlantic

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