at a open mic
(like it so lu sees it) http://www.facebook.com/LupeFiasco/posts/10150820867367282
Lupe Fiasco: The Art of Balance and Perspective
Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, also known as Lupe Fiasco, is a rapper/poet who was born in 1982 on the West side of Chicago. Lupe was raised in an environment where he had to master the art of balance. He was born in the crevice between the ghetto and the suburbs, his house on the border between them. The inside of his house was filled with modern art, books, music and culture, whereas the outside was right next door to a crack house, clustered with drug dealing and gang violence. Lupe’s father was a Black Panther karate teacher; as Lupe plainly puts it, “one day, we're listening to N.W.A, the next day we're listening to Ravi Shankar, the next day, he's teaching us how to shoot an AK-47, the next day, we're at karate class.” When he began to listen to music, Lupe’s favorite artists were jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, and gangsta rap poet “Nasty Nas.”
Lupe was surrounded by duality his whole childhood, and he learned how to take the best of both worlds. His first album is called, Food & Liquor, and it plays on this concept of balance and contradiction. Food and Liquor stores, which were on the corner of every block in the Westside of Chicago, sell food, what gives nutrition and healthiness to the people, and liquor, which corrupts and poisons the population. It was his experiences as a child that led Lupe to have such a knack for equilibrium, where he narrows in on everything only to take an aerial view. Drawing on his life encounters, Lupe Fiasco in his songs takes on the perspectives of everyone in the scene he depicts to create a 360-degree view of the situation.
In the early years of his career, Lupe started off as a “gangsta rapper,” rhyming with a focus on aggressive lyrics describing the environment of the ghetto. After growing and traveling, he realized that this style of rapping wasn’t telling everyone’s story, and decided to widen the range of his lyrical binoculars. He named his first professional mixtape series, Fahrenheit 1/15: Revenge of the Nerds, and took on the persona of the ‘nerdy and proud’ rapper that he has tried to maintain until today. He still documented street life in his music, but he approached it from a worldly viewpoint, evaluating the scene with calculated details from multiple perspectives. In his song, “Handcuffs,” he first tells the story of the man in the back of the cop car (the criminal), and then tells the story of the man driving the car (the policeman), and shows how similar their goals really are. In the final verse, Lupe compares the two explicitly, stating, “Nigga, you ain't no better than me, just a hustler with a badge. Confiscate the dope money, put it with your retirement boat money.” Later he rhymes, “We both undercover, thinking that the good we do gon' out weigh the sinning that we do to collect it, saying ‘it's for the community.’” Not only do the hustler and the policeman both have aspirations of wealth, but they also use excuses to make it seem as though their mission is moral. He closes the verse with his brilliant conclusion, saying that the cop, “Feels he don't get paid enough, to kick in doors, to raid and cuff. So he use what niggas get on the street to supplement the wages cut. So he gotta keep just enough niggas out there hustling to keep his paper up...Maybe he should be in the handcuffs.” The policeman uses the hustlers to give him a bonus by keeping them on the streets and every so often arresting them and taking their money. Lupe uses such vivid imagery and detailed comparison that, by the end of the verse, it is easy to believe that the cop and the hustler could switch places.
Lupe is also known to inject his own worldview into famous rap songs, but instead of parodying them, he adds a whole new element to the original. For example, he took two famous Kanye West hits, and re-created them with his own definition. He turned “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” around and talked about the conflict diamonds in Africa, and took “Jesus Walks” and talked about the prophet Muhammad. In his song “Twilight Zone,” he imagines a neighborhood where everything is backwards, giving inanimate objects human characteristics and flipping the script on what owns whom. He starts the verse from the first person while he is being shot at, but only for a moment, as he reverses the angle and takes the viewpoint of the bullets. The bullets, “Stop like Neo, laugh at me throw some cash at me, then fly past me. But one ricochets off the wall to come back and ask me, am I scared of him?” If bullets were humans, one would assume they possessed the evil traits contained in laughing and throwing money, but Lupe also gives them insecurities, having one bullet jet back and coyly ask Lupe if he actually fears him. Lupe then dozes off and wakes up in a dream-like state, “surrounded by Forties playing poker at a table in baseball caps,” with “cigarettes massaging their shoulders in belly tops showing off they navels.” Lupe uses the sinister imagery of nightlife in the ghetto and re-imagines it with human features. He portrays the bottles of liquor as the mob bosses, playing on the double meaning of “caps” to make them more human, and uses the double meaning of “belly tops” to paint the cigarettes as the seductive women of the underground street life. In the final stretch of his verse, he reveals the role reversal, and shows what really has power in the story. He raps, “A dime sack side bets, a tech is runnin' for president. Jesus pieces walk around with niggas hangin from they necks.” A “tech,” a weapon which is commonly used in gangster rap, has so much control over its owners that it may become president, and Jesus Pieces, a piece of jewelry that is commonly worn by rappers and hustlers, are wearing people. These two images expose how gun violence and the desire for material possessions has a power over the people in the hood, and how material objects are the actual owners.
After releasing three mixtapes, Lupe had built a solid fan base, and was being co-signed by famous rappers such as Jay-Z and Talib Kweli and philosophers such as Cornel West. On his debut album, “Food & Liquor,” Lupe aimed to tell his own story. However, on a few songs, he used his signature literary methods; taking on the perspective of others, reversing the roles of a stereotype, and personifying a grand concept. On the song, “He Say She Say,” Lupe tells a story about a missing dad from the perspective of both a mother and a son. The verse talks about the child’s downward spiraling life ever since the father had left, in and out of school. What is interesting is that the words in the first and second verses are exactly the same, but with mere changes in pronouns and voice inflections, one verse is more motherly and understanding and one is more childish and aggressive. Additionally, Lupe decides not to include a verse from the viewpoint of the missing father, as his absence from the song symbolizes his absence from the kid’s life, which turns out to be more effective than some type of answering argument would have been. The boy with the missing father in this song ends up growing up to become Michael Young History, the hustler turned zombie that is so central in Lupe’s next album.
On another song on the first album, “American Terrorist,” Lupe spends three verses overturning the stereotype and convincing us that America is the real terrorist threat, at a time period when terrorist fear was very high. The bridge says, “Don't give the black man food, give red man liquor. Red man fool, black man nigga. Give yellow man tool, make him railroad builder. Also give him pan, make him pull gold from river. Give black man crack, Glocks and things. Give red man craps, slot machines.” In the verses prior to the bridge, Lupe meticulously reverses each stereotype of different races that are branded as terrorists to be about Americans. However, in the bridge, Lupe takes on the perspective of “white America,” using a sarcastic tone to create a satire of American history in dealing with minority races. The music unfolding underneath Lupe’s voice furthers this mocking tone, combining the instruments of so many cultures to the point where it becomes a ridiculous melting pot.
In a bonus song, “Make Sure,” Lupe tells a story of two kids who get involved in the pimp game, and culminates the song with a verse that compares politics to pimping. He starts the verse with concrete detail, saying that “school is a mack,” meaning it manipulates kids the same way pimps manipulate hoes, and that “air force one is a ‘lac,” comparing the importance of a military plane to that of a Cadillac in the hood. Next, Lupe gets more conceptual and metaphorical, saying, “Yes indeed, Democracy is a flirt in a miniskirt trying to give a handjob to the desert, till it squirt Texas Tea. And give a condom to Congress to stretch the siege.” Lupe effortlessly fuses sexual connotations with American imperialism, revealing how America flirts with the desert in order to get oil. However, Congress ‘stays protected,’ and Lupe uses the image of a condom to symbolize how America stretches its field of influence.
Lupe Fiasco’s second album is called “The Cool.” The album is loosely based around a concept, where Lupe develops three characters: the Cool, the Game, and the Streets. The Cool, also known as Micheal Young History (my cool young history), is a hustler who died and came back as a zombie. The Streets is all the characteristics of street life personified into a seductive woman. The Game is the street’s husband, and is a human representation of the “drug game” that is so prevalent in street culture. In one of Lupe’s introductory songs, “Real Recognize Real,” he uses urban imagery to take the large concepts of the streets and the game and give them concrete human features.
Lupe imagines the streets as a promiscuous prostitute who tries to seduce gangsters into her lifestyle. He introduces her with this memorable phrase, “They say the streets is a demon in a dress, with dollar signs in her eyes and semen on her breath.” From this one line, we already know she has evil intentions, her ambitions are money, and she spends her time whoring herself to men of the streets. Next, Lupe reveals more about her trickery, as her “Slain boyfriend’s names is tattooed on her titties; sprinkling greed, ignorance, and envy inside of a philly.” She sneakily seduces her men into trusting her by tattooing their name on her breasts, but unlike the tattoos, her loyalty is not permanent, as her men soon die to the risks of street life. A “philly” is a colloquialism for a blunt wrap, and Lupe portrays the streets as smoking and inhaling the three sins. He closes his first verse saying, “Flirt with her flaws till you run up in her raw.” Lupe continues the sexual metaphor, comparing the act of having sex without a condom with hustling on the streets without a gun. If you dip your feet in the dangerous waters of street life without protection, you will die.
Lupe takes some of the pillars of the drug-dealing life and uses them to build a character who he calls “The Game.” Fiasco fuses stereotypes, brands, sayings and myths from the ghetto and describes what he thinks is the descent of when street life and drug dealing becomes a game. “The belly of the beast,” a phrase that usually describes the most treacherous part of a city, becomes The Game’s physical belly. A stereotype of street gangsters is that they have gold teeth, but in this case, The Game has “hollow tip” bullets as his molars. His ears are “wire taps,” portraying how he is always listening to the city, and his feet are “Nike Airs,” a pair of shoes which stereotypically causes a lot of violence in the inner city. He has a “system for a heart and rap music for beats,” playing on the double meaning of musical beats and heartbeats to show the influence that rap music has on the center of street culture. The Game has “heroin for a son”
and “crack pipes for lungs,” revealing how the necessity for drugs are a product of the game and not the other way around. Next, Lupe defines the vicious cycle of street-life when he says, “All the liquor that's poured out, goes right in his mouth.” A common tradition in the hood is that people pour out alcohol to commemorate a friend who was killed. The Game, whose treachery is most likely responsible for the killings in the hood, also gets rejuvenated by the liquor that is poured in their memory, displaying the vicious cycle that exists in the ghetto.
Although The Cool was a concept album, some songs strayed from the dark and fictional central concept, and returned to Lupe’s classic modes of expression. His song “Intruder Alert” is a prime example of how Lupe takes a theme and zooms in through three different lenses to create a thorough exploration of the concept. Examining intrusion, Lupe uses the first verse to describe a girl who had been raped, and is having trouble breaking down her wall of mistrust and letting any other man into her life. In the next verse, Lupe talks about the tumultuous life of a drug addict, who is trapped in a “hell of his own construction” because of the drugs he allows to intrude into his body. In the final verse, Lupe narrates the story of a family emigrating from a third world country to the “land of the free,” and then entering American society feeling like total intruders. All together, these verses provide three different storytelling interpretations of intrusion, and leave the listener with empathy for the characters and a fuller view of what it feels like to be an intruder or be intruded upon.
In another song, “Gotta Eat,” Lupe uses the voice of the toughest gangster in the hood, but takes the perspective of a cheeseburger. The overall message is that cheeseburgers are the most dangerous killers in the ghetto, since so many fast food restaurants that cause heart disease are located in low-income neighborhoods. Packed to the brim with metaphors and double entendres, Lupe begins the verse with, “Hey, he had a whole lotta cheese, plus he was a mac had a whole lotta seeds.” Cheese is a double meaning for money, and “mac,” meaning pimp and also doubling as the famous Big Mac, has a whole lot of seeds on its buns, seeds as in children; children are the result of all the unprotected sex. Lupe also delves into other fast foods, saying that he was “fishing for the chips” (hustling for money), and that he was a “law shaker.” Lupe manages to anthropomorphize the burger – he has emotions, human motives and ambitions. Lupe uses vivid metaphors such as, “He went to Church on a Sunday and saw a deep friar” (either a fast food chef or a profound priest). He ends the verse with the burger/gangster’s demise, as he tries to turn himself into the police but “Bacon wouldn't take him, half the pigs on the payroll” (the pigs is slang for the cops). As Lupe ends his verse, he taunts the listeners, “Catch up” (ketchup), knowing how much analysis it will take to break down his complex lyrics. His arrogance is deserved though, as he knows he is the only rapper who can effortlessly step into the buns of a cheeseburger and still deliver a rhyming and captivating plot.
Although Lupe was inspired by everyone in his environment, from the authors of the books he read, to his taekwando instructors, his main hip-hop influence was “Nas.” Nas, previously known as “Nasty Nas,” released his first album in 1994. Entitled, Illmatic, it is commonly regarded as a classic album (some even deem it the best hip-hop album of all time). Nas was 17 when he created his first album, and a young Lupe Fiasco was sparked by Nas’ youthful wisdom. Even the second half of Lupe’s stage name is an ode to Nas, taking it from an early Nas song called “Firm Fiasco.” Much like Lupe, Nas possessed a nifty gift for balancing his pointed and descriptive lyrics about street violence with a subtle consciousness about it. Nas was known as the sharpest lyricist with the largest vocabulary, while still maintaining his image as a tough talking gangsta’ rapper. Nas was also a street documentarian, reporting on the ghetto in such vibrant poetic detail that the picture he painted with his words was visible to the eye. On Nas’ second album, It was Written, he honed in on writing violent street dramas, but for every “Suspect” or “Shootouts,” there was a “Black Girl Lost,” a thoughtful storytelling song about the descent of a black girl into her relationship with men and the media. Although all of these songs had a strong effect on Lupe and his writing style, there was one song in particular that changed Lupe’s frame of reference. On the same album, Nas wrote a song called, “I Gave You Power,” which was a theatrical story about street life, but this time, from the perspective of a gun. Nas creates a multi-layered character for the gun who is both tough-talking and very emotionally sensitive. With descriptions such as, “My abdomen is the clip, the barrel is my ****, uncircumcised. Pull my skin back and **** me, I bust off when they unlock me,” it is clear to see where Lupe drew his fascination with personification. In the final scene of the verse, the gun gives up hope, and quits in protest of the ugly and violent world that surrounds him. As his owner pulls the trigger, the gun doesn’t respond, and his owner is shot down. It is exactly this bleak imagery, combined with a skill for giving life and complex emotions to inanimate objects that Nas passed down to Lupe.
Lupe Fiasco’s impact on rap music has been a subtle, but profound one. The term “post-Kanye hip-hop” is used to describe the years after Kanye West dropped his debut album College Dropout and made it cool for rappers to show their emotions and be honest. However, a couple years later, Lupe traveled down that path but opened up his own sub-category. Some call it “nerd-rap,” and some brand it as “conscious/intelligent hip-hop,” but in any case, Lupe’s proud use of a large vocabulary and comic-book influenced imagery opened the door for other rappers to be more quirky and smart. Instead of rappers bragging about how rich they were, you could start to find more rappers boasting about their intelligence or trying to rap the cleverest triple entendre. Lupe founded a group of rappers called The All City Chess Club, comprised of rappers who have found success based on the merit of their lyrics and the eccentricity of their personalities. As these rappers came together to remix one of Lupe’s songs, it was clear that Lupe was the father figure of the group and that they all owed a tiny smidgen of their success to Lupe’s outspoken character. More recently, in 2011, Lupe released his third studio album, Lasers. Lupe had been making the album since 2008, but label pressures, combined with fan protests, and finally more label pressures, slowed down its release. When it was ultimately released, it was an ugly affair, with critics despising the album, true Lupe fans claiming he “sold out,” and the mainstream rap audience making it one of the highest selling rap albums of the year. Atlantic Records, Lupe’s record label, had demanded that he make an album with popular appeal, and the result was an unwillingly sad album revealing all the problems with the music industry today. The music was muddled with sugary synthesizers, draining all the soul from Lupe’s old style, and although the lyrics were still positive and politically conscious, they were simple and un-conceptual. All of Lupe’s genius metaphors, personification, and perspective switching were replaced with very general statements and corny choruses (excluding the one tolerable track where Lupe imagines a world where slavery never happened). The conscious material was still there, but it was delivered lazily, without the literary methods that made Lupe such an original and captivating wordsmith. The album showed all the signs of an artist who had given up and been exploited by a corrupt industry. Luckily, Lupe is back to work on Food & Liquor 2, which is supposed to take Lupe back to his roots and re-capture the flame that had hip-hop fans calling Lupe their savior.
As a hip-hop artist and poet myself, Lupe’s work has had a huge impact on my writing style. When I first began rapping in 9th grade, I was turned on by Lupe’s fearless approach to political issues, and wanted to make songs that confronted some of the things I felt were wrong with the world. However, as a freshman, I really didn’t know too much about the world, and my raps often came off as preachy and corny. It was then when I really focused on Lupe’s style, and discovered that the devices he used to portray these issues, through clever multiple entendres and character development, were what made the lyrics so attention-grabbing. Around sophomore year, I decided it would be best to make my songs about topics I understood, using Lupe’s perspective jumping strategy. For instance, I made a song about religion that considered the point of view of both an orthodox rabbi and a southern pastor. Inspired by Lupe’s ability to flesh out a metaphor, I wrote a verse that compared writing songs to a prison cell, packing it in with countless double meanings (“bars,” “sentences,” “the pen”). By the time I released my debut album, Real Talk, this year, I had developed enough of my own style that I wasn’t clinging on to Lupe anymore, but you could still trace hints of my writing to some of Lupe’s early music. For example, in the first single I rap from the perspective of a good day and a bad day, and in another song called A Dream Deferred, I narrate the stories of three people who have faced broken dreams (a white rapper embarrassed by his race, a Jewish boy whose girlfriend is deported to Mexico, and a Hungarian lawyer immigrant who has to resort to box cutting). I still borrow from Lupe’s intricate wordplay, spending hours writing verses that only begin with the Latin roots, “Pro & Con,” and creating a song in which I secretly count from 1-21. Whether Lupe is allowing my mind to be stimulated by an issue from multiple perspectives, or he is making my mouth gape at a quadruple meaning in one line, it his ability to make poetry out of rap that keeps pushing me to be a better artist.
remember that poetry youth speak place where you and that kid shared facebook? That kid later told you he was a huge lupe fan and most of the messages he sent where about lupe updates.?... Remember the last message you sent to him was about that lupe report u where working on? Do you remember you asking him if he liked Kendrick Lamar ect?