The return of Lupe Fiasco

November 26th, 2007

Welcome to my new monthly column, coming straight from the Rapnews headquarters. Here I'll be reviewing some of the freshest new rap releases, as they come through the post.

This week I was pleasantly surprised to see that the lovely folks over at Atlantic records hadn't forgotten about me and had in fact sent over a couple of preview tracks from Lupe Fiasco's long awaited sophomore album, "Lupe Fiasco's The Cool", a follow up to last year's debut "Lupe Fiasco's Food and Liquor".

This album had qualities reminiscent to the styles of Common and Kanye, and clearly went on to shape forthcoming releases by other artists, such as Kidz in the Hall's debut "School Was My Hustle", released early in 2007.

This goes to show the impact that Lupe, real name Wasalu Muhammed Jaco, has had already. Described as "the observer, a thinking man brave enough to dictate the acute thoughts that his peers ignore", Lupe has gone a long way during his short time in the notoriously cut-throat rap industry, succeeding where many have failed, "keeping it real" where many have sold out.

If we skip way back to 2004, Lupe Fiasco was first introduced over on these shores by the one and only A&R Supremo Suzy Zenouzi of Mojona Ltd.

Suzy has a strong US-UK connection and is known within the industry for providing a never-ending supply of hot US music.

She has previously helped to launch and shape the careers of people like Memphis Bleek, as well as nurture crazy talent such as mix tape wizard DJ Green Lantern and Nas' DJ L.E.S.

Suzy is, in short, the person artists go to when they need helpful and practical advice on launching themselves here in the UK.

Having sought Ms. Zenouzi's expertise, the still only 23-year old Lupe then went on to put the finishing touches to his much anticipated debut "Food and Liquor", which he planned to release on his self-styled independent label, First and Fifthteenth, sometime towards the end half of 2006.

But before he got the chance, material from the album exec-produced by Jay Z was inexplicably leaked online, and those who rushed to get a sneak preview were met with an unfinished and therefore lacking product.

Being pleased with myself that I'd obtained his latest work in the legit way, via his faithful press people over at Atlantic, I was eager to hear whether it would live up to the instant grower that was "Food and Liquor".

This previous album spurned catchy anthems such as the poignant ode to fatherless sons "He Say, She Say", as well as pleasant listening material such as "Hurt Me Soul", "Sunshine" and skater's favourite "Kick Push".

It also featured, lest we forget, collaborations with major artists including Jay Z, Jill Scott and Pharrell Williams.

In this taster to his sophomore release, often the make or break, the Chi-town native shows no signs of slowing down when it comes to clever word play and fluid rhyme constructions.

In his laid back, lazy drawl, Lupe paints a mocking picture of the music industry, exposing the shiny façade for what it really is.

What emerges is that Lupe seems to exemplify a trend towards intelligent rap.

And I'm all for it.

I mean, if you have the luck of being able to express yourself via an art form so glorified by young people today, then why not do it in an articulate and listener-friendly way?

Forget all the gun-toting, macho lyrics of yesteryear. Today it's all about spitting conscious word play.

But in realistic terms of course, it doesn't always work like that in this game.

No. It's a long hard slog, as is seen in the plights of dozens of talented young lyricists, all desperate to gain a platform and be heard via this powerful medium known as hip hop.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

Often the most talented lyricists and artists remain underground, perhaps due to a lack of access to funds and resources, combined with life experiences and a multitude of other potential factors.

You never know what life may throw at you, and unless you have a 50 Cent-like budget, chances are, it's not going to be an easy slog.

But while young Lupe may now have the cash flow to rival some of rap's biggest names, this doesn't stop him from continuing to drop conscious lyrical science.

What Lupe may lack in terms of clarity on the mic- compared to someone like the UK's Frantic Frank or Manic Madnick of The Kraftsmen- he more than makes up for in terms of production.

This is of course, is in no small part thanks to his major record deal, as well as having the fortune of being introduced to the world via a chart friendly hip-pop song by Kanye West, no less.

Yes, ever since his now infamous verse on "Touch the Sky", Lupe's career has taken off.

Listening to these latest tracks made me think of another great lyricist, Hackney's finest, Mr. K-lash.

I can quite imagine Lupe "digging" a fair few tracks from the Black Russian's 2007 "Tussle" album. In fact, songs like "Question" and "Refuse to Die" would be sure to have Lu nodding his head and swaying along.

No longer would he need to settle for consumer friendly but ultimately pointless collaborations with the hugely likeable but largely overrated Sway.

If you cast your mind back, he duetted with the popular UK rapper at his breakthrough London gig last year, and was rumoured to have recorded a track with him as well.

I would really like to see a Lupe/Klashnekoff collab.

It would be a much-appreciated step forward from previous Record Industry efforts at re-appropriating UK Hip Hop to meet supposed U.S audience tastes.

Gimmicks such as Lady Sov popping up on a Missy Elliott remix are thinly veiled, and the days of U.K rappers trying to pull off a Slick Rick and spit American sh*t are firmly in the past.

On the contrary, now we have credible artists spitting interesting and uniquely delivered subject matter.

And K-Lash's banging collab with Kool G Rap firmly illustrates that the merging of UK/US can be done well.

(Although I'll let you in on a secret. When I last spoke to the man otherwise known as Darren (K-Lash) he confided his suspicions that the New York veteran had given him a "throwaway verse", and that he wasn't actually that keen on Mr. Rap's costly efforts).

In fact, while we're on the subject of UK Hip Hop, the wordsmith that is Brixton's finest Manic Madnick (of Kraftsmen fame) has finally dropped his much-anticipated solo project, "Straight from the Heart".

Although this has been available on road since April 2007, it is only as we reach the end of the year that it is finally seeing the light of day beyond South London's dirty dungeons, if I can reference his work.

To no surprise it is packed with some absolute bangers, best of which include the title track, then track 4, as well as the defiant "I Don't Give A Fuck".

To avoid this becoming a review within a review, I'll get back onto the subject that I'm actually meant to be reviewing here, and save Manic for next month's column. Watch this space.

Last year I got to interview Lupe, thanks to Big Smoke Magazine. I was really nervous before going to meet him at his posh central London hotel.

I was met with a tired figure, forced out of bed after a night of supporting Jay Z at Wembley, followed by dinner at Cipriani's with none other than NAS, Kelis, Jay Z and Beyonce!

Any other person confronted by such an awe-inspiring line up would surely be just a little star-struck, but not our Lupe.

Instead he mentioned it as if it was nothing and proceeded to share his views on a variety of issues.

Lyrics on new single "Superstar" show that he has remained level headed in an industry designed to corrupt, showing that maybe, just maybe, he has what it takes to escape it's often evil influences.

"A fresh cool young Lu/
Tryna' cash his microphone/check 2,1,2/
Wanna believe my own hype/
But it's too untrue…"

What was clear from meeting him was that this is a guy in no way in it for the fame, women or money, someone who is almost over-conscious of his potentially career-threatening persona as a "nerd", and somehow scared of his ability and willingness to deliver heartfelt, "conscious" lyrical content, as he reveals within the lines of "Superstar".

The only thing that lets the song down is the super-annoying chorus. It almost makes you wish they'd hurry up and invent ipods advanced enough to let you automatically cut the crap out of a track you're listening to there and then, while you're on your way home from work, on the bus or tube!

But judging by what I know of Lupe, I'm sure that this poptastic '80s-inspired whiny excuse for a chorus was merely a clever marketing tool devised by the record company A&Rs to make the tune more commercially viable to the masses, and not a true reflection of Soundtrakk's production skills or personal taste.

Unfortunately though, this does somewhat dilute it's true sentiments, and can be seen as a bit hypocritical considering that on Lupe's other new track, called "Dumb Down", he criticises popular culture taste makers and/or white America for encouraging consumers to enjoy shallow music.

A devote Muslim, Lupe is known to shun the excesses of the industry, avoiding all the usual London nightspots when he's in town, unlike fellow party goers such as his promising rivals Kidz in the Hall, who partied it up at Yoyo's in Notting Hill after their gig there earlier this year.

Lupe told me during our interview; "The music business is so dodgy. It's crazy what people are capable of to get ahead. Sometimes I can't believe the levels people fall to in the pursuit of success, and to know that that's how it works. You get people who are like, 'I'm gonna sleep with him, to get next to someone else, so that I can get that deal', or 'I'm gonna mess up his project, lie to him, then I'm gonna come in and save it, so it looks like I'm the hero'. There's a lot of calculated mischief going on".

The young MC who sat before me, far from embodying the "Mr. Cool-Jay Z and Kanye-associating" megastar I expected, turned out to be remarkably shy and down to earth…

…to the point where I was starting to feel bad about pestering him with life-and-death / "trying-to-make-him-say-something-profound" style questions, especially given the circumstances.

I mean, 9 am on a Thursday morning is not the ideal time to catch anyone, and believe me, I'm not usually in "up and about and ready to interview superstar rappers" mode at that kind of hour.

It was clear he was feeling the effects of last night's monumental night.

This may in some way go to explain the reason he ordered chicken for breakfast, something which I found mildly amusing, and somehow typical of crazy Americans!

For a second I considered suggesting a fry up as an alternative, but bit my tongue as I realised how inappropriate that might be, coming from a music journalist, here on a professional visit.

And so I let him go ahead and order the chicken, which I later came to view as a reflection of his tiredness more than a reflection of his sanity.

Well I seem to find I have a tendency to ramble on.

So pick up the latest copy of Big Smoke Magazine if you want to read more; the Wiley cover. Available at Virgin Megastore if you're in town, or failing that, down your local independent record shop. Or at www.bigsmokelive.com

As for Lupe's follow up album, which has already been described by industry insiders as a "largely conceptual tour-de-force", well let's hope it lives up to what was one of last year's stand-out rap debuts. Judging by these taster tracks, 2008 is sure to be a good year for Lupe. A very good year.

"Lupe Fiasco's The Cool" is out on January 28th, whilst the single "Superstar" drops on January 21st on Atlantic.

To read some of Lupe's thoughts on issues like war, Islam and sex before marriage, check out my feature on him in the current edition of Big Smoke Magazine, available now at Virgin Megastores, all good independent record shops, and via www.bigsmokelive.com

And if you're really bored, you can dig out my concert review of his first ever proper UK gig, which took place in October 2006, and can be accessed here: www.thesituation.co.uk, in the reviews section.

DON'T FORGET TO CHECK OUT MY NEXT COLUMN, THE SAME TIME NEXT MONTH!

Until then, take care,

Anna x



7 Responses to “The return of Lupe Fiasco”

  1. Anna Nathanson Says:

    apparently this isn’t letting anyone ‘drop a thought’ so thought I’d try it myself and see if it works

  2. Danielle Says:

    Wicked column! One of the greatest writers in the game! Houdini is back! xXx

  3. Soneni Says:

    Wow chick!

    This piece is almost as long as some of mine lol…

    I like how you gave Lupe’s background, as surprisingly there are still quite
    a few people who don’t have a clue about this talent.

    And look at you.. showing off all your hip-hop knowledge with all your
    name-checkin haha… just playin. I’m gonna look up Manic Madnick, stil! Not
    sure I’ve heard of him.

    A Lupe/Klashnekoff collab wud b interestin… they’re two rappers who
    promote thinking, creating and EDUTAINING beyond the mediocre.

    Believe it or not, I really like the superstar chorus… sounds like Adam
    from Maroon 5, or even a group called Starsailor back in the day (showin my
    eclectic roots haha).

    Anyhoo, HEAVY to delve into your hip-hop commentaries after so long Keep it up. Xxx

  4. Paine Says:

    Great great job Anna… does this work NOW?

  5. Big Dutty Stinkin Says:

    Review was ok….didn’t really tell me much about the new album tho…
    I disagree with you that sway is overrated tho, don’t let the media hype cloud your assessment of the artist, he’s quite clever and in my opinion a bit more original than your average rapper.

    Keep up the works!!

  6. Victory Says:

    very informative and entertaining piece Anna. I CANNOT wait for The Cool’s release. Free copies are appriciated :). The snippets sound ill (props 2 HipHopDX).

  7. Anna Nathanson Says:

    Big Dutty Stinkin, thanx for your comment, much appreciated. The reason there’s not much in the review about the album is because all I got at this stage was those 2 tracks and that’s what I have to go on in terms of the album…as soon as I get the complete product I will hit you back with a fuller picture of it.
    Cheers
    A x