Classic Material - “L Train of Thought” – Lupe Fiasco – Summer ’06 – ink by ToneSwep
THE INDUSTRY LEAKED A FORECAST OF A TOPICAL TORNADO WARNING OF THE LYRICAL VARIETY. AS A RESULT, THE CONCEPTUAL CYCLONE BREWING OVER AT ATLANTIC GOT KICK-PUSHED BACK. SO BE IT. THE LUPE FIASCO BRAINSTORM NOW CONTINUES WITH UNDIMINISHED VIGOR. THE EN-LIGHTNING VOICE OF CHI-CITY CIRCLES BACK WITH AN EASTPACK FULL OF SOUL FOOD AND CEREBRAL LIQUOR. PREPARE FOR A NEW SPIN ON THE CITY OF WIND. AND KEEP A FLOOD WATCH. IT’S COMING.
“He wasn’t the greatest rapper, but he was a great individual. One of those people who came around and had the same ability to relate to and move the people with a message like a Martin Luther King. He had an aura of positivity overall, even at times in his negative actions. But he was human, and though he had extraordinary abilities, he was laced with contradictions and hypocrisy. But so am I. What person walking this earth isn’t?” == Lupe on Tupac
It is an unreasonably humid early afternoon in the bible belts top-notch town. One-wayffic gridlocks the highbrow eye sights and halogen headlights of drivers and their vehicles; a dreadlocked unification so intense that all vantage points agree to stare until they share a synonymous outlook. Street side, vendors move everything from newspapers to mixtapes, potato chips to pigs’ feet. The buyers? Briefcase-toting pinstripes foot shuttling between the Bellsouth building and Bank of America’s southeastern headquarters. If you watch the block in black and white, it reads like an ill-planned post-industrial dive come alive; a breathing Sunday classified section where everyone is eagerly awaiting the next opening so they can hastily apply to get on, get over, move on, or move up: All in hasty pursuit of the shortsighted life goal to get by.
Executive decision-makers dine and decide as panhandling homeless folk keep their eyes on the surprise. Together they represent the juxtaposed aftermath of a city still reeling from damage done B.C. (as in before Campbell), and also one that continues to mourn A.C. (as in after Coretta). Citizen neglect and urban sprawl simplified by lunch hour bumper rubbing and sold out courtside stumblebum seating. Clouds knuckle-up like confused fists, hang on the skies back like old burdens on the new south, uncertain whether they wish to reign, or rain, or simply pull the reins just a moment longer prior to reasserting their dominance over the people.
Only those in possession of a mind as open as the eyes are watching for the signs
The brick-and-mortar gorilla in the midst of this neo-jungle is the Biltmore Hotel, a posh bar and lounge luxury kickback at the center of Atlanta’s upscale Midtown district. Atlantic Records, home to Lupe Fiasco and his 1st & 15th collective, is hosting a listening session slash business mixer for the crowned prince of cognizant content and lyrical make-sense. The magical hip hop genie coasting across continents on a skateboard as if it were some magical carpet, as if his subject matter only addresses subjects that matter, thus making Lupe less style and delivery and more aura and epiphany. This ain’t hip hop, my nga. This is hip hope.
“Chi-Town is a very socially active and aware place,” Lupe says, taking a moment to discuss the various dichotomies the city that raised him and influenced him to raise the bar warehouses. "There’s a certain mood there, a certain je ne sais quoi I’d say. You had the ’68 democratic convention and a lot of Mississippi natives transplanted up highway 57, but then the gang situation is crazy. Blues and gospel are hot too, but then they’re tearing down the projects,” he continues. “Black history and black life lives in Chicago.”
Upon entering the hotel lobby on the floor of Fiasco’s invite-only jump off, I am greeted by a polite Warner brother, a polished Bad boy, a few pirates of the Atlantic an oversized hick from the sticks who appears to be hotel insecurity, scattered cliques of would-be odalisque model chicks, and a table of fresh sandwiches and cold sodas. I join the forty-or-so attendees present to witness the Westside Chicago native punch lines and stack stanzas like a middleweight-hustling-poet. Every word hitting hard, advancing him forward, and heated like you’d have to hear to see, or at the very least see to believe. Sea what I’m sailing?
Though Fiasco is easily the league favorite for hip hop rookie of the year, raps laureate is not lying around taking his many gifts for granted. He is making moves to maximize the opportunities he creates by performing and appearing as often as recording and networking. Just days before our interview Lupe performed three shows in one day in a South Carolina city, just to make his presence felt in the small market. If our united mind state of ghetto-hustler, stay-on-my-grizzle war chanting were to apply as strict a practice to that street preaching as Fiasco has to career advancement and, far more purposefully, an ever evolving self-actualization, the hood wouldn’t be so desolate. Unfortunately, our urban trenches resemble the black holed limited space odyssey portrayed in the penitentiaries of HBO’s Oz series. And Lupe is off to see the Wizard.
“Lupe is Martin-Tchaikovsky-X,” he remarks, fusing a glimpse of the diverse political and musical experiences which influence the Fiasco. “A kid who came up in one of the most consistently violent places in the nation, yet still balanced out with an immense amount of culture. Martial arts, spiritualism, music, education,” he continues, insisting on referring to himself in third person like he’s riding shotgun while driving – on the way to pick himself up from the airport, after stepping off a plane he piloted. “Lupe. He’s an enigma.”
Food & Liquor is the most anticipated album of 2006, and not just in hip hop. September 19th will symbolize the date when a daringly verbose urban linguist launched a crossover project without crossing anyone in the projects. Lupe speaks in Madison Terrace tongue while tying in Cornel West-like socio-cultural analysis. What is most important and refreshing, and empowering, and hopeful is that unlike accomplished microphone maestros tagged with the conscious brand, such as a Common Sense or Mos Def, Lupe sidesteps that pigeonhole. His free spirit can touch the skies and fly free. “I try to stay humble as possible and remain under the radar because for me what’s important is longevity, but also the ability to reinvent yourself,” he explains. “Why is Madonna’s career still alive today? Because she is capable of evolving,” he continues. “I wanted to set up a platform for my album. Not pigeonhole myself as a gangsta or a conscious emcee or whatever,” he pauses to assist a 1st teamer. “That’s dangerous.”
The Fiasco debut features Philly songstress Jill Scott, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, and production from Kanye West, Needlz and The Neptunes. If you have yet to witness a sample of the emcees topical versatility and impressive storytelling ability you need only Google the guy and you will soon see more links than a Jacob chain. He is all world. All over the place.
The varying theories as to what components comprise the makeup of a doped emcee are highly arguable and not often agreed upon. But in a nutshell, you have your battle rappers, your concept technicians, your organized crime kingpins, your gangsta rappers, your storytellers, your conscious cats, your pimpin ass hustlers, your tare the club up ruffians, and then there is Too $hort, whose legacy is constructed on the foundation of a five letter word and supported by the philosophy of capitalizing off that bitch and her insecurities.
The great ones, however, develop a manifold program consisting of a command of each of these variable strata, thereby appearing before sold out crowds only after the FYE shelves have been emptied. They are whole. Complete. You can hear it in their voices, read it between their lines, see it behind their scenes. Right now, at 25-years-old, it can be argued that Lupe is on a different path. He isn’t here to match that narrow definition, but extend it. “I think we live in pop culture, as in popular,” he enunciates. “And I think that comes from the rule of democracy that we live in. Make everyone a cog, a consuming part that perpetuates the machine. America is a secular society and spirituality has no place, but pop culture does,” Lupe discusses. “There’s nothing spiritual about shopping or dressing fly. But this culture is set up to make you an obedient machine that bows to the system.”
Fiasco, like his executive producer Jay Z, is a business man. And much like Jay, Lu is also focused on making sound business decisions. Smart transcontinental actions that are one day profitable and lead to any continent auto-teller transactions. That’s cash flow deriving from working capital after a return on investment for all you business majors following at home.
Is Lupe a capitalist? Not likely, though he fully understands the power and necessity of the dough. He just ain’t in love with it. “Money itself is not evil. The love of money is the root of all evil. Your intentions for it and your purpose for pursuing it.” Lupe states informatively. “I love music. I love business. I hate the music business. This is a very deliberate game and there are a lot of politics in this game,” he reveals. “Don’t get it confused.”
If he weren’t in the rap game, Lupe wouldn’t be perfecting his wicked jump shot, moving product to his people or sticking up big-chain-wearing-ass-mufuckas on the green line. The patient thinking, whippet quick speaking Chicagoan would be in pursuit of a career in writing or science. With his scientific approach to lyrical composition, in many ways, he is doing just that. “I don’t want to be remembered as someone who led people astray. I’m not here to raise anyone’s kids either,” he says humorously. “I want my kid, my mother to be proud of the music that I make. Hopefully they’ll say ‘he led a righteous life and had a positive impact on the game’. That would be my hope.”
Classic Material - “L Train of Thought” – Lupe Fiasco – Summer ’06 – ink by ToneSwep