Talking trash

The loopy world of Lupe Fiasco
By BEN WESTHOFF  |  January 14, 2008

VIDEO: Lupe Fiasco, "Superstar" (from Lupe Fiasco's The Cool)

For a smart guy, Lupe Fiasco has an unusual propensity for spewing verbal garbage. It’s almost as if the Chicago MC were trying to piss people off. Take his thoughts on democracy: he recently told the hip-hop Web site that he’s not planning to vote in this year’s presidential election because “I don’t believe in voting on that level.” He nonetheless endorsed Hilary Clinton — a bit of a surprise given that Barack Obama comes from his home state of Illinois. And here’s what he said: “Obama doesn’t really impress me like that. It’s not a shot at him but some of his agendas, the bombing of Iran and all that stuff.”

That would certainly come as news to Obama, who isn’t planning to bomb Iran any more than Clinton is. But this wasn’t the first time in recent months that Fiasco has spouted balderdash. While performing at VH1’s “Hip-Hop Honors” awards in October, he forgot the words to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation,” and shortly thereafter he was quoted in Vibe playing down the group’s legacy — this despite his obvious debt to the New York conscious-rap trailblazers. He then threatened to sue the magazine for defamation of character. In the end he relented, and the whole mess was tagged “Fiascogate.”

Nonetheless, even offended hip-hop purists were likely upset to hear him say that he plans to stop recording after his next album, whose tentative title is LupEND. (He cited music industry BS as his motivation to get out.) That’s because the 25-year-old rapper’s skills at the mic are much smoother than his skills in interview. His 2006 debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor (Atlantic), embraced an indie ethos, with its raps about skateboarding, urban empowerment, and Islam, but sold at a mainstream level. Fiasco, whose real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, also managed to snag three Grammy nominations for the disc.

Like Food & Liquor, Lupe’s new sophomore disc, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool (Atlantic), is way too long. It leads off with an inane spoken-word monologue from Lupe’s sister, Iesha Jaco, and most of the last half of the disc is inessential. But when it shines, it does so in ways that upstage Food & Liquor, its delightful radio bangers outfitted with big hooks. Fiasco’s light-speed rap skills are on display on “Go Go Gadget Flow,” and the graduation-ceremony-worthy “Superstar” features folksinger Matthew Santos (who’s signed to Lupe’s 1st & 15th label) on a grand chorus of “If you are what you say you are/A superstar/Then have no fear.” The mid-tempo “Paris, Tokyo,” a tale of love and globetrotting, has a groove that equals the best work from, yes, A Tribe Called Quest. Even “Hi-Definition,” with its gratuitous guest appearance from Snoop Dogg, bests most current hip-pop with clever Fiasco punch lines like “Police tap my phone/Got my songs on speaker.”

In explaining his plan to retire from recording last month, Fiasco suggested that he was running out of subjects to rap about. It’s a preposterous notion when you consider how much terrain The Cool covers — the disc even includes a track, “Gotta Eat,” that addresses the life and times of a cheeseburger. And an elaborate and complex ’hood narrative, featuring characters called “The Cool,” “The Streets,” and “The Game,” runs throughout the album.

Why does this hip-hop luminary keep sticking his foot in his mouth? Perhaps Fiasco is just pretending to be an ill-informed and ungrateful MC. Maybe what appear to be random, offensive asides are in fact well-considered quotes calculated to get people talking about politics and issues that concern the black community. Either way, it seems to be working.

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