upé Fiasco is a marked man… and he doesn’t even know it. Food & Liquor was highly anticipated by fan, industry, and the Hip-Hop culture alike. After leaking publicly twice, Lupé, has had his share of ups and downs. Everyone is giving his debut LP classic status, but will there be a backlash soon approaching.
Critics complain that he may be “too smart” for Hip-Hop’s young audience, and journalists and bloggers alike persist that he may not be “black” enough. Or even worse… that he’s raping the fan’s need of a new sound because the current trend of gun-talk/drug slinging is overabundant.
HHDX is proud to have an exclusive interview with the Chicagoan MC as he battles the critics, discusses why Hip-Hop is industry rule #4080, and his thoughts about the album leaking early. This is a must read interview!
HHDX: You are big on sneakers, Kung Fu skateboards, action figures, video games and the rest. Some of these things one may not consider “not black.” How does it make you feel when you look out into black culture and see us not embracing many of the things we created?
Lupé: In the video, there was a Mr. T action figure. Isn’t Michael Jordan black? He sells the most sneakers in the world. There so many stereotypical things out there. There are a mass of people in this world that don’t produce anything. There are masses that are here that just consume. If you want to just break it down to a philosophical point, the whole thing is just ridiculous. I know black people who are just collectors of things. There are more things out there than just CDs and DVDs. That’s why I think that there aren’t any libraries in people’s house. And when I talk about “libraries,” I’m not talking about just books. I’m talking about collections of documents, vinyl records, anything interesting. Instead there are a bunch of XXL magazines on the coffee table. I think that’s what kills us because we’re so limiting with ourselves that we become, as adults, close-minded. That’s why you have kids from the hood who end up not being able to do nothing other than being a consumer. That’s a terrible situation.
That’s interesting that people are concerned that I, Lupé Fiasco, involve myself with things considered “not black”. It’s crazy. It just shows the ignorance of people. Do they know who Aaron McGruder is and how long the “Boondocks” have been around? The only record that people got was Kick, Push. The industry then took my image and made it into this white suburbanite character whom only cares about things of that nature. They don’t know that I touch other stuff. A radio DJ called me and told me that a woman called in crying because of "He Say, She Say."
HHDX: So, knowing that… how do you feel about Hip-Hop and the business of the culture today?
Lupé: The music business is wack, especially the Hip-Hop side. Other acts like rock ‘n roll are more performance based. Even what they talk about is different. Hip-Hop talks about killing people. It promotes promiscuity within our culture. It goes against the grain of morality and ethics. It misleads the youth. It reinforces those stereotypes. It shows people hollow success. Having a mouthful of diamonds is not successful. When they see someone in a suit or a Talib Kweli, they’re not looking at them as successful. They see themselves in those people and most people don’t want to be that. They want to have the chain, the alcohol, the money, the cars, and the fame. We know what’s going on. We’re the distraction from what’s really going on in the streets. The business likes that. The rap music video is to get the viewer to the next commercial, so that the people can buy it. That’s what it’s about. The video is for promotional use only. But it makes people tune in long enough for the commercials and that’s where the money is at. As long as it makes money, especially with the history of violence and celebrity in this country, then that’s what it’s always going to be about.
HHDX: There are skeptics that say that your music will go over the heads of the “average” listener. What exactly does that mean to you? Does it mean that the listeners of today are too dumb or are you just too damn smart?
Lupé: Nah, it’s just that some people are going to listen and others aren’t. People think that others are dumb and that’s why they have to dumb down their music. How many people went to high school and can read? How many hustlers in the street are smart? A lot of them are. How many kids are geniuses? A lot of them are. I’m sure that they’re not going to talk to everyone of the last 82,000 people who bought the album in its first week. It’s about artistry. People get what "He Say, She Say" is about or "Daydreamin" and "Kick, Push." I choose to make intellectual music. I just want to hit a crowd of people who are tired of hearing dumb music, because we’re not dumb. Just because you keep it slow, doesn’t mean that the listening public is the same.
HHDX: I mean with "He Say, She Say" -- you basically spit the same verse with the pronouns changed… why?
Lupé: I did a song called "Switch" and I was working on a song called "Superstar" and in the song I switch different styles of rhyming. It had different voices and stories, but I didn’t like how it came out. So, I simplified it and changed it from person to person. Sometimes that’s all you need. I have a philosophy about things like that. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. I think it was more impacting. I sat down with Nas and Jay one time and he [Nas] had a situation where a kid came up to him and said that he had got his phillie. It messed him up a little bit. Just imagine if a 30-year-old came up to Nas and said the same thing, he’d probably get the pound.
HHDX: You obviously weren’t happy when the album leaked. Although it created a big buzz is there a part of you that says Atlantic needed to hear the buzz to truly understand what you are bringing to the table?
Lupé: I still think that they’re confused. I still don’t think that they know exactly what it is. They’re confused as to how Chingy had the number one record in the country for so many weeks. Labels run off of audiences now. That’s the key word in the industry, so that’s what they go off of. It’s not about radio. It’s all about the audiences. They don’t look at press anymore, really. "Kick, Push" maybe only got to number 37 on the charts. And I don’t think "I Gotcha" made it on the charts. They couldn’t understand how I got the number one spot. There’s this big confusion. They don’t know if it’s MySpace, the Internet, or whatever. Jay said that I got people’s hearts. He said that I have a fan base that will support me. Reasonable Doubt did 34,000 when it first dropped, but that album is loved by everyone to this day. As a whole, I don’t think they understand the movement. It’s not measurable.
HHDX: In June, I went to the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival and you had asked the crowd if they had that new album. The crowd roared its approval as it rapped word for word, “Real Recognize Real.” How did it feel to know that your “fans” wanted something so badly that they would download it just to hear what you had to say?
Lupé: Initially it was still like… you know… you start to project yourself into the future. The leak actually hurt our first week sales by at least half. When I started doing my promo tour, I went to D.C. They have these things called “one-stop distribution centers” and when I had a meeting with them and they said that two months ago was when I was poppin’. The album was getting real press with reviews and everything. People were going out and asking about the album in stores. They got so many requests that it was reported to the one-stop centers. You can take that one instance and put it all around the country. Think about how many people were going around and doing the same thing. If we would’ve dropped the album two month ago, we would’ve done double of what we did. But the aftermath of that is that people demanded more of me. I went from doing a 10-minute set to a 45-minute one. Even when the album leaked, the song titles were wrong. In the end, I felt that I was wrong. We did "Sunshine" during the festival and the whole crowd rapped the entire song. It was on the leak and I know that they didn’t memorize it that day, so in the end it made me happy.
HHDX: Aside from Kick Push, your album is said not to have anything “radio friendly” on it. I don’t think Public Enemy was considered radio friendly either but fools were up and dancing to it when it came on. Do you think there’s a problem with Hip-Hop today and what’s considered “radio friendly”?
Lupé: I think there’s a problem between making a dance record and making a record. There’s a genre within rock ‘n roll where they can clarify their position. With Hip-Hop, there is confusion. It’s more really about the club. Can it make you dance? You can’t dance to "Kick, Push" in the club, but it’s still a powerful record. Everything is now dependant on the single. Consumers can’t trust Hip-Hop albums anymore. People have been putting out these massive singles, but the albums have been garbage. The public gets sucked into buying it and then when the album isn’t good, that hurts the sales nowadays. You have people walking around with an album that’s nothing but a collection of singles from various ones. That’s why that NOW – That’s What I Call Music sells, because they have nothing but hits on there.
So, when you see a trend like that, like what’s going on in Hip-Hop, people wouldn’t want to buy the album. I think that the change is going to come. I think that people are going to understand that the emphasis isn’t into going hard on one single. It’s about having a whole package. It’s not just about radio or television. It’s about having substance and standing for something. I think that that is going to make better music. When people start challenging themselves to push the limits of the music that is when everyone benefits. It takes time and effort to do that. I made a song about a robot and had to try and still tailor that to the hood.
HHDX: People know Lupé isn’t your average emcee. I’ve heard you mention the Invisible Children. Can you mention some of the other things you are involved with?
Lupé: I just got picked as the Ambassador of the Love Music/Hate Racism movement. They have shows and the last one that I was apart of was for this kid, Anthony Walker. He was a Black kid who was dating a white woman in the UK, when a group of white kids saw him and hit him with an axe. He had to be about 17 or 18-years-old. But they have acts from all over the UK. Rock ‘n Roll, Hip-Hop, everything supports the Love Music/Hate Racism movement. Aside from that, a few other things that I’m doing are working with Tony Hawk to build up skate parks around the country and other various charities. If I feel like I can’t do anything then I won’t do it.
HHDX: How do you think your relationship with Jay-Z has benefited your career?
Lupé: A lot... one thing that Jay told me was to not chase the radio. If it was anyone else, I’d be like, “Whatever.” But it’s Jay-Z… the King of Radio telling you to not do it. So it’s more profound. He said that what happens is everyone eventually comes to you. MTV and others would be impressed that you’re staying in your own lane. Look at it like this… if everyone is talking about Ferraris, talk about a Mazda and make it all shiny and see how many people get drawn into it.
HHDX: Well, other mainstays like LL Cool J and Method Man seem to think that Jay can only promote Jay. Yet, he’s signed you and even linked up with The Roots. Do you think that President Carter has another plan that not everyone is grasping right now?
Lupé: I think that it has to do with being an artist. Even though Jay executive produced my product, you have to do it on your own. They’re going to give you money but they’re not going to do everything. You have to make a name for yourself. If it was that easy, then they could make anyone a star. But it’s not like that. So, you have to take the initiative and make it work. I’ve been in the music business since I was 18, 19-years-old, so I’ve done it myself, yet with help. But you can’t just sit back and wait for others to do it for me.
HHDX: A testament to a great MC is one who is able to take shots and criticisms from the press and peers alike. While most people look at you as a breath of fresh air, there are others who refer to songs like 2003’s “Pop, Pop” and say that you’re only capitalizing on public opinion. What do you think?
Lupé: Hip-Hop is bad. You have Talib Kweli and others who are out there and get no shine. Even if you go with the underground, a lot that is negative. It went from I’m a better MC than you to my gun is this big. You still have cross-sections where it’s positive, but a lot of Hip-Hop is bad. Look at the amount of records that 50 Cent sold versus Mos Def. That’s 20 million more very violent albums that are put out there in the world. It is bad. I went overseas and people were talking about how the Parliament is trying to ban Hip-Hop because of something called “night culture”. It’s where kids are influenced to carry knives. But then a Hip-Hop record came on and talked about how big his knife was. I mean if you really conscious, you have to look at it objectively and think about what’s really going on. People are really talking about us and how we’re affecting society. As far as "Pop, Pop", that is what I was doing! There are pictures of me with diamonds and guns. But I have been around guns my whole life. All through my high school career, I walked around with a nine. I can’t give everyone my history, but I’m from the hood, just like everyone is from the hood. I remember that my hallway was covered with blood because this guy ran through it bleeding. But over the years I became real with myself. That’s why ’99 Lupé is different than 2006 version.
HHDX: But most people think that you mirror Jay-Z besides cadence and swagger. What do you think is his impact on Hip-Hop and how does that affect what you want to do to the game?
Lupé: Everybody had to learn from somebody to do something. Babies had to learn how to walk and talk. Why do English people have English accents? When people had to learn to rap, you had to learn from the best. My first verses were inspired by Ice Cube and Spice-1. So… over the years I’m learning and learning, and then Jay comes in and he’s the greatest! I wanted to take everything that I’ve learned and make it me. That’s why I am not entirely Jay. I learned how to tell stories from Nas. Lil’ Wayne raps like Hov because he feels the same like I do. Everybody at one point was rapping like the hottest dude out, because they were the ones who were doing it. I just want to study the greats.