Hip To Be Square
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Interviewer: Alexander Fruchter
Lupe Fiasco's recent mainstream success is nothing new or surprising to the Chicago emcee. He's been a Hip Hop artist for many years, and already has the respect of your favorite rapper. While some fans just catching on may hear "Kick Push" and view him as Chicago's answer to Skateboard P, there are others who know that Lupe has a style all his own. His debut album, Lupe's Food and Liquor is set to drop June 27th, and Lupe has a lot going on as the release date nears. SoundSlam recently caught up with "Cornell Westside" to discuss the album, it's recent leak on the Internet, and just how he feels about being called a "Hip Hop nerd." Check it out.
SoundSlam: When and where did you come up with the name, Lupe Fiasco?
Lupe Fiasco: I got the name Lupe Fiasco in high school. I had a friend named Lupe. My name is Wasalu, so I was always rapping under Lu, cause when you shorten it, it would be Lu. People would call me Lu. So Lupe wasn't that much of a stretch. I just took his name cause we were kind of like good friends. Fiasco came from the Firm album. They had the song, "Firm Fiasco." I just liked the way it looked on paper. And so it's like, Lupe...Fiasco.
SoundSlam: Can I ask where did you go to high school, what high school did you go to?
Lupe Fiasco: Thorton Township High School in Harvey, Illinois.
SoundSlam: I'm actually calling you, and am from the Southside of Chicago, Hyde Park.
Lupe Fiasco: Oh word.
SoundSlam: Being from there I've been exposed to all kinds of different cultures and ideas. It really made me who I am, and I heard you kind of say similar things. I was just wondering how Chicago's layout, and the way the city works, has impacted you and your music?
Lupe Fiasco: Well, cause it's segregated, which can be good and bad. But that segregation means that's there's just clots of ethnic groups and stuff like that. Seeing as how we were Muslim, our family was Muslim, so we would go to different mosques around the city. Each mosque would be in a different community, so it would be a different ethnic group. It would Pakistanis, it would be Indians, it would be Palestinians, or it would be Africans, or it would be whatever. And then being in the martial arts we also had karate schools all over the city. So I was always all over the city in different neighborhoods. I got to see a lot of different people. We would go to China Town on a regular basis, so you would see nothing but Chinese people. You would just be in there, and you would be like, 'OK...' Then later on that day we'd be at a mosque somewhere, there'd be nothing but Palestinian people. It's like we were almost traveling the world. Since it would be so concentrated, their culture would be really thick. Not like in New York where it's all together and everybody kind of has the same culture....On the Westside where it's all Mexican, it's like you went to Mexico. I got exposed to a lot of different cultures.
SoundSlam: You've received a lot of praise and respect from a lot of people in Hip Hop, Kanye West, Jay-Z. Since you have their backing and respect, how important is it for you to get the commercial success with the album?
Lupe Fiasco: Ummm, it's more for the company. I want to see the company succeed. Just as much as I like Hip Hop and the whole thing, I like business. I want to build a company that's successful. This particular company, 1st and 15th, depends on the commercial success of the album. It kind of rolls into-I got my kudos for being a rapper. I'm not really in Hip Hop for that, because I got it early. Now it's like, I want to see my company succeed. I want to see my artists get their shine, and get their kudos, and put them in position for that, and see my company do different joint ventures and different things with different companies. All that depends on the success of my album.
SoundSlam: "Kick Push" is getting a lot of play right now. When I was listening to it, I know it's about skateboarding, but I also thought it could be about how people get through life. You kick and push, and then you coast, searching for your place. Was that running through your head at all when writing it?
Lupe Fiasco: Yeah. I speak double entoundres a lot. I write that, that's one my things that I tried to master to do in my music. Even in my writing, I try to put that in my writing as well. It means a lot. I like to make music where people ingest it and make it their own. I leave it blank enough, vague enough for people to insert their own meaning into it. That was kind of the purpose of the jaunt. It was deliberate. I meant for it to be like that. I do that a lot. Kids will go through my songs like, "Failure." They'll find four, five different meanings for one record, for one line in a song, so, yeah.
SoundSlam: I also read somewhere that the title has a lot of meaning as well, and involves the balance of good and evil. How is that balance explored on this album?
Lupe Fiasco: It's more subtle. It's more speaking to hypocrisy. A lot of it is injected into particular songs, as opposed to being the whole layout of the album. I didn't want the whole album to be this whole thing about good and bad. And it speaks to subtle issues, like hypocrisy, and what goes on in the world on a social level, and then to a further extent on a political level, and trying to find some solution to it on the album. I address that all as liquor. But then it's like, 'how do you get passed it?' I'm not really trying to answer that on this album, because I still got two more albums to go. I only plan on doing like 3 albums. It's just, a meal is a good starting point. And it spoke from the basic where just most of the stores in Chicago are called Food and Liquor. It speaks to that aesthetic, which to me is just specific and particular to Chicago, because I haven't seen that anywhere else. It kind of like pays homage to that.
SoundSlam: I've also seen articles in which you are referred to as Hip Hop's whiz kid, or somewhat of a nerd. They're complimenting your uniqueness, and also creativity. Do you ever think those comments show people's low expectations for creativity and originality within Hip Hop music? Like, 'here's this kid. He comes along and he's Hip Hop's whiz kid,' while you're just being yourself. It's like, 'damn the ceiling's that low that I'm so, so creative.'
Lupe Fiasco: I've never really looked at it as like a, like they used that statement to, 'OK, now Hip Hop is dumb.' I just think Hip Hop is really violent right now. But it's so violent that it's becoming numb to the violence that creates it, and to the people that are a party to it. I think when they see nerd, most of those writers are nerds. Most people who run a magazine, they're just the same, we can relate on the same level. I think it really just speaks to that. I don't think they're really trying to make a comment on Hip Hop. I think the comment on Hip Hop is that it's violent. That's it. It's not that people are stupid, or that they don't know any better. You have some people that just are numb to it. They get in the studio, they might break down the whole encyclopedia on the way to the studio, they'll break down the entire fall of Rome. Then they get into the studio, and the only thing that comes out of there mouth is 'crack cocaine this, crack cocaine that.' I don't want to question the IQ of any other rapper. I don't want to bring that into play, but it's still something.
SoundSlam: I'm a teacher, and I give my students quotes everyday. One of the mottos of our class is "Knowledge Is King/" I'm trying to show them that it is cool to be smart, and to be a nerd in a sense. You don't have to give up all of yourself to be smart.
Lupe Fiasco: Yeah. I got that lesson from Cornell West. And that's why I'm [sometimes called] Cornell Westside, just to pay homage to him. He said you really want to make change, if you want to do that, you got to make it hip to be square. It's true. The cool stuff is the stuff that kind of takes you off your game and leads to necessity, and leads to want and excess, which leads to waste, which leads to pollution, which leads to all type of other things. So it's really trying to get kids to focus on like 'yo, focus on the regular stuff first. Focus on math. It's cool to know the square root of 75.'
SoundSlam: It kind of reminds me of something you said earlier and I want to read it to you, and then ask you a question about it. You said, "What you put out into the world comes back to you. You actually change the world with what you do. I want to put some good in the world." How important is it for us, just as humans in our regular day-to-day life, as well as artists to understand that statement? Do you feel people really do understand that?
Lupe Fiasco: I don't think the grand plan is for everybody to get it. I think it's only a few people that are really going to try to do something. I think some people have aspirations. I think certain people have no aspirations. I think certain people are acting on their aspirations, and certain people don't. But, I definitely think that people should try to make the conscious effort to not, to refrain from certain things, or aide and assist in certain things, especially when it comes to kids. We won't change the world. Our children won't change the world. Our children's children will change the world. You have to teach your kids so they grow up in an environment where they're oblivious to the past. And then they'll teach that to their kids, cause that will be all they know. All they'll know is, you should do this. You shouldn't do this. This is cool now. It's cool to be, like you said; it's cool to be a nerd. So just imagine if your kids think it's cool to be a nerd. They'll teach their kids like, 'this is cool.' Then it's going to be like Super-Nerds. Then eventually, hopefully they'll build a machine that cleans the air, and builds houses...all the regular stuff. I think it's very important for people to understand that just to live in a better society.
SoundSlam: Your album is set to come out June 27th. You've been working for a while. Now with a few months to go, are you starting to feel any extra excitement, anxiety, or nervousness with the release date pending? I know some of it leaked out earlier. I'm just wondering how your feelings are changing now that we're getting closer and closer.
Lupe Fiasco: I think the anxiety level goes up because of the actual just technical things that go on within the building and the record label, and particular situation in Chicago with my crew, with my record label. So really it's just trying to get those two machines to align in the same direction. So the anxiety comes in that. It doesn't really come in "prove a point." Because to me, the points are already proven. I always say I'm not out to really change the world. The point's been proven. And even with the leak, it's really been proven, cause they're like, 'yo, it's like Illmatic. You got a lot of people walking around like, 'I don't know if Lupe's album's going to be hot. Food And Liquor is like Chicken And Beer, and I don't really get blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. He's a skateboard nerd.' Then when the leak comes the kids are like, 'he had no other songs on the album where he's talking about skateboards. There's really some social-this, that, and the third. He can rhyme.' Kids that never heard the mixtape, and they just go from "Touch The Sky" with cartoon reference and then "Kick Push" with skateboards and then they get to hear a version of the album.... 'Oh snap! Oh man!' So, not really, I'm actually more comfortable because that weight is off my shoulders of proving to people that this album could possibly be something great.
SoundSlam: You are a real smart guy, mellow right now. If you weren't doing music, what other career might you be pursuing right now?
Lupe Fiasco: I would probably be in theater, a theater tech. Or possibly into some design work, or toy work, or something like that. Or maybe in the field of science, I'm just not good at math. That's what killed my scientific learning, I suck at math. I'd probably be in the theater somewhere. All through high school I did the theater, like sounds, and lights, and things like that.
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