This is a very long read compared to the short snippets I usually post. So pop you some popcorn, get you a drink, tape your eyelids open, just do whatever you need to do to get through this article. But you should definitely read it...
Rapper Lupe Fiasco is making a name for himself, his way
By SARAH TOMLINSON
SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL NEWS
Chicago-based rapper Lupe Fiasco may have achieved critical acclaim and widespread popularity with his 2006 debut album, "Food and Liquor," which was co-produced by hip-hop bigwig Jay-Z and earned him three Grammy nominations.
But he is far removed from the fast-living, bling-loving rappers that make up the top echelon of the hip-hop world. Fiasco first gained attention because of his unique perspective and sound. A devout Muslim who doesn't drink or smoke, Fiasco positioned himself as a voice for the world's nerds and middle class, rapping about skateboarding and social issues. The title of his single "Kick, Push" refers to a skateboarding move, while songs like "American Terrorist" tackle tough issues like race and class with sly intelligence.
Currently traveling the country on a tour of college campuses, which brings him to Iona College tonight, he is also one of the few hip-hop artists featured on the lineup of this year's Coachella Festival, happening in California this weekend. Fiasco is thrilled to appeal to such a varied audience.
And he welcomes the challenge of trying to deliver a live performance that is kinetic enough to compete with the rock acts he is performing alongside at Coachella.
"I just did Big Day Out, which is a big festival in Australia," Fiasco says by phone during a Boston tour stop. "To me, it's like rock bands give the best shows, because they have so much to work with. ... So, I look at it as a competition - hip-hip versus rock 'n' roll - and see who can give the better show on the same stage to the same crowd. So I'm actually really looking forward to that. I think we go on with Rage Against the Machine. And I love rock. I look at my shows like they're rock shows, as opposed to hip-hop shows. So hopefully, it should be good."
While Fiasco is thinking beyond the confines of hip-hop, both in terms of his audience and his sound, he admits that he cares about having won the respect of his hip-hop peers more than any of the other kudos he has received.
"I don't want to overstep my bounds or sound arrogant or anything like that," says Fiasco. "But a lot of my co-signatures, and a lot of those things that push people to garner respect in the hip-hop community, which is basically other people saying that you're dope, I got that from all of the greats, even prior to my album coming out. So, I kind of got that respect level within the hip-hop community, whether it be from Nas, or just the regular underground MCs."
It was the early support of Jay-Z that elevated Fiasco from an underground mix-tape legend to a major player in the hip-hop scene. His debut album featured guest spots by Jay-Z and Jill Scott, and he has collaborated with the likes of Kanye West. He's also currently working on a top-secret hip-hop super group. But, now that he's made a name for himself, his next album will be more of a solo affair.
"As far as my album, the collaboration will be very, very small, maybe one or two that we're really looking to do," says Fiasco. "Everything else, we're going to kind of keep in-house. But I am working on another top-secret project, like this super group with me and a couple of my homies, who you know very, very well. I'm not going to say. But we're cooking something up in the kitchen to see if it will work."
After his current tour, Fiasco plans to head home to Chicago to record his sophomore album in May. He confesses to feeling some pressure after the huge success of his debut, but he's more concerned with identifying what he wants to talk about on the album, and how these issues will be presented, than how it will be received.
"I've been developing it, so I know what I'm going to talk about," he says. "I'm not going to give any leaks though, yet. Well, what am I talking about? I leaked it to a few people. It's basically, there was a song on the first album called 'The Cool,' which was about a guy who got killed, a drug dealer, and he came back to life. And so, like the story of the album - I don't know how intense in that direction I'm going to go - but the direction of the album is going to be based around that character. That's been the fight, I kind of nailed what I'm going to talk about, and the battle has been how to do it, the actual construction of the album. ... But I'm going to let that figure itself out when I go in and start recording."
While he's still uncertain of the specific issues he'll address on his next album, Fiasco is always candid about his faith and how it feels to be a Muslim in America during these troubled times.
He believes the American public has a relatively accurate idea of what it means to be a Muslim, and that news outlets do a good job of presenting balanced information on the issues surrounding Muslim fundamentalism. And, at the end of the day, he feels that all people face the same struggles, and want the same things, no matter what religion they may practice.
"We all got to eat, and we all need money to buy food to eat," says Fiasco. "... Everybody got to work. Everybody got to come home. Everybody got bills. Everybody got taxes. Everybody has the same strife and the same struggles. It's just the way you dress it up, and that's where you find the division."
Such issues are just a few of the things on Fiasco's mind these days. An ambitious businessman in the mold of Jay-Z and Diddy, his own music is just one of his many endeavors. His label, 1st & 15th, has several upcoming releases that he is excited about, including rapper Gemini, who made a guest appearance on his debut and is touring with Fiasco. Fiasco is also planning to bring back his college radio show, FNF Radio. The show, which found the hosts spinning their favorite songs and discussing current events, is on hiatus but can be heard on the Internet. Fiasco is seeking distributors for the show and also working on his own clothing line. For Fiasco, the new challenges are a welcome addition to the creative pursuits he is juggling quite comfortably.
"Now that I have time to not be an artist, where it's like just go perform, but I actually have time to take on some of the responsibilities of running the label in a more executive capacity, I'm really, really focused on the company, and improving the company, and ... everything about, 'How can I make the company better?' " he says. "… It's just me, sitting back, managing all of that stuff, and hopefully trying to make it work, which is my new thrill these days."