Lupe Fiasco’s New Album Will Be His Best Yet
Lupe has been through a lot in these past few years.
Let’s take things back all the way to 2001 when Lu was basically just starting out. At the tender age of 19, Lupe joined a Chicago rap collective named Da Pak. This group rapped exclusively about guns, girls and drugs. You know, the typical “rap” stuff. They got signed to Epic Records off that one song and naturally went on to break up shortly after because of Lupe’s personal problem with the track’s message. So how was this tough for Lupe? Well, as a more conscious rapper, he got his first real taste of the type of music record companies tend to “push”. Consider this foreshadowing.
Okay, now lets fast forward a few years; 2007 to be exact. His debut album Food & Liquor had just dropped and his notoriety was picking up steam. He had co-signs from Jay-Z, Kanye West and Pharrell with a Grammy nod on the way. However, in June of that year, his best friend and business partner Charles “Chilly” Patton was sentenced to 44 years in prison on serious drug charges. I don’t care what kind of co-signs you get, losing a best friend to half a century in prison is earth shattering. Did we mention his dad died of diabetes around this time as well? Talk about a ‘polarizing’ year.
Up next was the release of Lupe’s second album The Cool. This album was critically and commercially well received once again. The album featured all kinds of creative and technically sound rap songs that varied from conscious topics about American socio economics to fun wordplay tracks that served no other purpose than to flex his incredible rhyme skills. I mean, just try and tell us that “Dumb It Down” isn’t one of the most clever four minutes you’ve ever heard.
Not only was this a fire song but it also gave us some insight into what Lupe had been dealing with over at Atlantic Records. Lupe got put in a unique situation when signing to Atlantic Records as he did not sign into a 360 deal. For those who are new to the record company terminology, let us enlighten you. A 360 deal is essentially a record company’s way of ensuring that you produce results that THEY want you to. They provide the artist financial backing through direct advances, funds for marketing, promotion and touring. On the flip side, the artist kicks back a percentage of all their income. Seems fair, right?
Well, in some cases they are very profitable for both parties but often times rappers will get burned in this deal and end up with little to nothing. When Lupe signed to Atlantic Records in 2005, he opted not to sign a 360 deal for that reason exactly. Lupe is obviously a big believer in creative control and making the songs HE wants to make. He believed by taking a 360 deal, he would lose his artistic integrity by being forced to conform to the “urban music” mould that Atlantic carved out. By not taking the deal, label heads have allegedly treated him like shit.
They have severely lacked in the promotion of his albums and singles unless it is has an infectious hook or big time feature. The label did this because without the getting significant cut off Lupe’s product, they saw no need to push his work. It got so bad that Lupe didn’t drop any new “label official” music for 4 years until 2011 rolled around and he dropped Lasers. Even then, it took a mob of devoted Lupe fans to rally outside the label’s head office, for them to even set a release date. He claims to this day that Lasers is his least favorite album because of all the shadiness he had to go through in order to put it out.
“When I think about what it took to actually get the record together and everything that I went through on this record—which is something I can’t separate—I hate this album. A lot of the songs that are on the album, I’m kinda neutral to. Not that I don’t like them, or that I hate them, it’s just I know the process that went behind it. I know the sneaky business deal that went down behind this song, or the artist or singer or songwriter who wrote this hook and didn’t want to give me this song in the first place” – Lupe Fiasco, 2011
He has clearly stuck it out with Atlantic, even releasing a follow up to Food & Liquor in 2012 entitled Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album. But don’t think for one second that he is on good terms with Atlantic. He said in an interview this past summer that he can’t wait to be done with the them and move on independently.
On top of his friend going to jail, his father dying and his label troubles, Lupe has had miscellaneous hardships happen to him throughout the years affecting his life and reflectively his music. These miscellaneous events include but are not limited to: forgetting the words to A Tribe Called Quest song at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honours, threatening retirement, chirping Obama at his own inauguration concert, engaging in fistacuffs with the 2DopeBoyz blog founder and cancelling highly anticipated mixtapes.
How are all these things going to make his next album the best yet?
Lupe has always had a message. He has always strived to be a rapper that talks for the common person. He speaks to a lot of different people from a lot of different places. It seems that a ton of rappers today are one dimensional. Not in terms of the songs they make but the in terms of the persona they exude. Lupe is one of the few rappers in the game today that is honest about everything. All the antics he has been criticized for, the label woes he has fell upon and the loses he has taken all come from the same humble place. It seems as if he is desperately trying to hang on to the qualities that make him the rapper he is even though the world pushes him away. In many ways, Lupe reminds us of, well, us.
What I’m trying to say is that this time around, Lupe has a lot of fuel for the fire. Some of the best rap albums ever have come to fruition when the rapper is in a weird place mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Look at Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Both are classic albums that stand out in their respective catalogues because they were created in such an emotional and passionate way. You can literally hear what they are going through just by the sound of their voices.
Lupe is in that position right now. He has been through all the highs and all the lows simply from “doing him”. It seems as if he has reached a climax in his music career and instead of battling his flaws, he is ready to embrace them and use them to his advantage. He will have so much life experience to rap about with the veteran experience to talk about it in the right way; something Lupe hasn’t always been great at. Sure, he has made some mistakes along the way and the flack he has received is merited to an extent but that just makes him more and more relatable to everyone of us.
Now, I’m not just pulling these predications out of thin air. The songs the has recently dropped that were either throw aways or demo tracks have been amazing. It is starting to feel like he is finding a balance between the political commentary songs he is known for and ultimate listenability. In past LPs, Lupe seems to only have two speeds. The track is either riddled with blunt messages about problems in society or it’s a song that has him talking slick for fun. On this upcoming project, I have a sneaky feeling he has found a happy medium.
He also fired back at Kendrick’s “Control” verse with “SLR2“.
Thankfully, we all won’t have to wait too much longer as he revealed that upcoming album Tetsuo & Youth will be released on January 20th, 2015. The album will still be dropped on Atlantic Records territory but don’t think for one second that we will be getting another Lasers. From the sounds of Lupe’s rapping at this point in time, it is clear that he will be making songs he is fully passionate about and can’t wait for the world to hear. He is at unique place in his career where the music he makes on this album will become to dominant impression he leaves on the hip-hop world. Expect to see acrobatic rhyme schemes, clever wordplay, honest lyrics, hard-hitting beats and the Lupe Fiasco album you have always wanted.