Lupe Fiasco is a Chicago native hip hop artist who has earned his self proclaimed title of the Coolest. Growing up beside a crack den in the West Side of the city, Lupe comes from harsher roots than most. His father was an engineer, a Black Panther who listened to NWA. He taught him how to use a gun at four years old, which they then used to scare the dealers next door. He drove Lupe to his karate lessons, helping him to collect the four black belts he has today, two of them in Samurai Swords. His mother was a chef and influenced him to read National Geographic and listen to classical jazz.
Born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, he adopted the name Lupe Fiasco from the combination of the Lu from Wasalu and the song Firm Fiasco by Firm. Wasalu means Warrior in Arabic. Although he has obvious Islamic roots, Lupe insists he won’t be a poster child for Islam, in the characteristically humble Muslim way. He reasons that sometimes he doesn’t fast, and sometimes he misses prayer, so how could he be on a pedestal? The artwork for his album The Cool mimics the calligraphy of an Islamic prayer in Arabic, replacing a verse with his name.
Lupe exploded onto the scene after a featured verse on Kanye West’s Touch The Sky, however he had label trouble since his high school days when his crew were signed to Epic and then quickly disbanded. He was then courted by Arista, Jay-Z and Rocafella Records before settling with Atlantic. He co-founded FNF, a label under Atlantic with business partner Chilly Patton until Patton was convicted of trafficking heroin and sentenced to 44 years. On the album The Cool, Lupe manages to cry “Free Chilly” on every single track. FNF stands for first and fifteenth, a reference to the awaited pay days of every month which come fortnightly by those who are struggling and have to live paycheck to paycheck.
After hearing fellow Muslim Nas’s album It Was Written, Lupe knew his calling was in hip hop. His debut album Food & Liquor was critically acclaimed and was inspired by mans eternal struggle with good and bad. Lupe’s observation of the unique little corner stores in Chicago which were simply called ‘Food & Liquor’ gave him his title. Food was the good, the nutrition we all need and the Liquor was the bad, the addictions and so on. Lupe’s lyrics were unlike any rapper on the mainstream scene at the time, he admits that he is an intellectual nerd rapper, whereas most of the hip hop at the time was dirty beats with lyrics about money and bitches. Lupe was a breath of fresh air to the hip hop world.
His entire mantra behind his writing was to forget chasing the radio and the cool, and to pursue his own interests and make them cool. This came from a lecture he heard from Dr Cornell West in which he stated that people had to be “hip to be square,” to shift the focus of the population from the glamorized high life to intellectualism and social justice. His second album, The Cool, embodied this idea. Songs like Streets on Fire, inspired by the George Orwell novel 1984 and Little Weapon reflect his political side. Gold Watch and Superstar combined his street appeal with playful yet intelligent lyrics. Both albums have a completeness to them, each song a chapter leading to the next, which belies the perfectionism in Lupe’s art.
Lupe has often said that he plans to retire after his third album, LupEnd, but as his popularity grows his final project is pushed further on the back burner. Instead he has thrown together some mixtapes, joined a crew with Pharrell and Kanye and created a rock band. He’s also had a song on the New Moon soundtrack and taken part in charity events.
On stage Lupe is an incredible performer. He manages to engage the crowd and keep the room buzzing from high to high as he raps his way through his hits and cult favourites. Instead of fancy light shows and expensive merchandise, he spends his budget on sound production and perfecting his tracks. His energy is high and he jokes with the crowd, wearing t-shirts with social messages such as “Free Palestine”. Some have hailed him the saviour of hip hop, and all things in consideration, it is not at all hard to understand why.