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Refreshing Lupe Fiasco provides introspection to rap genre

Corbin Hicks | Friday, September 7, 2007

You might think that Lupe Fiasco’s road to stardom has followed the tried and true method perfected by other big name rap stars. Start a label independently and perfect your rhymes. Create your own mixtapes, freestyling over other artists’ instrumentals, and use this to create an industry-wide buzz. Once that buzz is big enough, capitalize on this fame and quickly get a record deal and put out an album on a major label.

Someone forgot to tell him that dropping a near-classic album, getting a Jay-Z feature on your debut, and skateboarding do not describe the typical rapper.

Fiasco represents a picture of hip-hop that was not possible 10 years ago. He is a video game aficionado, Japanime fan and just about every other stereotype of suburban middle school white kids. The only thing he doesn’t do is play lacrosse or soccer. Fiasco is a black rapper from the tough streets of the West Side of Chicago, where these activities typically remain on the other side of the racial barrier. But Lupe’s lyrical ability transcends that of most new artists and allows him to gain credibility from those who would discount him based on his hobbies. His flow, word choice and delivery capture your attention in a way that is less monotonous than an Immortal Technique, but better for you spiritually than the latest offering from the Ying Yang Twins.

In fact, Lupe’s rookie effort – “Food & Liquor” – was produced by Shawn Carter, a name that marked a vote of confidence in a new rap artist. His 16-track opus begins with a three-minute spoken-word style intro about the city of Chicago. This leads into “Real,” a reflection on making music of which he doesn’t have to be ashamed. Real has many different definitions in today’s music industry, with the influx of hardcore rap and monotonous 808-beat singles, but Lupe captures the essence of doing lyrically conscious music without having it sound like a lecture. The next track “Just Might Be OK” is another standout, with the self-proclaimed “Cornel Westside” lyrically tearing to shreds a track filled with luscious live instrumentation.

The album seamlessly moves from one song to the next. This is a feat, as the original version of the album was leaked onto the Internet, and Lupe was forced to redo the entire album. He is not a one-hit wonder artist, as he was able to turn up his focus in crunch time and bang out classic tracks such as “Hurt Me Soul.” In this song, he talks about the demons that he faces on a daily basis and the dualism between what happens to someone and how he responds to it. The honesty and openness that he reveals throughout the album has to be admired as appreciation not only for rap but also for someone who is able to internalize his surroundings and talk about them in a manner which is both appealing and enjoyable.

Tracks like “Sunshine,” “American Terrorist,” “The Instrumental” and “Daydreamin” reveal the thought process of your average person. While this may not sound as appealing as “Partying Like A Rock Star,” it offers a refreshing alternative at a time when one is desperately needed. Despite his rap persona, Lupe delivers an album that walks the thin line between songs crafted to play in your car speaker system at full volume while also being lyrical enough to present to your literature teacher. This duality is the key to Lupe’s longevity in the music industry.