Lupe in the Sky With Diamonds

Hip-hop's lovable eccentric never ceases to amuse.

"I just don't think I have that much to say," Lupe Fiasco says over the phone recently, explaining why he plans to quit recording music in the near future. "A lot of the stuff that I want to say musically, it has a limit. You can't compress and process certain things into 16 bars or a song." This will surely come as news to fans of the mainstream/underground-straddling MC, who hail him as a visionary and an antidote to the crack-rap that dominates the airwaves. It's also news to anyone who's heard his new CD, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool, a concept album featuring characters called the Cool, the Streets, and the Game. It delves into issues ranging from death and resurrection to eating habits in the black community. A 25-year-old critical darling who broke out after appearing on fellow Chicagoan Kanye West's 2005 album, The College Dropout, Fiasco scored three Grammy nominations with his debut, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor. The album's memorable centerpiece, "Kick, Push," extolled his love for skateboarding, and he was cited by rap magazines as hip-hop's next big thing. But Fiasco now says that making records is unsatisfying, both financially and creatively, though he still plans to tour. "The entity of recorded music really sucks," he says. "It's really wack, especially when you're doing it through a major." He's more interested in pouring his efforts into other projects, which range from clothing lines to comic books to more traditional literary endeavors. He imparts that he has been writing essays "battling" with Nietzsche in his spare time, and that he's in the midst of writing a novel about a window washer. "It's deep, though," he says. "Imagine all the stuff I don't put into my music because I can't find a word to rhyme with 'plethora.' I'm trying to practice how to write for an extended period of time." If it seems like Fiasco—whose real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco—is self-consciously weird, well, he is. He once had a stipulation in his concert rider calling for only yellow M&M's, after all, and The Cool has a song told from the perspective of a cheeseburger. But he also comes across as a sincere, principled guy. He doesn't smoke or drink, and says that the health issues he discusses on his album came about because his own father died of diabetes. "[The song 'Gotta Eat'] kind of reflects the health situation in the hood," he says. "People in the hood eat a lot of garbage. I was setting up this community-activism group that works on the south side of Chicago, and one of the bullet points—outside of gang violence and drugs—was health. There's definitely a lack of attention to the health issues [facing] black communities. You go through there and you're like, 'Goddamn, you can't eat shit around here. There's nothing but McDonald's and Taco Bell.'" Fiasco seems somewhat relieved that the talk surrounding him is once again focused on his music. The buzz was decidedly negative this fall after he flubbed the lyrics to A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation" at VH1's Hip Hop Honors show, inspiring a situation that became known as "Fiascogate." Things got worse when Vibe magazine published quotes in which he said that Tribe weren't really much of an influence on him. He then threatened to sue the magazine—claiming that the timing of the quotes was misrepresented—and Vibe issued a correction. He says he no longer plans to sue but adds, "They could give me 50 covers—I want nothing to do with them." The controversy has since died down, and critics and fans are licking their chops for The Cool, an ambitious work that, at times, bites off more than it can chew. Clocking in at well over an hour, it could easily be trimmed by six or seven songs. It also suffers from fairly monotonous production, and could have used fewer tracks from his beat-making associate Soundtrakk (who produces about three-quarters of the songs) and a bit of Kanye's magic. The big singles, like "Go Go Gadget Flow" and "Superstar," are a blast, but many of the album cuts feel like padding. That said, a slight misstep from an obviously talented MC is nothing to get worked up about, and The Cool will nonetheless satisfy Fiasco's fans. In fact, one hopes he will renege on his promise to quit recording after he completes the album's follow-up. Despite his own assertions to the contrary, one gets the feeling he has plenty more to say. music@seattleweekly.com

 
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