Lupe Fiasco: Just Might Be Okay

Lupe Fiasco just might be okay. No, he didn’t sell the units he or Atlantic Records executives probably had hoped for, but the Chicago MC secured critical acclaim including a Grammy Nomination, with a homegrown debut album. Moreover, in a year where stunting, ass-slapping, and gangbanging were at the forefront, Lupe held down the lane for relativity, consciousness, and storytelling, without preaching or posing.

AllHipHop considers Food & Liquor one of the finest major label albums of 2006, in pretty elite company. We saw it fit to update with Hip-Hop’s head of the new class, and talk leaks, haters, and some of the inspiration behind his album. As Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt took about a decade to get their platinum plaques, you can decide if Lupe Fiasco might be joining those ranks of Hip-Hop’s greatest in due time, or if he’s a flash in Hip-Hop’s Memento memory. Going into Food & Liquor after the leak, did you think the album would be as big as it turned out to be?

Lupe Fiasco: So much stuff happened after the leak. After the leak, it was a situation where we have to really think about…we’re two and a half months in before the album comes out. We really gotta think about puttin’ out new records, ‘cause damn near every single record that was a potential single got leaked. So we had to go back and reconfigure… the Pharrell records were attempts to try and fill those voids. So a lot of stuff happened. Really, I thought that the album would still get received dope, fresh, and get even better ratings than what we got. But two, three days before we had to turn the album in, we found out we couldn’t keep certain records due to sample clearances. We couldn’t keep “Theme Music to a Drive By” and “Pills,” the real lyrical records, the real heavy records that make albums classics, the records that you can listen to and you breakin’ ‘em down four years from now, like [mixtape Lupe track] “Failure” on the message boards or whateva. Those were the records we couldn’t put on the album, so to me, this album ain’t even like the leaked version. To me, this album is like 80 percent of what it could be. That had nothin’ to do with the leak. I really like the concept of food and liquor in things. Looking at Hip-Hop in 2006, how do you evaluate the balance between the two?

Lupe Fiasco: It wasn’t even albums that won out, it was nonsense, it was the spectacle, and weak-ass battles. That’s the stuff that won out. If you look back at the year, there weren’t even that many good albums. Like Snoop Dogg’s [Blue Carpet Treatment] was dope. The Clipse [Hell Hath No Fury] was dope. Other than that, there wasn’t nothin’ too groundbreaking or exciting. What it was a bunch of hype. This was the year of the hype. Even myself, I got a lot of hype. But I came and cleaned mine up. But I was already tellin’ people that there was really somethin’ there. I don’t think it was the greatest, grand year. I look at back at all the CDs I bought this year, and it was really slim. Like, I bought Dangerdoom [The Mouse and the Mask], which was fresh as hell. But if you look at the major, mass releases, wasn’t nothin’ really poppin’ this year. I done threw CDs out my window this year. Seriously, “Nah!” It was something new that I just bought. Nah, I don’t even wanna give it away, I’m throwin’ this out the window. There was a backlash with this album. You received a lot of criticism and hate, which seemingly had nothing to do with the music. Wendy Williams grilled you about your sex life, while Byron “Bol” Crawford had a field day with you on his blog. Did you anticipate that?

Lupe Fiasco: Yeah, you always gonna have scandal. That’s how you know you’re doing something right. Funkmaster Flex gave me a little hazing when I first went up to HOT97 and first did his show. He just pulled me aside and said, “We just seein’ how you gonna react to the pressure. Are you gonna break down and wild out?” So I wasn’t mad when Wendy Williams made her comments; that’s what she do. If you understand that’s what she does, and she gets under peoples’ skin…but when we left, she was like, “I like you, and I want you back here again.” She doesn’t say that to people. That’s big.

Bol was another thing. Bol’s a hater. For me, I got the chance [to blog] in his arena. That’s why my first [post] was “Bol is a B***h-Ass N***a,” ‘cause the hate that he puts out for Kanye and everybody else, it just be unnecessary slander. When I get the chance to get in his arena, where I know the people that read his blog, are gonna read my blog too, so they can get a difference of opinion, and I just watched him unravel. It was dope to me. He unraveled. He did a whole thing on Islam, and he took it way out of context. He mentioned me for two sentences, then just started bashing Islam, and got this huge backlash from the Islamic community. He just fell to the wayside. If you ain’t a rapper, I can’t battle you. But I’ve been published before, so I’m gonna hit you with your own nonsense. But when you get backlash, slander, and the Hollywood treatment, you know you’re doing something right. They can’t hate on the music. They can’t hate on Leonardo DiCaprio being a wack actor, but they can hate on his lifestyle, just bringing it up. You can’t hate on the work we do. You had Kanye and Pharrell do joints on the album, but in-house producers Soundtrakk and Prolyfic stole the show. Do you think that as a result of that success that debuting artists nowadays won’t have that pressure to get big producers to cosign, like The Game or Young Jeezy needed?

Lupe Fiasco: That was the point from the beginning. We’re a company, with Lupe Fiasco as the rapper of the company. Then you got Pro and Soundtrakk as the producers, so they need to be the Lupe Fiascos of production; you gotta put them on front stage. It was very deliberate to make sure Soundtrakk had the first single [“Kick Push”]. It was deliberate to make sure they [each] had five records. The relationships that I got with Pharrell and Kanye, they’re my homies, so that was just homie stuff. I intentionally didn’t get a single from Kanye, I just wanted a dope beat to fit this weird-ass record. “The Cool” is deeper than that. The name of the next album is The Cool. Everything is a grandiose production. I always look at DMX’ first album [It’s Dark and Hell is Hot] where he had Dame Grease and Lil’ Rob and Irv Gotti producing the record. It was his sound, it came out new, it set him in stone, and it was dope. If you’re wack, I’m not gonna put you on my album just ‘cause you’re my homie. But if we a family, we cool, and your beats is bangin’, than it’s lovely. Ain’t no features on the album, ‘cept Jay, deliberately. Tell me about “Real.” Where were you at in your life when you were writing that?

Lupe Fiasco: I was in F&F Studios, in Chicago. I got kinda of a weird modus operandi when I go in to do certain songs, on certain beats. There’s certain records I [record] just to perform them. I came off the road with Kanye, my first major tour, and I was like, “Alright, I need songs that when I come out, they’re specifically for shows.” “Real” is one of those records – big hook, big cadence, [reciting] “real, real, real” for crowd interaction, and open enough to where I can jump all around the damn stage like a jackass. If you look at a song like “The Cool,” where everything’s back to back, real condensed, “The Real” is just open. The subject matter is just me. Every song, you’re gonna get the positivity and self-reflection, pointing out things in life. The actual inspiration was to perform, to come out to, in an arena. The chorus alone of “Just Might Be OK” is powerful. Hip-Hop in 2006 seemed to be about always having the upper-hand, such as T.I.’s “What You Know.” Your song was more about overcoming obstacles, and there’s even a lack of certainty in there. Tell me about that…

Lupe Fiasco: My partner was locked up, F&F was kinda in disarray. We was leaving our deal with Arista. That song is mad old! It be funny when people hate on it, ‘cause they don’t know that song is four years old - to a tee. We didn’t change or record nothin’; that song is straight out the box. It was really something to uplift the crew. We just…we just…and it was speaking on Hip-Hop coming down. That was when it was turnin’ into a fiasco. It was just making the statement like, “Wait! There’s still an MC here who can rhyme, and we just might be OK. Son gon’ shine.” I’m not the most confident of dudes, or the most arrogant or boastful, puttin’ it out there like I know this is gonna happen, so I always leave that room for possibilities, that “just might.” How do you feel about the Chicago Bears chances of a Super Bowl?

Lupe Fiasco: Lovely. Very, very lovely! If we do, it’s gonna be spunt-tastic. What’s First & Fifteenth’s plans for 2007?

Lupe Fiasco: The Gemini album [Troubles of the World] will release independently in the first quarter. We got Risque, a female R&B group that we’re finishing up now, which we’ll probably release in late fall. The Cool will come in mid-summer, maybe. Movies, new producers, and expanding the company. Last year we had Kanye and Common running with the torches. This year, you, Vakill, Rhymefest, and Naledge really seemed to further that. Given the impact on Hip-Hop from Chicago’s consciousness and common man themes, do you think Hip-Hop will learn anything?

Lupe Fiasco: I think it will. I think [Chicago] is still under the radar. I think we’re to the point now with Hip-Hop where it’s so saturated, and it’s so everywhere, that you get the same people, doing the same thing, in different places. There’s nothing that’s coming out that’s specific to a certain region anymore. You could just see the appeal of the South in New York. You can hate on it all you want, but you come to New York, and they’re playing South records on HOT97. Flex is dropping bombs on Jeezy records. It’s entertaining; people like it. I think we hit a point where it’s universal, and you’re just gonna have specific artists in particular regions come out and do what they do. Kanye came out and was an uber duber superstar. That’s rare. You had 50 Cent do it, Snoop Dogg do it. I think it’s saturated for us to be like, “Yeah, Chicago’s gonna lead the new regime.” To where? People think that what we do is gay. [Laughs]