Lupe Fiasco: Revenge of the Hip-Hop Nerd

Being co-signed by Jay-Z over three years ago would seemingly ensure Lupe Fiasco’s propulsion to superstardom. However, the Chi-Town native’s deals with Roc-A-Fella Records, an L.A. Reid-helmed Arista and a group project via Epic all crumbled. Still, a talent like Lupe Fiasco isn’t anchored by the trials of life – he rises. Eventually, Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman signed the lyrical prodigy after being introduced by Mark Pitts, the former manager of the Notorious B.I.G.

How big Lupe gets depends on how much of his raging buzz is translated into record sales. The 23-year-old born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco is more than capable. A devout Muslim, the rapper is the product of inventive parents, the streets, the ‘burbs, Hip-Hop and popular American ethos like skateboard culture. A bio this isn’t, allow him to reintroduce himself. His name is Lupe Fiasco. What was your upbringing like?

Lupe Fiasco: I grew up in what's called the West Side of Chicago; grew up in like the hoody-hood with the prostitutes, and the drive-bys, and the cocaine, and the heroine, and all that. At the same time, my mother was like really cultured. [She was a] gourmet chef, she really into like Black culture and you know like doing really – having a really healthy household and all that stuff. So what were you like as a child?

Lupe Fiasco: [Lupe discusses the nerdier aspects of his persona] I was so cool because I was from the hood, you know what I'm saying? I could still relate to this person or that person you know, but like for the most part it was like I had like this nerdy kind of like appeal because of the stuff I was into too. I was into comic books and you know Japanese cartoons, and you know into classical music and reading, and different uncool stuff like that. What about Hip-Hop?

Lupe Fiasco: You know, at first, I didn't like Hip-Hop. Why not?

Lupe Fiasco: You know, it was vulgar. It was demeaning, but not all of it. My father introduced me to Hip-Hop through N.W.A. so that was my first experience. He would be driving down the street like banging N.W.A., and I would be like tucked in the seats like ashamed, you know what I'm saying? When I started discovering like Fu-Schnickens, it was all kind of fun, M.C. Hammer or something like that, you know what I'm saying? When did Hip-Hop really get serious for you?

Lupe Fiasco: Like during High School, I really got into Hip-Hop and really started liking it, and really started doing it, and the rest is history. I got my first record deal when I was in high school, and that was like in 2000. I was with Epic Records. I was with a group called Da Pack from Chicago, The first time I ever heard your name was regarding the “Conflict Diamond” thing. Somebody said that you had started that whole concept, and then Kanye swooped it from you. What happened with that?

Lupe Fiasco: [Click to hear Lupe talk about the "Conflict Diamonds" mishap] Well, I don't really discuss the “Conflict Diamond” situation anymore, because people take what they want to take from it; you know what I'm saying? I actually did my radio show last night, and my co-host was like, “Yo he did [take] it, you know what I'm saying?” But it was like that was all over the world. Like, I would go to London and everybody [said], “Hey, ‘Conflict Diamond’ is over, how did you feel Kanye jacking your words?” You know and than it was people on the other side trying to play me and Kanye against each other. Right, I get it. But what really happened?

Lupe Fiasco: So what happened was, I did “Conflict Diamond” right after Kanye released the original version of [“Diamonds from Sierra Leone”], and [I] like sent it all over the world. Like, so I got connections in different countries and stuff like that, so when I do mix tapes, some stuff might even bang in the U.S. but it will be banging in Kazikstan, you know what I'm saying? I would just send it out and it was bubbling and popping and popping, and popping and Kanye heard it and me and Kanye went to do “Touch The Sky.” Ok, go ahead.

Lupe Fiasco: So when we went to go do “Touch The Sky”, Kanye was like, ‘Yo, it's funny that you did “Conflict Diamond”, because that's the theme to my video, you know what I'm saying? Like little kids getting their hands cut off, I just didn't talk about it in the record, but my whole video is about blood diamond you know?’ So it’s just two people thinking alike on the same subject, you know what I'm saying, and bringing it out. Oh okay, now you have your own company,

1st & 15th, which will release your Atlantic-distributed debut?

Lupefiasco: Yeah, I started 1st & 15th. The deal with Epic

Records fell through with the group and one1st & 15th together. So it was like I went straight from being like

this – you know one of the members in the group, quote/unquote to

being you know like an owner of my own company, you know what I'm

saying? Right.

Lupefiasco: So like that happened when I was 19, so I've had 1st & 15th now for about five, six years, being Vice President. Okay, how does your Muslim faith factor into your music and how you approach music?

Lupe Fiasco: Well, I was born Muslim, so Islam plays a part in my everything I do, to a certain extent. I'm not like the poster boy for Islam you know what I'm saying? So it's like I still got my flaws and stuff like that, so I don't really wear that on my sleeve. [But] I'm really with some underlying consciousness, no matter what it is that I can talk about -cocaine, or I can talk about carrying guns. I've been literally carrying guns since I was five, like four or five years old, simply because my father was in the military and he wanted to teach us how to shoot. I've been shooting AK's since I was as baby, you know? I don't like to glorify ignorance or nothing like that, but I know you need to – you can talk about it in certain aspects. You'll still get the people who don't listen unless you're talking about nonsense. Catch their ear, and then at the same time, teach them something, you know? It [also] plays on the extra curricular stuff that happens about, about being like a rapper and being in the music business like going to – all right, I don't go to clubs, I don't drink, I don't smoke, you know like my whole – the whole groupie situation is shut down. You've adopted the nerd persona, but you’re also in a position associated with popularity and fame. How do you balance the two?

Lupe Fiasco: Well, I think everybody is a nerd in a certain aspect. You'll be surprised who you'll walk with, smoking his weed, smoking his gun, toting this 20" rim, [is the same guy who has] the whole collection of transformers at the crib. I don't wear that on my sleeve though. Moving on, I like what you're doing musically. What can we expect album wise?

Lupe Fiasco: Your album should be a whole performance, you know what I'm saying? It should be a whole movement to draw people in. I just tried to create a balance of good and bad, and that's where Food and Liquor comes from. Food is good. Liquor's always been bad - without being a Muslim. So I tried to create this balance of like really good you know happy stuff, you know what I'm saying? With this sharp reality, you know contrast to with it some real deep reality and real realness. I've been working on Food and Liquor for like five years, and it's really like my baby and masterpiece, and it's changed as I grew up with the album. When I first was working on Food and Liquor - at that point in time I had three chains and two Rolexes and driving this and running around in this, and you know I was hanging with them so it was really violent, you know what I'm saying? And really directed to my peer group, you know what I'm saying? I was aware at the time but this one's a little bit more general, it's going to be more universal, it's a little softer, you know? Almost grown up. [Click to hear to hear more about Lupe's influences.] Okay, who would you say your influences were?

Lupe Fiasco: You know I really tried to go back and recreate [Nas’] It Was Written, you know what I'm saying like that? [I would play] It Was Written and then I would play my album, and it was like, ‘Do we got [this] record, do we got that record?’ All right, what have you learned from Kanye West, if anything?

Lupe Fiasco: One thing I learned from Kanye, and what I think people don't focus on, they focus more on just the whole outwardness of him, you know what I'm saying? Like Kanye is really – when he gets creative - in the studio, performing, behind the camera, directing or co-directing, like he's really on his game. The way he goes at it and the way he attacks it, is crazy.

Click here to listen to an AllHipHop exclusive - Lupe Fiasco's "Switch

(Science Project)!"