Published Jan 01, 2006Two questions into my interview with Lupe Fiasco, a stocky man walks up, brazenly ignoring the Q&A set-up and introduces himself to the MC. Lupe regards the man quizzically; the man wants him to come into the clothing store where he works. "Im in a smooth rush right now, says Lupe politely. Clearly Lupe Fiasco is a very hot property.
Being approached isnt new to the Chicago MC, but hes one of the few people to have a song on the topic as his current single. "I Gotcha, produced by the Neptunes, features the crafty wordsmith rhyming, in part, about how in-demand he is. Its not merely bragging, as this random encounter proves. After all, Lupe Fiasco has been the most hyped artist in hip-hop for the past year. But why all the attention?
His politically charged "Conflict Diamonds mix-tape rhyme over Kanye Wests "Diamonds From Sierra Leone, plus his cameo on Wests "Touch the Sky, as well as his "Kick, Push single about skateboarding raised curious eyebrows from hip-hop aficionados, but Lupe has been cultivating his against-the-grain rep for a while. Despite hating hip-hop as a child, Lupe scored an ill-fated record deal with Arista before he finished high school, but it was valuable advice from a certain Brooklyn MC that put him on the right path. "One of the lessons Jay-Z told me was dont chase radio. I took that as dont follow what everybody else is doing. Its the risk takers who win.
With no qualms about his fascination with skateboarding, role-playing videogames, Japanimation and sneakers, and a willingness to discuss his nerdiness, his Muslim faith and freely proliferate his Fahrenheit 1/15 mix tapes from his personal website, Lupe concentrated just as hard on his image as his music. "I exploit my own diversity, he says. "I know what I have that the other rapper doesnt have and I know how to put it out there and have it come back to my music. People go, Ooh he loves sneakers. Who is he? Oh he does music? Thats that niche, that sneaker community. I know how to use that a little bit, but Im not a master.
Clearly the approach has worked; Lupes debut Food and Liquor is one of the most eagerly anticipated hip-hop records of the year. But beyond the hype, Lupe Fiasco has the skills to deliver. His sophisticated awareness is distilled in an intricate rhyme style, highly influenced by the "simple complexities of jazz, weaving street smart and often ambiguous narratives atop comparably lucid yet soulful arrangements. Despite the contention the albums title reflects a balance of good and bad, Lupe Fiasco is careful to sidestep negativity. "I come from one of the most violent neighbourhoods in the world, he says of his west side Chicago stomping grounds. "So its kinda like, Lets quiet that. Put that over here, he says, lifting an imaginary box. "Everybodys like, Youre not gonna talk about that? Whereas its like, let me take this weird skateboard route. It was kinda weird to the people surrounding me.
Since his recent success, his friends are not the only converts to his efforts. "The good works, he says. "You dont have to exploit violence, you dont have to follow that for success. You dont know what this could do and that unknown, just that unknown stuff that you could do and capture, to me thats whats exciting.