In the rap genre, there is a very interesting relationship between levels of artistry and commercialization. Rappers have a very unique ability to poetically “wow” their listeners with cunning verses coupled with a cadence complementary of a beat. However, when money becomes a factor in an artist’s craft, things can quickly go awry. The tumultuous rap career of Wasalu Mohammad Jaco, or Lupe Fiasco, is one of the most interesting cases that demonstrate the dynamic relationship between balancing commercialization and artistry in modern hip hop.
Opinions of Lupe Fiasco are about as varying as your Mom’s moods during menopause. Some admire his plethora of flows while others cringe at the moment his name is brought up. In order to figure out why, it is important to examine the major events and major projects released by Lupe Fiasco up to this point.
Food and Liquor
“I ain’t from Nazareth,
|A fresh-cool-young Lu burst onto the scene in 2006 with his debut album. The album was an instant hit as Lupe’s distinct style really appealed to an extremely large group of rap fans. The beats were dynamic, unique and soulful and Lupe’s raps were insightful, thoughtful and masterfully executed. The album also featured very notable features from Jay-Z, Jill Scott as well as some of Lupe’s peers from FNF.
One of the most important reasons why Lupe Fiasco was so successful with this album was that he was able to present a really fresh perspective on what hip hop could be in a time where the bulk of the genre was very mundane and sounded the same. Lupe was able to connect with listener on another level because he was genuine in his intentions. He was also able to express an incredible amount of insight in a non-preachy way through his raps. In retrospect, the album can be seen as a certified classic and one of the best releases that modern hip hop has to offer. At this point, Lupe was determined to top his debut album with his sophomore release.
The same ingredients that were mixed into the pot to produce F&L were fine tuned and the product was Lupe’s sophomore effort: The Cool. The tracks featured on the album were dark as Lupe delved deep into the character he had introduced in his first album which had the same name as the album title. Conceptually, the album is unparalleled. In addition, the actual music that accompanies the subjects act as a medium for the issues and concepts that Lupe wanted to convey. The beats are full, diverse and act as a perfect pairing to the raps laid onto the instrumentals.
|The verses were beyond memorable. More specifically, the verses on “The Coolest” are one of the strongest verses bar-for-bar in years. The same can be said for “Little Weapon”, “Hello/Goodbye”, “Put you on the Game” and plenty more. If Lupe was not bombarding listeners with lyrical his prowess, he was utilizing his unyielding flows, rhyme schemes and potent delivery.
The hooks were catchy and the album approaches perfection if there ever was such a thing. Lupe Fiasco was 2/2. He had a perfect record and it seemed as if he could do no wrong. His future in the rap game looked as bright as it could be and rap fans rejoiced in being able to witness the rise of such a bright young man. It seemed like nothing could go wrong, right? Right?!
Lupe Fiasco was suddenly speaking out against to the media about his record company prior to the release of his third full length LP. He was claiming that he was not given his artistic freedom for the project and that he was pressured to create a more “radio-friendly” album. Rap fans tried to ignore this and still set some pretty high expectations for the release. Everyone should have taken heed because Lasers is one of the biggest tragedies that hip hop has ever seen.
Hyperbolic much? Let me explain.
The fact is that the album was filled to the brim with corny beats and beyond corny hooks. On top of that, Lupe’s raps were extremely simplified. From his flow, lyrics and the songs’ concepts; Lupe did what he ridiculed other rappers did by dumbing it down.
The album was by no means the worst offering hip hop has to offer in the genre’s history, however, the worst part about it was how weak it was when you consider the artist who is offering the album to his listeners. If this album was released by a rapper like Soulja Boy, it would probably be considered in a very high regard, but this is from the same guy that gave us Food & Liquor and The Cool. Lupe Fiasco was flawless in his first two projects, but he missed the target completely with his third.
“A different hook, the way the sentences arranged,
|Lasers is a perfect album to dig deeper on the effects of commercialization on hip hop. One of the worst parts about this whole “fiasco” (I’m sorry), was that Lupe’s record company won in the end. Lasers was easily the most profitable piece of work that Lupe Fiasco had released to the public, even amidst all of the controversy and backlash it got from his fans. Lupe was on the radio, his record sales were great and the mainstream was starting to warm up to the chi-town rapper.
Enter the era of Lupe`s short dreads and Harry Potter glasses. Perhaps he warmed up to his fattening pockets as he has never been the same since. After Lasers, he released a 12 track mixtape called Friend of the People. There were definitely some noteworthy songs on the project, but it shared transgressions from Lasers.
|Lupe then announced that he would be coming out with another studio album, which would act as a sequel to his first LP. Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 seemed promising on paper. Lupe promised he would be returning to his socially conscious topics and straying away from the EDM-influenced beats.
The album finally arrived and Lupe stayed true to his promises in how he described the album. Although the album was arguably an upgrade from Lasers, it fell short in the regard of being extremely impactful for listeners. It lacked the full beats, the masterful lyrics and was overall very underwhelming. This is especially true if you compare it to his first two efforts.
Lupe Fiasco’s fall from grace can really be put into perspective when you compare his first two albums to other artists’ work. Kanye West is undeniably one of the biggest stars in hip hop today. Although his latest work may not even be considered hip hop, it is really hard to deny that he has definitely left his mark on the genre. This is especially true for West’s first two albums: College Dropout and Late Registration. These two albums were released a couple years earlier than Lupe’s first two, respectively, but when you compare the albums with each other, it is extremely difficult to choose whose were better. You could even go as far to say that Lupe Fiasco’s first two albums trumps Kanye’s as the beats were relatively even in quality but Lupe’s raps could be given a slight edge.
Now let’s look at what each artist has done since. Kanye has reached the upper echelon of hip hop lore. People will look back on him and tell tales about how much they listened and love his music when they were growing up as they pit him against other hip hop giants from the past.
And Lupe? Yuck, sour taste in your mouth.
|Sure, Lupe Fiasco made more money than he ever did with Lasers but what did it do to his career in the long run? He is easily one of the most interesting artists in hip hop and it is a shame that he was never able to reach the heights that he set for himself with Food & Liquor and The Cool.
Now, what lies in the horizon for Lupe in the future? He is set to go on tour to promote his upcoming album named: Tetsuo & Youth. As much as we would all love for Lupe to return to original form, it is becoming less and less likely as time goes by.
The story of Lupe Fiasco is indeed tragic; however, it serves as a lesson of how fine the line is between the levels of commercialization and artistry. As hip hop fans we really need to demand more from our artists. We need to make sure that our favorite up and coming rappers do not chase the easy money instead of really trying to make a meaningful legacy for themselves. Go to their shows, buy their albums so that they know that they are on the right path. This way, we can enjoy the utmost highest quality of offerings that artists have to offer and they may lead to more fulfilling careers.