Lupe Fiasco Interview
Contactmusic.com talks to the rapper from Chicago that Jay-Z thinks is 'a breath of fresh air' to hip-hop.
Hi Lupe, I'm curious how did your name come about?
My real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco. I always rapped under the name of Lu or Lil' Lu but in high school I wanted to change it. I had a friend called Lupe and I said 'I'm gonna take that'. The Fiasco came from The Firm album as I liked how it looked on paper.
Since some of the tracks off your album 'Food and Liquor' have been leaked out, will the record label find it difficult to convince people into buying the new version?
No, I doubt it, because there were only six tracks leaked. We're not sure if the tracks have been bootlegged underground yet, the actually physical distribution on the streets as oppose to digital copies being downloaded would be our main concern. We definitely took a hit though but we really won't know until the album comes out.
Don't you just hate that?
Nah, because the feedback has been very good. It's just the frustrating fact that I didn't have a chance to complete something before it came out. People are reviewing the album when the song titles are all wrong, that does irk me.
I read that with the already leaked material some people are comparing it to Illmatic, they are calling it a future classic. Is this true and do you think you're as good as Nasir Jones?
(Laughs) I don't know, its other peoples opinions. You can base it off whether the album is going to sell, when people review your album how they are going to rate it, it's really a lot of personal opinions. I believe the final version is a good album, even the version that got out I think is good. With regards to Nas, I have learnt from him and I don't think that you can ever be as good as the person you are learning from.
'Kick Push' has an instant quality to it that seems to blend observation of life with a sense of cutting loose. We live in tense times, with some violent music around - is this track a response to that?
I definitely think that it was deliberate in a sense to be different, but it is what it is, a record about skateboarding, strictly. There isn't any double meaning about it. I know it was a shock to the system of what is out there now with all that ass-shaking, the drugs and other vices. When they début the video for Kick & Push on MTV I bet people actually look like they have seen a ghost (laughs) with the audience asking 'what was that?' There were no diamonds on show, there wasn't anything extra about it. It's just the story of a skateboarder and I think that regular aspect of it appeals to so many people who are not caught up in the hype – I did it for that particular group of people.
Many people are going to recognise you from Kanye West's single 'Touch the Sky', but how come he didn't repay the favour on your album?
We worked together, but it's a situation where we did like 80 songs for the whole project, and then we had to cut it down. But my company is not the type to just jump on the bandwagon because you have a name, if that was the case my whole album would be produced by The Neptunes.
True and we all know how expensive it is to get those recycled beats! So do you worry about potential overexposure once 'Food & Liquor' drops?
I worry about overexposure with what I am doing now, at every junction. When something is presented to me or I am asked to perform somewhere, I question it. I would have made a better status quo artist about 2-3 years prior because I was ignorant and a little more excitable about certain situations. I would have sold for the money really quickly then but I question things now. Like, there are certain magazines that I will never be in.
I wouldn't be in Playboy. You won't see an interview in the back about Lupe Fiasco. There are certain magazines that are really exploitive, where the purpose and point of the magazine is just debauchery. It would be very rare for me to get involved with such things. You know I don't even like to go to clubs because there is alcohol there. There are a lot of things that I am not going to do but what I try to do is make my music diverse and keep myself open in order to draw attention to other areas. So no I am not going to have a sponsored Hennessy tour or a Remy Martin tour but I just may have a Red Bull or Pepsi sponsored tour, although I know I could be shut down because of my morals I make sure that I have a back up plan to either equal the amount of exposure or even double it simple because it hasn't been done before.
That's a different approach…
Different equals challenges.
I'm guessing this has to do with you being a Muslim. Has your Islamic upbringing had any influence in your music?
Most definitely. With Islam being in the front of many peoples mind though, it does get interesting. It is more the extra curricula actives of being in the music industry where Islam comes into play with regards to the drinking, the smoking and the women but on a political level it gets really weird when I soapbox or point out something, although its common knowledge some of the things I may voice my opinion on, I still get pointed out as a 'card carrying Islamic' or I will immediately get tagged because I am speaking from a Muslims point of view. I personally believe that when you speak from a Muslim point of view you are speaking for all people. Such as, gambling is wrong in all religions so if I speak about a vice or gambling in many of my songs it not just because I'm a Muslim, it wrong morally. Full stop.
Are you going to speak out more politically?
Nah, I think that I am one of the intellectuals, and we don't do much in terms of speaking out, we do however shed light on certain subjects. I don't want to be the forefront – I am not a leader. We will never have Utopia, nothing is ever going to be balanced, it's never going to be fair in this world and I don't aspire to those ends anyway.
1st and 15th Productions, can you tell us more about this and what you hope to be outing next with them?
We have a label deal with Atlantic Records, I am the first artist off it and also the vice president. We have an artist called Gemini that we are working with and we have just signed a girl R&B girl group Risqué. Plus we do a lot of writing and production behind the scene, so we definitely have a lot of things coming out in the future.
In addition to owning a record label, you own 'Righteous Kung Fu'. How did you get involved with this and what products will you be offering?
I've had the company for about a year now. Righteous Kung Fu comes from a love of the skateboarding culture, there are a lots of things associated with it like the shoes, clothes, art. It's become an avenue for everything I cannot express musically, through an image on a t-shirt or on a website. Righteous Kung Fu created an outlet for me business wise in something I love to do. I am so caught up with running 1st and 15th Productions, this was the only way that I would be able to do the skating thing, by having a company for it. I have an excuse to play with toys all day (laughs). I have a team of 5 Chicago based designers whose backgrounds range from high art to graffiti to 3-D animation & everything in between.
Which came first the skateboarding or the microphone?
Truly the skateboarding came first merely as just a hobby, which I have been doing since I was 6 or 7 so I wasn't rapping at that age but skateboarding wasn't permanent, it was just a toy. Then the rapping came and pulled me more to hip hop as opposed to the skateboarding because I wasn't really into skate board culture then. However now that I have been more privy to it and participating into the culture I understand and enjoy it more.
Being a self-confessed nerd sets you aside from some of the crotch grabbing hard men, right?
(Laughs)I have a lot of nerdy tendencies. I think all collectors are nerds. If you collect anything you are a nerd, because you are going to have an unnatural knowledge of it. So if you collect comic books and your like 'I know every character and the artist …' it might not seem nerdy on the surface but if you sit down and have a conversation with that person in-depth, you'll see the nerd in them! To me we usually equate nerdy-ness with knowledge and coolness with a sort of ignorance. I definitely don't want to be cool.