The buzz surrounding Chi-Town emcee Lupe Fiasco is practically deafening. With the popular ‘˜Kick, Push’ gaining mainstream acceptance Lupe is coasting down a road of surefire success. Fortunately, he hasn’t got caught up in the hype of being proclaimed ‘˜next.’ He is appreciative of his accolades but more importantly on top of his business as he creates a foundation for a long career. We chatted with Lupe for a bit to discuss his label 1st & 15th, multimedia company Righteous Kung Fu, his hype and the realities of the record industry.
Halftimeonline: You’ve been doing a zillion interviews lately and I know cats be asking you the same questions over and over again and we hate to rehash. Can you answer the most common questions so we can get that out of the way?
Lupe Fiasco: Aiight. I picked up my name Lupe Fiasco in high school. My name is Wasalu and I would always rap under Lu, little Lu or Lu tha Underdog or something like that. So when it came time to change my rap name I had a friend named Lupe and so I was like I’ll take the name Lupe. The Fiasco part came from The Firm album because they had a song called ‘œFirm Fiasco.’ I liked the way Fiasco looked so I named myself Lupe Fiasco. As far as the leak I don’t really feel too bad about the leak anymore because it was such a big help and a boost to my situation. Initially when it happened I was shook creatively. I was worried that people were going to make their decision whether they like Lupe Fiasco or not that early [without the finished product]. The title of the album, ‘œFood & Liquor,’ comes from 85% of the corner stores in Chicago being called Food & Liquor be it Mike’s Food & Liquor, Factory Food & Liquor or whatever. I only saw that in Chicago so to me that was real specific to Chicago and real subtle too because if you weren’t from Chicago you wouldn’t know. On the other side of things I don’t drink or smoke because I’m Muslim but even outside of that I don’t like alcohol. I don’t like what it does to people, the way it smells, or anything like that. So the liquor represents the bad and the food represents the good. I think the world is made up of food and liquor, good and bad, so I wanted to put that out there for the album.
As far as me being Muslim it affects my music as far as the stuff I don’t talk about. I don’t degrade women in my records, I try not to use profanity in my records or put anything negative in my records. I always try to put a positive message or solution in my records so people can take something with them that’s positive. I don’t have 9 brothers but there are 9 of us. That’s one that runs ridiculously. It’s 9 of us, 5 girls and four boys, and I’m the youngest boy and the fourth youngest out of the whole family. Oh yea and Westside of Chicago is where I’m from.
Halftimeonline: Cool, I’m glad we got all of that out of the way. My man who put me onto you was really talking about you like you could possibly be the chosen one that will bring balance to the rap game.
Lupe Fiasco: Haha
Halftimeonline: If you’re album is as successful as you hope how do you think it will affect the hip hop landscape?
Lupe Fiasco: There are two things that make people change up. You have the creative people who just love different things and that makes them switch up. Another thing that makes people switch up more is probably money. So if it makes money you’ll have a lot of rappers with glasses.
Lupe Fiasco: They’ll talk about being nerds and all that stuff. Not that you don’t have a few of those cats running around now but that’s gonna be their whole theme or mystique. You’ll have people running around making songs about snowboards. You’ll have people running away from the hood, cars, chains and talk about the most to the left stuff. I can see people making songs about airplane stewardesses and all types of other stuff. People will be coming out of the woodwork if it’s successful.
Halftimeonline: You’ve been buzzing like crazy, you have your own shoe and haven’t even dropped an album yet, so the hype is off the charts which usually leads people to say some premature things. What’s the most ridiculous thing someone has said where it even makes you be like damn you’re caught up in the hype?
Lupe Fiasco: It’s real subtle. It’s not nothing crazy but the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard so far is kids being like he’s the savior of hip hop. It’s like I’m the Messiah of Hip Hop. I’m like yo nah cuz I truly don’t believe that hip hop needs saving. It just needs a shift in the subject matter. It needs to shift towards more positive things and that doesn’t really have anything to do with the artist because there are artists out there who do positive things but they don’t get the focus from the media. They don’t get the push from BET, MTV, radio and the major venues but they’re there and it’s still hip hop. Just because they’re not out on the main scene doesn’t mean they don’t exist. So I am conscious of that and would never say that I am because I’d be overlooking all of those people who were doing it before me and will probably still be doing it long after I’m gone. I’m like you got people out there doing it better than me but they just don’t get the shine or the stars didn’t align properly on their situation like it did on mine. We’re talking about the same stuff and probably pushing the same agenda.
Halftimeonline: One thing that’s always said is that money and success doesn’t change the person but the people around them. Have you seen that occur in your situation and how have you kept yourself grounded through this whole process?
Lupe Fiasco: I’ve always been independent and that’s just my nature. I like to be by myself and I like my circle to be very small. It could be some of my closest friends and I won’t talk to them for six months. It’s not a spite situation it’s just me off into my own little world but when we talk it’s just like we never left. So my circle of friends is very small and it isn’t like they changed but they are experiencing new things because of me. Yesterday I was out with my homies and I don’t go to clubs but they do so they’ll drop me off at the hotel and take the driver and go to the party that I’m supposed to be at. I’m like yo ya’ll are living vicariously through me. It gives them an opportunity to do things they never did before and when you do and experience things you never did before you change and aspire to having experiences like that. I think even I changed a little bit. I think as I experience more it lost that much more flavor. All the successes and things that come with the music business I got before I dropped an album. I had covers of magazines, my own shoe, full write ups and stuff like that and the monetary stuff as well. I got a grammy. A couple of years ago I was flooded in diamond chains. So I was getting all of these rewards from being in the music business early and then it just lost its luster. So now that I’m on the forefront about to come out everything that you would expect to get when an artist’s album comes out I already have.
Some people think that I’m actually arrogant because they’ll ask how it felt to be on such and such and I’ll be like it was aiight. What they don’t understand is that I did it two or three years ago but since I’m a ‘œnew’ artist they think that I’m supposed to be ignorant to the facts or situation so they chalk it up to arrogance. I’m like I’m arrogant because I don’t want to sit up at these awards? Even though I was here two years ago, know everybody here and this isn’t really my cup of tea? It’s weird because I’m always balancing and trying to give people a little bit of my history like I’ve done all of this before. I’ve been back and forth to different countries around the world just chillin. Not on no music business stuff just going to go because I wanted to see a different place or go to Asia or something like that. You come back with these experiences and people are like how does it feel to be at such and such? Like the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival was great. It was ridiculous because I got to perform with Big Daddy Kane and CL Smooth and it was an amazing crowd but I was telling everyone it was bittersweet because my man was getting married the same day and I couldn’t go to his wedding. It’s those real life things I let people know to show I’m a real person. At the end of the day the music business cuts off because to me it’s a job. It’s stressful, tiring and has its rewards but it’s a job from 7 ‘“ 11 and I have a personal life within that. I’m a rapper but I’m Wasalu Jaco at the same time. It’s stressful at times and I try to let people know so they don’t be like aiight whatever.
Halftimeonline: One of the things I’ve noticed in a lot of your interviews is that you seem in tune with the international hip hop community. A lot of cats think about promoting themselves domestically but never think about Romania or someplace like that where people may really be feeling them. Being aware of that how do you think that will help you and how do you plan to maximize your exposure overseas?
Lupe Fiasco: I think it will help a lot. I think for one creatively it helps. You get to go outside of your environment and see cultures which are completely different. The actual products of their culture like the music, language, schools, food, and architecture could be completely different especially in Asia. It’s good to see what comes out of that and see what type of music that they make. Even some of the American stuff they reintroduce comes out better, acoustically or whatever, because they take so much time to ensure the quality especially in places like Japan. It’s good to see that and it helps you. I’ve done records with Cantonese rap stars and European rap stars and it’s good to have that variation and see different outlooks on life and different situations. On the business side it’s also good because it gets you out there and opens you up to many different markets. It means that much more for your record sales and exposure overall which all comes back to your business. Plus when companies approach you they’re thinking worldwide because he has a movement here, here and there so that’s much more of a premium that they have to give you because they know by you just wearing that shirt, hat, shoe or drinking that soda it’s gonna get looked at around the world and not just in America or just in your region. It helps on all fronts and then it gives you an excuse to travel and go see the world. Even in America it’s good to travel to see the different things going on because America is a very diverse place. Traveling the world is one of my fantasies like when you’re sitting down reading a book by Mark Twain and reading adventure stories of people going out to Asia and all of these different places. Even just watching Mission Impossible and in every scene he is in a different country speaking a new language.
Halftimeonline: Tell me a bit about your multimedia company. I heard you’re big into anime.
Lupe Fiasco: Yea, it’s called Righteous Kung Fu. It’s a multimedia company that deals with anything visual and non musical. Anything musical we do through 1st and 15th. Everything that has to do with the nerdy stuff that I’m interested in like comic books, toys, and sneakers or even clothing lines, websites, and video games I run through Righteous Kung Fu. We’ve had a few collaborations and have a few more on the way. We routed the a lot of the design work that’ll be coming out in the next six months to a year from the shoe deal I did with Reebok to Righteous Kung Fu. Righteous Kung Fu did all the art work on my album. We do a lot. Whatever I can do artistically and visually I do it through Righteous Kung Fu.
Halftimeonline: Things are coming together so well for you right now with the different companies. Was this always planned or are you simply taking advantage of the opportunities as they come up?
Lupe Fiasco: Well ever since high school I always wanted to own a company. I wanted to own something that was doing something and have it multifaceted. I have something called the Nigo syndrome. He’s the guy who designs Bathing Ape. He started out as just a clothing company and as he was going on in his career and the company kept growing he started to see things that he wanted. He didn’t have time to leave the office to go get something to eat so he put a cafÃ© in the office and then it turned into a restaurant. He didn’t have time to go get his haircut so he opened up a salon. Then he decided to make shoes and then was like well now I need to open up a sneaker store. It’s more like necessity is the mother of invention so as opportunities arose I was like hmm let me capitalize off of this. I’m really picky and I like to micromanage so it’s probably the best thing to have your own company that is credible and knows what it’s doing so you could micromanage it all the way down. It’s my little Howard Hughes type thing. I want the quality control to be high and the only way you can do that is to have an in house quality control team.
Halftimeonline: You mentioned how you have already had a lot of successes in hip hop early. I know you had a few deals before now but between high school and now what exactly were you doing? Was it all music or did you go to college or what?
Lupe Fiasco: It was 100% grinding with the music. I plan on going to college maybe after this album comes out. I’ll probably go somewhere overseas. There wasn’t a period of time that I wasn’t in the music business from 18 until now. The longest break I had was maybe six months and during that six months we were building 1st and 15th so it was not like I was out of the music business. I’ve always been in the music business day in and day out writing, working, promoting, producing, managing just doing something towards music. Just this past year, with Righteous Kung Fu, is the first time I’ve been working on something that’s not music but at the same time we’re working with the Jay-Zs, Puff Daddies and Pharells of the fashion world getting the same kudos I get on the music side. So for that whole period of time I was doing music. Yo I’ve been working on Food & Liquor for five years. This is the same record I had when I got my first solo deal with Arista. It was ‘œLupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor’ then.
Halftimeonline: Damn, I feel like I’d be mad frustrated and then probably be numb to the whole thing where they’d be like oh you got this deal and I’d be like yea ok whatever that’s what the last three people said.
Lupe Fiasco: Haha. Yea that’s what it is.
Halftimeonline: Well after five years it has to feel good that it’s finally going to come out.
Lupe Fiasco: Yea, it’s good. I always say this in interviews I’ve done everything but put an album out. So I’m a little excited about actually having an album in stores. I just want to see what happens when I have an album out even though I know what comes with it if it is successful or if it’s unsuccessful. I just want to see. I want to walk into Best Buy and be like hey there goes my album.
Halftimeonline: My favorite song that I’ve heard from you so far is ‘œSwitch.’ How did you to come up with the idea and how long did it take you to perfect it?
Lupe Fiasco: It’s not even perfected. To me that’s a real sloppy record. I rushed a lot of stuff on there and it was really because it was a mixtape. It was the second mixtape and around that time the album was supposed to come out two months after that so I didn’t want to put in as much effort. I didn’t want it to be a situation where they had this really solid mixtape and were comparing it to the album. So I took it light on the mixtape. With ‘œSwitch’ I was just like I’m gonna do a song where I rap every different style. I could have really gone for the gusto on that record but I didn’t. That’s what’s crazy is because I put very little effort into it but it blew up because that’s the record that got me my deal with Reebok. They played it in a meeting and were like ‘˜Oh my god!’ I have a more stepped up version of ‘œSwitch’ that I’m planning for the album.
Halftimeonline: I know the album got pushed back a bit so what’s the official release date right now?
Lupe Fiasco: August 29th here and August 28th in the UK [Ed. note: Album was pushed back to 9/19 a couple days after this interview].
Halftimeonline: You went back and added and finished some songs so what are some things people can expect on the official version?
Lupe Fiasco: I did a song with Kanye West producing, I did a song with Jay-Z, a song with the Neptunes, a song with Jill Scott, and more records with Soundtrack and Pro which weren’t on the leak. It’s my complete vision of what Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor is supposed to be. People definitely got a direction from the leak, as far as the satire and social commentary, but they didn’t get the complete vision.