This article is from Issue 51: May/June 2011

Lupe Fiasco

The conscientious rapper talks politics, faith and why his label woes drove him to the desert

As a rapper, entrepreneur and social activist, Wasalu Muhammed Jaco- aka, Lupe Fiasco- has been challenging hip-hop paradigms since he arrived on the scene in 2007. The self-proclaimed "nerd" has seen his star rise with each consecutive release, lighting up the charts on "Touch the Sky" with Kanye West, “Kick, Push” (probably the only hip-hop anthem all about skate- boarding) and “Superstar.” After a professionally and personally chaotic year, 2011 finally sees the arrival of his much delayed third release, Lasers—a backronym for “Love Always Shines Everytime, Remember 2 Smile.” Hook-laden and polished, Lasers is arguably the wordsmith’s boldest work to date—a set of socially progres- sive, politically incendiary rebel cries that come complete with a 14-point manifesto (WeAreNotLosers.com). And, if you’ve heard his lead single, “Words I Never Said,” you know Lupe Fiasco has a lot to say about more than just his music. RELEVANT recently sat down with the rapper to discuss his label troubles, his role as provocateur and his Muslim faith.

Lasers was two years in the making ... and not because you wanted to take two years to release it. How did that happen?

It was the traditional “creative difference” relationship that has seen exists between an artist and label executives. It exists with techno bands, pop singers, jazz musicians. You have the people who put money into a project and feel they have certain artistic input about that project and leverage the release of that project or particular songs on that project. It’s to the point where the executive becomes the artist and the roles almost get reversed and the artist is forced to act in a business capacity. It cancels out release dates, it cancels out progression of the music. It creates a feedback loop where you become an artist speaking to another artist.

The traditional relationship between a record company and the artist was where the artist would be the crazy, wild, abstract person and the record company would basically tell them to stop in order to meet a deadline. Now, the system I’m in has become about dibbling and dabbling in the actual art itself to make it more commercially viable for their bottom line, even outside of just royalties. It’s a complicated relationship that went sour real fast.