Give 'Em Their Flowers: Thank You Lupe Fiasco for Withstanding the Turbulence
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
If you know me personally or have seen any one of my numerous tweets, you know I’m a HUGE Kid Cudi fan. But before there was the “double O repper” there was another mid-western rapper who had my heart, and my ears.
The first time I heard Lupe Fiasco’s verse on Kanye West's “Touch the Sky” was when I truly fell in love with hip hop. Sure, I’ve been a fan of hip hop and music in general, since I could repeat lyrics. Still, it wasn’t until I started playing an instrument (flutist) that I was able to break down what I was hearing musically and had some idea what it took to create a sound. Lupe’s voice was smooth like velvet with a youthful cadence filled with confidence and hope, but beyond that, he attacked the beat like he had something important to say, and I would soon find out he did.
“Yes, yes, yes. Guess who’s on third? Lupe still like looping the third…I represent the first, now let me end my verse right where the horns are”
Lupe first emerged on the scene in 2005 with a number of mixtapes, but it would be his Fahrenheit 1/15 series that really got him buzzing and primed music fans on what the Chicago-native had in store. With a co-sign from Jay Z and placement with one of the hottest rappers, Lupe’s future looked bright in 2006. He released one of his most notable songs, “Kick,Push,” followed by his second single “I Gotcha,” and just like that, he set the stage.
Lupe’s debut album Food and Liquor released in 2006 blessing us during a time when dance crazes were all the hype, and just as blog era rap had come about. Mainstream rap at the time was for flashy and boastful bars; video vixens graced all the magazines, and the music was just fun. There weren’t too many artists asking you to think critically, especially about the plight of others. Lupe addressed it all: absent fathers, hustlers, the effects of “the cool”, terrorism and so much more.
Lupe’s impact on me was huge. Like drawing robots in my notebooks and by the time his second album The Cool came out, putting it on repeat so I could breakdown each bar of the tracklist, huge. The Cool was released in 2007 and is undoubtedly a classic hip-hop album. Spanning 19 tracks, Lupe covered everything: being an unlikely superstar, the reality of child soldiers, “the game” and her love for no one, and even the act of survival from the point of view of a cheeseburger. But don’t get it confused, Lupe could brag too. He was wearing Goyard, Hugo Boss, Maharishi and talked about anime before most even knew what it was (see “Gold Watch”).
My new lady gave me a Mercedes and necklace with a solid gold key like the starter of a car, the opener of a door, or two pounds of raw. You gave me a baby, but what about lately? Then ha-ha-ha-ha-ha’d right up in her face, G, there’s more fish in the sea, I’m on my mission to be, be… - "The Coolest"
His mid-western accent, multi-entendres, and storytelling ability (like that of “And He Gets the Girl”) would have me scouring the blogs eager to learn everything I could about him. It was then that I decided I would become a writer so that I could one-day interview artists and ask all the burning questions I had for myself.
Lupe would experience turbulence from every direction it seemed in the coming years. There was a weird beef with skater Terry Kennedy which sparked from Kennedy feeling like Lupe was appropriating skate culture, even though Lupe did skate and “Kick, Push” was a metaphor for hustling. Threats of retirement with a final album LupEND (just the first of many). His outspoken opposition for President Barack Obama caused a lot of confusion because people couldn’t understand how a Black man from Chicago didn’t support another Black man from Chicago and his run for the presidency. He forgot the lyrics to “Electric Relaxation” during A Tribe Called Quest tribute at the VH1 Hip Hop Honors, causing a Fiascogate. Because of his strong ideologies about the state of America and hip hop, and the unabashed way in which he spoke about them, Lupe wasn’t a class favorite. Some people at that time reveled in the hate he received and hoped it would lead to his career’s demise. And for a while, it would seem it did.
Lasers released in 2011 — only after petitioning for its release from fans on Twitter as Lupe was in the midst of a historic fight with his label Atlantic — four years after his last album to grave reviews. He cited his relationship with Atlantic as a “mentally destructive” battle that left him suicidal and ready to walk away from it all. In 2012, Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt.1 was released, which picked up where his first album left off, or at least that was the goal. Still, I’m not sure many people looked forward to hearing what he had to say at the time as Chief Keef’s threats to smack him and his announcement of retirement in response overshadowed its release.
Following that, we publicly saw what many took as Lupe spiraling. From canceling his album and quitting Twitter, to being kicked off of the stage at the inaugural event after an anti-Obama rant. It would seem his career was finally seeing its end. We saw reports of Lupe partaking in martial arts and videos of his sword work on the other side of the world. To many, he looked crazy, but to me, he was going back to his foundation, recharging and strengthening himself for battle.
With 2015 came Tetsuo & Youth and the end of his obligation to Atlantic. With an undeniable hunger, Lupe attacked, and he's back. Since then, he's released his sixth and seventh studio albums DROGAS Light and DROGAS Wave, the latter being more like an audiobook with its content.
Many critics of the rapper's music point back to the cataclysmic 2011 and his seemingly constant need to always be on the opposite side of the majority as his career's ultimate downfall. A destructive situation with his label lead to missed opportunities, ones that could have catapulted him into mainstream fame but instead had the opposite effect. His inability to make an album that lives up to Food and Liquor and satisfy critics will always be the ceiling many would like him to break, but Lupe is beyond that these days.
Welcome all of y'all to my dark recesses This is where I keep the bars like bathtub edges My Ivories and my Doves, my Levers and my Zests This takes half of your bubble bath to match the freshness
I’m thankful after all the years of turbulence, Lupe saw fit to stick around and stand in his truth, dignity in tack. If not for us, then because he still has something to say. There will always be those who have opposing feelings about conscious rap but despite their disdain, it’s needed. It should not be lost on the many the huge role Lupe played in Chicago rap and hip hop with his emergence in 2006. Whether you believe he’s too ‘preachy,’ weird, or otherwise, be sure to give him his due respect and his flowers while he can still smell them.
At this year’s Redbull Music Festival in his hometown of Chicago, Lupe performed the entire Food and Liquor album to a sold-out crowd, and they did just that.