Lupe Fiasco: Cool Like Dat

posted December 19, 2007 12:00:00 AM CST | 43 comments

Cool is as cool does. Lupe Fiasco has demonstrated a new kind of cool in Hip Hop since appearing alongside Kanye West in "Touch The Sky" in what feels like a lot longer ago than it really is. Having freshly released his sophomore album The Cool, this Chicago emcee only furthers what '80s John Hughes high school movies hinted at, "cool" might truly be another word for "nerdy."

With an album that's already climbing "best of" lists [click here], playlists and presumably the charts, Lupe Fiasco has a lot to say about the long, strange trip it's been. With his label backed up in distribution issues, its CEO goes back in to re-initiate his 1st & 15th movement that had been patiently waiting since 2004. He's touching on more influences in the gestalt of his art, defining abstract terms and elitism in Hip Hop. Fifteen years after the rebirth of slick, HipHopDX and Lupe examine the rebirth of cool.

HipHopDX: What is the meaning of cool is to you?
Lupe Fiasco:
Being yourself, not really being worried about what people think. To me, thats the illest cool to have.

DX: Can you buy cool?
Yes. Cool is as eternal as a high self-esteem state of mind. You can always dress it up. You can always dress to have the look of cool. Some of the coolest people are cool because of the way they dress the fashions. Marlon Brando comes to mind. Very cool. Its more of what they dress in than what you see in them. Like, Yeah, he was cool. Then when you talk to em, you realize theyre really cool.

DX: Does it ever work the other way? Somebody might read all the magazines or playlists and buy into it, but in reality, theyre herbs?
Yeah. Theres definitely that level of everything not being what it seems to be. But you know, you can see how much of their cool is original and how much is artificial. Its a balance. Its not just, to be cool, you have to be this upstanding, thinking person. Nah, you have your flaws, and its how you deal with those flaws and how you portray those flaws that makes you cool. Sometimes. I dont think thats a flaw. Ill do that. Ill take cues from different people and buy into what they say and come to find out I was wrong. Like, Damn, I thought this particular was really, really dope. But he turned out to be an asshole. I love his art, but I dont really want to meet him.

DX: I have definitely found that to be true in Hip Hop journalism many times over. What do you think determines cool in Hip Hop?
I dont know. Its too much of an enigma. Cool is subjective. I cant pull objective rules and guidelines of something like that. I think some of the coolest people in Hip Hop are people like Bun Bpeople like Snoop Dogg. They have a genuine kind of humility. When theyre with their brothers in music, their brothers in arms or whatever, theyre just cool ass people. Theres certain people with a certain cool about them in the world that are [actually] assholes. They dress fly, they dope, but they assholes. I cant tell you whats what and this is cool, I can just tell who is cool.

DX: Im glad you mentioned Bun B. With the press during Food & Liquor, you came across as a fan of Nas and The Native Tongues and all that, but I also know that through your siblings, youre a big follower of gangsta rap too
I was listening to [Pytor] Tchaikovsky. My brother was listening to gangsta rap. My sister was listening to eclecticwhatever. We were all listening to the radio. Trying to be cool with my brother, [I got into it]. At certain points with my sister, Id say, I cant work with that. They both had somewhat of an influence not as much what my sister played, only some. She might play a Fugees album while my brother would be bumpin OutKast and Psycho Drama and N.W.A. and No Limit. They were both dope. They both had their highs and both had their lows. It was one of the things that was ambient. I kinda pull something from both of them.

DX: Youve spoken a lot about your love for It Was Written. Most people go right to Illmatic. People are almost expected to love and study the same 15 classic rap albums or hear the same two every week. Maybe we saw this a little bit after the Vh1 incident with A Tribe Called Quest, but do you sense elitism in Hip Hop?
Its a bad thing. To me, its tantamount to racism. Its tom foolery of me to think that everybody would be open to everything else because you have people in the south who shun stuff from the east coast; if youre from the east coast, you shun stuff that comes from the souththeres always peer-pressure. Theres always people who push to be the elite. Like racism, everybody needs to be at some level of universality where we at least respect that we all didnt come up in the same circumstances. We all dont have the same influences. Were all trying to reach the same goals, and its all underneath Hip Hop. But some people will push it out, and thats when it starts to get a little spooky. Dont shun mine cause its got 808 [drums] in it; I wont shun yours cause its got a bunch of Soul samples in it. Its all trying to reach the understanding. It can get real serious, real nasty in certain instances, but it is what it is.

DX: In the last year, whats the best experience youve had with your music?
The touring. Going out there and performing. Thats one of the smaller things that I actually look forward to doing. Going on and jumping on stage and performing for my fans, and seeing their reaction instantly. Thats what music is. If you go back 300 years ago to the symphonies, there was no portable music. You had to come and see the music performed. Thats why you dressed up; it was an event. That was where it started. Thats the most fun whether its 60,000 or a little club, its always exciting.

DX: As a more seasoned performer, how much did performance affect the making of The Cool?
I definitely went back and made performance records. After Jay-Z saw me perform at Nokia Theater, he said, Yo, your show is dope! You just need one or two more records to really get the crowd and build on the show. If you look at Jays show, all Jay does is come out and perform all hits. All his records. He can do Jigga, My Nigga then Hard Knock Life, then go way back and pull Dead Presidents or something. Me going into this album, it was me making records that were ill performance records. Were not even taking time off tour. As were leading up to this album, weve been phasing out records we were performing from Food & Liquor and just adding stuff from The Cool. In the middle of next year, well be performing all Cool records. Thats definitely learning and getting [records designed for various points of a concert].

DX: How do you think the label, or the whole movement going into the sophomore effort would have been different had you won that Grammy?
I dont know. I dont know. It could have been a catastrophe. It could have meant nothing. It could have meant everything. I dont know. Thats such a small thing. The Grammy has a time limit. Theres a time limit where you can keep using it and keep using it, and then it dont mean anything. For certain people. The powers that be. Theyll be like, That dont mean nothin. Whatd you do for me lately?

DX: Whats going on with your label? We were talking about Geminis release this time last year
Its hustling. The Cool is definitely the foremost, cause thats the bread-winner for the company. Gemini is next in line. Matthew Santos is definitely right there. Were pushing a whole nother lane. Its a very small staff. We were focusing on expanding it and really kinda pushing on getting everybody out in 08. We want everybody out there workin before we grow stagnantbefore Lupe Fiasco phenomenon wears off and I fade away, I want to make sure I hit, hit, hit, hit. Gemini, it was problems with the distribution that sewed it up, but its done. Then The Cool came. Honestly, as an executive, I didnt have time to focus on his and focus on mine. So let me just go out here and rock mine, do what I do, and then Here, take this thing. Heres your world tour.

DX: Food & Liquor was the one time where an off-label executive producer really seemed to mean something. Jay-Zs cosign was huge. With 50 Cent and Lil Scrappy and Freeway, that wasnt as proven. With Snoop Dogg and Tru-Life, hes still on the shelf right now. How do you think that helped, and whats your overall view of this seemingly overused tactic?
I think Jay just got his Quincy Jones on. I think its something thats done in other genres. A lot of the Rock bands, you dont even know about these producers, but they have producers, guys who are well-known that do a total jump. I just think Jay and other people are progressing into that lane where they take their expertise with the music and try to put that with other artists in a more production role. Not just, help me on a song and keep it movin. [They are] actually behind the scenes, making it happen by pushing buttons. Things of that nature. I think thats something thats part of reaching that other level. For somebody to respect you enough to actually come out and do that, I think its dope, a progression.

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