Many of the music bloggers contributing to this collective are die-hard fans of indie-rock and folk music, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of us dabble in most genres. Well, it’s insufficient to say that I dabble in hip hop, because frankly, it’s most of what I listen to. I can’t get enough of it. It fuels my fire. So when people say hip hop is dead, what do I do? I give them reason to believe otherwise. Welcome to my biweekly column: Hip Hop Aint Dead. Oh and my name is Lydia, I come to you from Sunset in the Rearview.
Just yesterday, Lupe Fiasco released his long-awaited album, L.A.S.E.R.S., and let me tell you: this fiasco, no pun intended, is an example of hip hop teetering the line of death. Quick background: L.A.S.E.R.S. was conceived years ago and intended to be a final hurrah from Lupe. It was to be called LupE.N.D., and after its release, Lupe would be waving goodbye to the music industry to pursue other things in life. Unfortunately for Lupe, his dictator…ahem…record label, Atlantic Records, did not approve of this plan. So what did they do? They did not allow any releases out of Lupe for three whole years. Oh, and did I mention that it took a public protest outside the Atlantic offices in Chicago and New York before the label budged to allow Fiasco to release an album?
But who gives, right? The record label delayed the release and changed the name; so what? Well, it’s a bit more than that, really. What it goes to show is that the label is essentially the death grip on this here rapper’s career. ‘But Lydia, that doesn’t make sense! They stopped him from releasing his final record of his career and thus quitting making music!’ Yes, maybe. But what did they do along the way? They forced him to create an album that was not his own; it’s scattered, strewn, and inconsistent. It’s not representative of Lupe’s character, and it’s an overdose of wannabe singles, many of which are painful to listen to. Essentially, by forcing radio hits and putting words in his mouth, Atlantic has put a roadblock between Lupe and his constant goal to elevate the genre of hip hop.
Newsflash, Atlantic! Lupe Fiasco is not Kanye West. Matter of fact, they are two very different people. I would like to think that both are leaders who strive to stretch hip hop to its limits, but they are walking in different directions. Kanye is a trendsetter; he likes to incorporate fashion into his image and always bring a previously undiscovered element of “cool” to a new album. Lupe, on the other hand, likes to, as previously stated, “elevate” hip hop, in that he doesn’t necessarily want to get money from selling songs with that will make it onto the radio or break record sales. In my mind, Lupe would rather see hip hop move into a more educated direction with people who are passionate about the power of words than put hear his voice on autotune simply to reap monetary returns.
So why, then, does the opening track off L.A.S.E.R.S, “Letting Go,” sound as if it was taken directly off of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? My bet says Atlantic made that decision. Why? Because Kanye’s album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 496,000 copies in its first week in the US. It featured four singles that made the charts, and was critically acclaimed by a wide variety of music journalists and experts. To Atlantic, the thought of replicating this Roc-A-Fella release would mean one thing: MONEY. In the era of the dwindling power of the record label, that’s the end goal. Right?
Well, this right here is where I cut in and say, listen, Atlantic, if that’s the way you choose to proceed, hip hop might as well die. This art form was built on people expressing their opinions. Lupe has been known for carrying that forward in a positive manner; he is known for rapping about issues that matter in our world. Does he write songs with the intention of them getting on the radio? Very rarely, if ever. Would this album sound the same without your top-down influences? No.
Karma will come back to haunt you, Atlantic. People will buy L.A.S.E.R.S, mainly because they’re so anxious to hear more from Lupe, because you have held him back since 2007. Will it get good reviews? No. Because it’s not a solid album. There are too many songs on there that were likely scripted. Putting Trey Songz on a hook may have radio power, but “Out of My Head” is simply a bad song.
And one more thing for our friends over at Atlantic: you may have gotten what you wanted out of “The Show Goes On.” After all, it’s a hit single on the radio. But who do you think Lupe is talking to when he says “Have you ever had the feelin’ that you was bein’ had? Don’t that shit there make you mad? They treat you like a slave, Put chains all on your soul and put whips on your back, They be lyin’ through they teeth, hope you slip up off your path.” Mmmmhmmm, sounds to me like that’s aimed at you guys.
Something tells me Lupe will come back with a bang now that he plans on releasing at least two more albums. How do I know? Because he ends that verse in “The Show Goes On” saying “Go’n and put your hands up, when times is hard, you stand up, L-U-P the man, cuz the brand that the fans trust, So even if they ban us, they’ll never slow my plans up.” Watch out, Atlantic. If Lupe’s got anything to do about it, hip hop aint dead.
For a continuation of this editorial, check back on Sunset in the Rearview this Sunday, where we will have words from Lupe himself on the matter. For now, keep the movement going: #FreeLupe.