2006 was the year I graduated from high school and also the same year Kanye West released his hit single, “Touch the Sky.” Seeing that I was getting ready to enter my freshman year of college, Kanye’s aptly titled album Late Registration became the soundtrack to my pre-collegiate life. There was magic in that whole album; but I particularly bonded with “Touch the Sky” because when Kanye said, “You gon’ touch the sky, baby girl!” I knew he was talking to me. I studied that song. With its sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” it became my inspiration. You may also remember that in this epic song there was a short verse from up and coming Chicago rapper, Lupe Fiasco. Laden with references to Japanese and American cartoons, I never fully grasped all Lupe was trying to say. I just knew he was introducing himself as a young rapper on the come up. He didn’t move me like Kanye but I dug his pacing and added his name to my rap radar.
When I got to school, I found myself surrounded by a whole bunch of what I called “Chicago Kids.” There were swarms of them ranting and raving about their love for their city, Harold’s Chicken and their sports teams. (Thank God the Bears lost the Superbowl to my hometown team, the Indianapolis Colts, or I would’ve never heard the end of it.) But the Chicago Kids weren’t completely obnoxious, truth be told they put me onto some good stuff, including Lupe Fiasco. The girl who would later become my best friend from college, asked me if I’d heard of Lupe. I wasn’t a connoisseur of his music like the Chicago kids were, but since he was on my favorite song and therefore, my rap radar, I knew his name. She let me listen to the first single, “Sunshine.” With lyrics like, “You’re the starry skies above me, won’t you please come down and hug me,” it was a love song, about a regular dude approaching a girl who just so happened to dig him too. It was beautiful and I was officially a Lupe fan. After that single, his first album Food and Liquor didn’t disappoint. I knew I dug it but I didn’t understand how deep it actually was, until I watched one of my guy friends rapping along to “He Say, She Say,” a song from the album.
A group of us were sitting around in the community lounge, pretending to study. My friend, who was on DJ duty, played Lupe’s new album. “He Say, She Say,” came on. Immediately the energy shifted from light and jovial to heavy and pensive. If you’re not familiar with the song, essentially it’s a very heart wrenching conversation between a mother, son and an absentee father. Both the mother and the son plead with the father to spend more time, explaining how his absence is having a negative effect on his academic and emotional progress.“To be a man, she try to make me understand that she my number one fan but it’s like you booing from the stands, you know the world is out to get me, why don’t you give me a chance?” I knew it was a rare piece of art when I first heard it and I loved it. But I was left utterly speechless as I watched one of our guy friends lose himself in the lyrics. For a dude who seemed to take very little seriously, he was in a trance rapping and bobbing, his eyes closed. I knew, with no words necessary, that he was singing his own story. And he didn’t even have to write it, Lupe did it for him. It was so real and so tragic that I gained an entirely new level of respect for Lupe. And with the release of each album, my love and respect continued to grow. There was The Cool with songs like “The Fighters,” “Go Baby,” “Gold Watch,” and the song that would become one of my theme songs, “Paris, Tokoyo,” (the original and the remix). That was late 2007, early 2008, the same year Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.
Then a few years later, things took a turn for the worst. By 2011, Lupe had some choice words for President Obama, calling him “the biggest terrorist” in one breath and then claiming he doesn’t get involved in politics in the next. When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe it. I had to look it up for myself because, though Lupe had always been very opinionated, this just wasn’t like him. But alas, it was true. His argument was that the United States’ policies inspire other countries to attack us. And if we didn’t have these policies other countries wouldn’t try to take us down. For someone who admittedly doesn’t follow politics, this seemed like a very haphazard and outrageous thing to say. And it didn’t stop there, earlier this year Lupe went on to say that President Obama is a “baby killer” because he’s authorized the use of “predator and reaper drones.” Lupe argues that the drones are killing innocent civilians and not just the terrorist targets the U.S. government is after. Lupe likened President Obama’s methods to a drug dealer: “Drug dealers can say the same thing. ‘I didn’t mean to kill all the people in the restaurant. I was just trying to get that one dude who killed my cousin. Just so happened that that little girl was there.’ Same thing.”