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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Lupe Fiasco’s sophomore effort is The Cool

Published: January 25, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

REINVENTING GANGSTER RAP: Lupe Fiasco refuses to “dumb it down” to fit in with mainstream rap.A lot of “Gansta Rap” pisses me off. Why are there so many songs about nothing except sex, drugs and money? Didn’t Jay-Z say it all with “Big Pimpin’?”

Furthermore, most artists aren’t even creative with their approaches anymore. As a personal non-enthusiast (to say the least) of mainstream gangster rap, I’ve always made a habit of somewhat demonizing these artists as talentless individuals who are single-handedly ruining hip-hop.

If someone were to tell me that these artists were boxed in by the industry to make songs with choruses like “Stack that Cheese,” I’d listen, but half-heartedly so.

Now if someone were to tell me I was wrong, and that these artists have the potential to be as talented and conscious as say Nas, I wouldn’t listen at all…unless that someone was Lupe Fiasco.

Lupe Fiasco’s sophomore effort, entitled The Cool, is an album about as complex and multi-tiered as Lupe’s first single off the album, entitled “Dumb It Down.” As stated by the ridiculously interspersed plethora of internal metaphors in “Dumb It Down,” one of the main themes of the album is Lupe’s scoffing at the simplicity of mainstream rap and refusing to lower the standard of his work.

However, one of the more compelling songs of the album, “Hip Hop Saved My Life,” examines the reality that is the rap industry and explores how many artists are forced to compromise their artistic integrity just to meet contract needs etc.

The album also contains plenty of social commentaries. For parts of the album Lupe allows the problems not only of the impoverished ghetto but of the world, to live vicariously through several characters. “The Cool,” the character after which the album is named, is a fallen hustler who has decided to come back to life. “The Streets” is a literal embodiment of street life and its allure. He is visualized in the cover art of the album as a skulled figure with dice for eyes. There is a also a woman, known as “The Game” and a young man known by the in-your-face title “Mike Young History.”

Mike is the embodiment of every young man that grew up without a father figure and turned to “The Streets” to fill the void. As one may be able to tell, Lupe is not very much about subtlety.

This time around Lupe has definitely furthered his mastery of storytelling. He can take us from the mind of a rape victim who has been intruded upon to that of an immigrant who is seen as an intruder in a single bound, as he does in the song “Intruder Alert.” And, as one might guess, we are often left feeling a bit winded after the trips we take with Lupe’s characters.

Throughout The Cool, Lupe continuously forces us to look through eyes that we would rather not. In the song “Little Weapon,” we live vicariously through a young soldier in Africa. “How old? Well [he’s] like 10-11/ Been fighting since [he] was six, seven.” The emotionless and almost stoic sensibility with which Lupe delivers the lyrics, gives us a sense of the brainwashing these children are put through (think Blood Diamond).

As if that was not scary enough, the song forces us to look within, as it questions the difference between the mind frame of those young children in Africa and that of young kids slaughtering people in Halo.

Lupe is in top form with this album. The complexity of his lyrics is on par with the density of the album content. Of course there were songs where Lupe is clearly just having fun. “Dumb It Down,” for example, is an obvious challenge for listeners to decipher his many riddles, acknowledge his obscure references to things like Super Mario (“picker of the fire flower… spit hot-fire”) and to follow his lyrical maneuvers.

In the song “Gotta Eat,” Lupe goes another direction and compounds simple slang terms to form complex metaphors. For example:

“Even if you lose some he would give you new ones/Twice the bread it’s like he had two buns/And he had a whole lotta seeds [seeds = kids]/Even his kids had meals [millions] for reals/Some rich small fries wrapped in paper since they was lil, ketchup [catch up]”

What’s next for Lupe? Apparently he is at the end of his career. The artist’s next album entitled lupEnd makes reference to how one enters their name into an arcade, three letters and then you’re done; it’s The End.

Lupe is apparently disillusioned, not only with his own “superstar” lifestyle but also with the game on the whole. As a fan I would hope that Lupe takes after his mentor and friend Jay-Z, in which case Lupe’s retirement talk is nothing but a false alarm.