Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A new Lupe Fiasco interview just surfaced from Ruby Hornet. Dig it below...


Lupe Fiasco has been on a tear lately. Once staunchly on the wrong side of leaks and giveaways, the Chicago emcee who once printed a list of reasons why he's upset with the current leak-heavy music scene has been releasing a tirade of freestyles via blogs and websites. The reason for Lupe's surge in activity can be traced to MTV's Hottest Emcees list of 2009, and Cornell Westside's (as he's been dubbed) absence from the list. But for Lupe, inclusion on MTV's list wasn't just about ego or the current standing of Lupe Fiaso. As he told us during an exclusive interview,

"For me, another part was ‘I gotta make that list because the kids have to see that you don’t have to do this to be successful.’ If you look at it and 90% of it is negative, it’s like we gotta have something positive on the list. That’s not taking shots at anybody. All those people are my homeboys, but if we come down to the nitty gritty and what’s effecting the streets, you got kids getting beat to death in the streets. You really have to take the responsibility to step up and be like, ‘I have to show my success. I have to work this hard. I have to be to be looked at as this top ranked dude and top ranked Emcee. It’s not because I want the glory and fame, but so kids can have a different role model or choice of role model.' If we’re excluded from that, the top pop culture thing for Hip Hop is devoid of anything positive, oh naw, we got to go to work. The conscious backpackers have to go to the club and go to work."

Lupe's current work includes his forthcoming album L.A.S.E.R.S., which also represents a new found clarity for Lupe in terms of what the emcee wants and doesn't want, as evidenced by the L.A.S.E.R.S. Manifesto. Lupe spoke to us about the manifesto, the new album, his changes at FNF, and how preparing for his Halloween concert showed him how to get his swagger back. Check out the full interview below.

RubyHornet: We’re all pretty excited for your Halloween concert tomorrow. You’ve done this the last few years. How does it feel to you, is it starting to feel like a regular occurrence, a family type of setting?

Lupe Fiasco: Yeah, it definitely has the family element to it. This is not the only time, but I’m rarely in the city so this is when I really do see my family. They come out 30-40 deep to the show. It’s almost like we took Halloween and made it a family holiday for me. A lot of family comes out to the show and it’s more so creating a tradition. The first one was like a fluke, like ‘yo, let’s do a show on Halloween.’ And then it turned into ‘let’s do another one. Let’s do another one.’ And every year it’s gotten bigger and bigger, a little more sophisticated, a little more complex, it turned out to be something that hopefully I can do from here on out.

RubyHornet: This one is called Remember 2 Smile, billed as a retrospective. Is that something that you came up with, and is that a direction to the fans, or something that you need to remind yourself at times?

Lupe Fiasco: It’s kind of dope. There’s a few meanings for it, like with everything I do. One is that basic idea that we’re pushing, especially with the title for the next album, which is L.A.S.E.R.S. (Love Always Shines Everytime Remember 2 Smile). It’s kind of that, giving you a little hint, a little wink-wink into the next album. There’s also so much going on in the city right now, so much violence and with the economy and all of this craziness involved, we’re in the spotlight for negative reasons. It’s kind of like a boost from one of the dudes in the city. And I’m not the only person, but this is just my two cents on the situation. No matter what goes on, remember to smile. And then the other part of it is that we’re going down memory lane a little bit. Not too crazy, but we’re definitely going backwards for the people who might have forgot, or the fans that were reminiscent. It’s like a piece of nostalgia what the actual concert is going to be and the songs that we're gonna perform. You’re really going to remember somethings like, ‘oh, you forgot about that… Remember this?...’ It has all those meanings rolled up into one.

Lupe Fiasco

RubyHornet: As far as going back in preparation for the show, has going back impacted or influenced the new music you’ve been creating?

Lupe Fiasco: Oh most definitely! I had to go back, and even as of today I’m still replaying old records in my head to remember the lyrics, going back through the old songs I even remember where I came from. I remember I heard “Failure” for the first time in years. Literally we’re sitting down listening to it for real, it’s been a couple years. And it’s like, ‘yo, I was doing that back then?’ That record is almost 6 years old. And it’s still fresh, it still has meaning, and I forgot some of the lyrics so I’m like, ‘that metaphor was kind of crazy.’ It was just like, ‘am I doing that right now? Have I maintained that?’ It pushes me to actually go back. I feel like I was murdering things back then. I don’t feel like I’m murdering anything right now. It’s not like I changed or anything like that, I just needed to step back and just do the things I was already doing cause it’s still ahead of its time. Not to pat myself on the back and be mad arrogant with it, but this still sounds new, and they’re still kids that come up to me and say, ‘”Failure” is the most ridiculous…’ And you just go through my old tracklist and it’s kind of the same way. For me, I should be doing this now. Why would I stray away and not come as hard on every record like I was doing before? That was real. Yeah, I’m gonna go back. I’m gonna go back into the studio and try to beat myself, try to take myself back to where I was. I feel like also I was losing inspiration and it was like, ‘what else is there to talk about? What else is there to do? Nobody is really doing anything.’ Kids are coming up now and it’s like, ‘he’s still nice. This guy is still nice. That guy’s still nice. Yo, you were nice son. You should be nice again.’ And fans might not even realize like ‘Lupe said he sucks. Lupe feels like he kinda fell off.’ Well not really, I just stopped doing what I used to do before, and now I’m going back to it. All because of going back through tracks for the show.

RubyHornet: Recently you’ve released various freestyles. Some sites have put them up with, ‘Lupe put this out because he’s upset he wasn’t named to the MTV Hottest Emcee List.’ Is that output of new freestyles related to the list?

Lupe Fiasco: Definitely the Emcee list. For me it was like, I guess you feel a certain way like, ‘I hope these people aren’t forgetting about me. Are they forgetting about me? Is this what the status quo is right now and I’m not in that? That’s unacceptable.' I feel like I’m nice or nicer than all of them, and it’s not taking shots at anybody. It’s the same situation where if there’s competition and this is what it is, it’s like, ‘OK, I can do that. I can play ball with you guys.' And if this is the criteria of what it needs to be, I can do that easily. It’s just putting myself into it. When they didn’t put me on the last list, when they first starting making the list I was really pissed because I didn’t make the list and I could understand, if I’m not the hottest dude right now, cool. But then they did an honorable mention list, and I didn’t make the honorable mention list. And I know those dudes over at MTV. It’s not like a beef or I was tripping, but it’s like, ‘come on man, what are you talking about?’ And then I just had to go on a tirade and start destroying stuff and you got “Superstar” and got all that other stuff. Put me in arenas where they say if you want to be hot, this is what it is. You have be murdering it over here, you have to have the clubs jumping like this, you have to have this over here.’ I can do that. I feel like I got enough accolades and enough of a foundation laid where I can go and do these things and my fans won’t look at it like ‘Lupe’s selling out.’ It’s more so... this is just fun for me. It’s ‘Lupe’s on parade almost.’ That kind of exclusion this time around was like, ‘oh, OK. I really have to go back in and start destroying. Really go in and just show that you won’t ever forget about me in that realm.’ I’m not a fame hog, but that’s kind of like the last competition for Hip Hop. I got massive competition. It’s like the Olympics of Hip Hop. I’m at the Grammy’s every year. Every album’s been nominated for a Grammy. On the music side I’m satisfied, but when it comes back to fun in Hip Hop, that’s the last real competition. The 5 Mics has kind of fell off, that’s not inspiration or drive anymore. That top Emcee list is, ‘OK, this is the Olympics now? This is the Final Four, the World Series.’ I’ll be there.

RubyHornet: You just mentioned having fun in Hip Hop. For you, is having fun a necessary part of making music? What has to come in line for you to be like, ‘Ok, I’m ready.’

Lupe Fiasco: It has to be-another thing about that list before I answer your question. The list was void of any balance. Everybody on that list except for maybe one or two people, but for the most part it was all one face. You had the hustlers, you had the street dudes, you had your heartthrob, but you didn’t have like Mos Def on there. You didn’t have the balance and I feel like I walk that line. If you’re never gonna put dude on the list cause he’s never gonna do this, Lupe can do that. Lupe can jump off and talk about whatever in a way that the streets are gonna get it, the girls are going to get it, nobody’s going to be able to deny it and it’s still going to have its integrity. For me, another part was ‘I gotta make that list because the kids have to see that you don’t have to do this to be successful.’ That’s the thermometer of success. If you look at it and 90% of it is negative, it’s like we gotta have something positive on the list. That’s not taking shots at anybody. All those people are my homeboys, but if we come down to the nitty gritty and what’s effecting the streets, you got kids getting beat to death in the streets. You really have to take the responsibility to step up and be like, ‘I have to show my success. I have to work this hard. I have to be to be looked at as this top ranked dude and top ranked Emcee. It’s not because I want the glory and fame, but so kids can have a different role model or choice of role model.' If we’re excluded from that, the top pop culture thing for Hip Hop is devoid of anything positive, oh naw, we got to go to work. The conscious backpackers have to go to the club and go to work.

RubyHornet: In the "L.A.S.E.R.S. Manifesto" one of the things you say is ‘we want to have our own voice.’ As far as the manifesto goes, did the music start to shape the manifesto or did you approach the manifesto first and that influenced the music you were making?

Lupe Fiasco: It was more so the manifesto came first. I felt like I needed to have a DNA. I talked to good friend, Ian Ashbury, who used to sing for the Doors and was real heavy in the scene and just a cool dude. I kick it with him in New York a lot. One of his partners was talking about how the old punk bands had manifestos. They built their whole thing off their manifesto. Think back to the Black Panther party, every movement had ‘this is what we want’. It made sense because I’m at a point in my life, and been at a point in my life for the last year or so, where I guess I’m gonna be old now? I’m gonna be like a man? And it was like, ‘how am I going to live the rest of my life? On what rules?’ It was more so about knowing what you want. If you know exactly what you want it makes life become easier in a sense. You have a set goal and there will be no ifyness, no indecision because you know exactly what you want and in knowing what you want, you also know exactly what you don’t want. Just that simple life lesson, you can create things off the top of that. The L.A.S.E.R.S. Manifesto was that. This is what I want my music to be. This is how I want to be looked at as an artist. This is what I want to achieve. Once you have that DNA it’s easy to go back... I don’t have thousands and thousands of songs. I have hundreds and hundreds of songs that cover the gambit of everything and go here and go there. So you kind of struggle with, ‘Ok, now what am I going to talk about?’ OK, let’s strip it down and take a bare bones approach. What do you want as a human being? What do you want for other people in the world? What do you want? It’s like, ‘OK, here’s a list.’ Old punk bands had manifestos. The Black Panther Party had a manifesto… It gave the movement purpose, it gave the movement a goal so every step had to make sense. After I did the manifesto the music became, ‘OK, is this song achieving this or no? Well that song isn’t the song you need to make… That’s the song…’

RubyHornet: I understand that, and I understand where you’re at in life. Something that comes up after you figure out what you want and how to achieve your goals, I think that another important step in all that is being able to forgive yourself when you don’t necessarily meet what you’re going for, and being able to move on as you just said, ‘OK, that song didn’t make it, but we’re gonna go to the next one.’ I’m wondering if that’s gone into your thinking, being less critical of yourself and being able to forgive yourself.

Lupe Fiasco: Um, most definitely. It’s almost like certain things I can’t let go because they’re my inspiration. There’s a core of my inspiration. But other things I just don’t take them as seriously. Cause when you step back and you look at it, it’s so trivial. Certain things for me. Do you want to be the best emcee? Naw. I can’t be the best emcee, I don’t really believe that. I don’t really believe that any human is really better than another human being. Maybe at certain physical kind of things, but at the end of the day, we’re not in competition. We’re trying to co-exist as opposed to compete. There were certain things that are innate in what I do and the business that I’m in it’s like I had to push it away and start to come to grips. My ambitions had to come down to my abilities. It was more so, ‘OK, you’ve made mistakes and you’ve had the life lessons, the ups and downs and now that you understand that and are at a place with some clarity where you can look back on it, you see that and it’s like, ‘OK, what do you want to do with it now?’ And that’s where forgiveness comes in. It’s not like completely I’m going to forgive myself cause I did this. There’s certain stuff that you don’t have control over, or certain stuff that you’ll never know until you get to the end of it and then you turn around and it’s like, ‘OK, now I see that I was too ambitious.’ G-d forgive me for being too ambitious and prideful and let me kind of fix that kind of flaw in so that before I make a whole other set of decisions I’m gonna keep it right. I got rid of, you’re the first to know, I got rid of the entire First and Fifteenth Record Label. Me and Sarah Green are the only artists on the label, like I got rid of the whole label. It was just such a ‘this isn’t right for you right now. This isn’t gonna work for you right now. You need to be focused on you. Do you really want that, do you really have the capacity to do it?’

Lupe Fiasco

RubyHornet: What you said goes back to what you said earlier in the interview regarding, ‘OK, if this is what I have to do to be the hottest emcee then I’ll start to do some of these things.’ But you’re also at a place where you can move around. If you want to experiment, I think fans are open to you doing that…Not a lot of artists get to that point. How do you navigate doing what feels good to you vs. keeping in mind the fans and what they may expect?

Lupe Fiasco: This isn’t all me. My philosophy has always been about art, or any type of creative thing, it’s 50 percent you and 50 percent your audience. You can create it up to a certain point and put everything you want to put into it and everything you want it to mean. And you can represent it and somebody else will take it completely different. They’ll say, ‘oh this song is about this, and this etc..’ They’re going to take it and set it to their life and their tempo. They’re going to put it in the soundtrack to their life where they need it at. Some people might look at “Streets On Fire” as a big political piece and so intricate, and some others might just hear background music for a bubblegum commercial. You’ll never know when it comes to your audience. They’re going to take it how they take it and it’s going to go through a process where they’re going to make it mean to them what they need it to mean to them. I’ve been totally understanding of that since the door, and I know that we’re in it together and it’s a partnership, speaking of my fans. I know I need to give them what they want and at the same time give myself what I want. As long as that balance is kept, that balance of ‘I understand what you guys want. I understand why you guys are fans, I know what you want to hear, I know what you don’t want to hear at the same time too. But I also know that other than what you want to hear, this is where you want me to be. And this is where I want you guys to be.’

This Halloween show for instance, I’m not making any money off this show. I’m taking all the money that I make off this show, which comes from the kids buying tickets, and putting it right back into the show. It’s so over the top, but that’s what I feel my fans should get at this point. I feel my fans shouldn’t just get Lupe on stage with two turntables and a microphone. I feel like we’ve graduated from that. The fans that have been with me, they should share in that. They should see a career that’s been ten years in the making. This is what the end of this ten years looks like, this massive, this ‘oh my g-d, that’s kind of big, that’s kind of impressive.’ They need to know that they’ve had a hand in it. You support me kind of financially so to speak, so that I can create these things that you can partake in and walk away with and know you had a piece in that. That’s the relationship. That’s the open type of relationship I got with my fans. But at the same time too, I know I need to push the boundaries so they can look up and see Lupe over here. How did Lupe get on tour with, and I’m just being super hypothetical, none of this is true, but for the future, how did Lupe get on tour with U2? Then turn around and Lupe’s the spokesman for Whole Foods? To trace it all back, it started from this core of music that you guys supported with your clicks on MySpace. Then you went further and downloaded the mixtapes, then you went to buy the album. Then you went to buy tickets to the show. All of this is being fueled and supported by you guys, but at the same time I want you guys to know that I can go left and go and do anything that anybody else can do. I’ll be your super role-model. I’m your super-duper homeboy friend that is able to go anywhere and do anything. If you want me to talk about something, I’m going to talk about it. If there’s something on your mind, know that it’s on my mind too and I’m going to put it in a public space. It may seem that nobody cares, I’m going to make a whole damn album about it and put it on MTV. So when you look at me being on this list, it’s for my fans. So they could be like, OK, Lupe’s back on the list, we got a homeboy on there too.

Lupe Fiasco & Mikkey Halsted

[All Photos except for top image were shot by Virgil Solis during the Remember 2 Smile concert on 10/30/09. See the rest of them HERE]

(Also, not really sure why God/god is written G-d in this interview. Who knows. -Mike)

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