It's time for the hallowed halls of hip-hop history to start giving Lupe Fiasco his due respect. Not, you understand, as a purveyor of conscientious rap music bursting with positive-leaning messages; nor for the Chicago-based rapper's ground-breaking work as a foremost collector of limited edition Japanese toys and selvedge denim. And not even for simply holding the envious position of being Kanye West's lesser-famed friend. Nope, Lupe is long overdue righteous recognition for his unparalleled service in establishing himself as hip-hop's greatest-ever whiner. If there is something to moan about, Lupe's already got a soundbite ready to roll.
Five years ago, Lupe dropped his debut album, Food & Liquor. It would have been better titled Licensed To Bitch. Since its release, we've had to endure a long and torturous half-decade of Lupe consistently complaining about the world around him, most times in a disingenuous manner, and every time underscored with the idea that we should all be paying much more attention to Lupe. This is punctuated by recurring threats to quit rap music (which are always reneged once he realizes no ones really cares). It's a moanful and, most times, hypocritical persona Lupe has been perfecting since his formative years.
According to Lupe's self-made mythology, as a kid he hated hip-hop. To his ears, it was loathsome music that disrespected women with wonton glee while bandying around unnecessary curse words. (Lupe grew up in a household that subscribed to National Geographic, so you know his parents frowned on cursing at the dinner table.) As he rapped on "Hurt Me Soul," from his debut: "I used to hate hip-hop, yep, because the women it degraded." And: "I had a ghetto bop boy, a Jay-Z boycott/ 'Cause he said he never prayed to God, he prayed to Gotti."
But then, somehow, Lupe decided that rhymes could pay. So suddenly he liked rap. And attempted to etch out a career as a rapper who recited lyrics like, "You know I don't pop-pop at the bar/But I might send pop-pops through your car." (He's talking about guns.) That's just one of many choice lyrics from the song "Pop Pop." It was an utterly unconvincing attempt at some sort of post-Ruff Ryders, club-hoppin' gangsta rap track.
So Lupe flip-flopped back into not really liking rap, but deciding that he wanted to get all proactive and redress the balance with raps full of moralistic nourishment. He latched on to fellow Chi-Town artist Kanye West and somehow -- possibly through many months of persistent pandering -- wrangled his way onto West's Curtis Mayfield-sampling mega-hit "Touch The Sky." His debut album followed a year later in 2006.
True to form though, it was barely a year after Food & Liquor dropped that Lupe started to mutter to the media about how he was going to quit the business of rap. "The interview process, the radio process, the video process, the budget process -- that shit wears at you," he told the website Pitchfork, magically making all those working arduous 12-hour shifts stocking shelves at supermarkets suddenly empathize with his harsh lot in life.
The goodwill towards Lupe took a further hit during what ludicrously became tagged as Fiascogate. At the 2007 VH1 Hip-Hop Honors award show, Lupe was invited to perform a tribute to golden-era rap heroes A Tribe Called Quest. Along with Busta Rhymes and Common, he took to the stage to perform a rendition of Tribe's "Electric Relaxation."
Wherein Lupe flubbed his lyrics.
Instead of manning up and taking his gaff gracefully, Lupe decided to tell the world he never really listened to Tribe anyway. He'd never heard Tribe's Midnight Marauders, the album containing "Electric Relaxation," in its entirety. That may or may not be the case; what smarted most about Fiascogate was the sheer lack of professionalism: As a rapper, it's hardly a taxing task to learn a couple of verses of someone else's song. It's kinda what you do, right?