“I actually lost my voice during what would have been the craziest moment, which would have been: be in New York, do 10 interviews, do a show, fly to Vegas, do another three interviews, do a show, then fly to Detroit, do another nine interviews, then do a signing … My voice was like ‘I’ve had enough’,” says rapper Lupe Fiasco, who went to the doctor and got stern orders after a particularly rigorous show for MTV’s Spring Break. “He was like, ‘You shouldn’t talk for a week, or it could seriously damage your voice.’ So it was just like ‘Yeah, I’ll just be quiet!’ That was nice though.”
Yes, Lupe Fiasco lost his voice and had to postpone what would be his busiest promotional jaunt for the release of his highly anticipated and controversial album, Lasers. It also turns out during this week off that Lasers went to No. 1 on the charts with more than 200,000 copies sold in its first week. The highly anticipated factor of this album could best be symbolized by the media attention it received when 250 of Fiasco’s fans started protesting outside his record label after he revealed over Twitter that the album was done and was not going to be released. And some of the success has proven to be based largely on the positive (and negative) hype surrounding his debut single, “The Show Goes On.” This is where the controversial side of the album unfolds. The week of silence may have been just what he needed.
Fiasco has not been shy with the media about the frustration that went into the making of his new album. It seemed that every story being released to the press and the Internet for a number of weeks was chronicling his distaste for the way the record company handled his project, and a lot of the focus of the displeasure seemed to revolve around the record label’s choice of the first single, “The Show Goes On.”
Perhaps the success of the song and album convinced Fiasco to come to terms with it, (or perhaps it’s because our interview is being monitored), but he chooses to take the high road when it’s brought up. “I’d rather not [discuss “The Show Goes On”]. That song has a lot of baggage that comes with it,” he says, “but not in a bitter way,” he laughs. “I would just say that it’s a fun record, people gravitate to it, and the record company is 1,000 percent behind it. It’s a good lead-off, it’s doing its job.”
The album is definitely focused around big hooks that seem custom-fit for radio, and its synth-heavy beats provide the backdrop for Fiasco to do what has made him famous: weaving in the intricate rhyme schemes that have made him one of the best lyricists of the past decade. A good example is the rock-infused “Words I Never Said,” which essentially started as a love song and evolved into anything but a love song, with Fiasco calling out such figures as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as racists, and revealing that he himself didn’t vote during the Obama election. “That’s the one record that people either step away from quietly and discretely, or it pulls people directly into the album,” he says. “It’s the teeth of the record. So, there are some radio stations that are not going to play that record, and there are some people who don’t want us to come and perform that record on their television shows. ‘You can do anything you want but that one!’”
The Chicago native is now very happy to be out performing his songs for people, which he says kept him focused during the recording. “This whole record was meant to be massive and big, and I’m talking about live performances,” says Fiasco with enthusiasm. “I’m talking about stadiums of 20 to 30,000 people at a festival. It’s going to fill up the whole space. Every time the beat drops, it’s going to be like… [he makes the ‘crowd-goes-wild’ noise].” Fiasco is now enjoying himself, launching right into singing Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal” keyboard sample.
“I feel like the life blood of any musician is his live performance, so whenever I go in to do live performances, it’s always balls to the wall. I’ve got to come extra wild, and have a lot of energy and have a lot of fun, and make sure the records translate. And that’s what’s kept me going,” says Fiasco. “It’s really the only thing that stays stable. Even if you have a really, really big record, the lifespan is only a few months [on radio].”
It should come as no surprise that Lupe is passionate about artists using their voice to be heard in times of natural disasters as well as social turmoil. “They [artists] should scream at the top of their fucking lungs about things, whether you agree with it or you disagree with it,” he says in reference to situations in Libya and Japan. “On a political side, when you look at things like Libya, I’ve been making songs about that from the beginning of my career,” says Fiasco, who was born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco and was raised Muslim. “There are at least seven countries that surround Libya that are all doing the same thing. But you’re focusing on the dude that’s your enemy? Hmm. And oil’s in the mix? Hmmm.”
He also embraces the use of music to raise money for charity and for dire situations, and made a song called “Resurrection” with Kenna and Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park to raise money and awareness for the 2010 Haitian earthquake. “We should have been making songs for Haiti a long time ago without a disaster. Because even without a disaster, it was a fucking disaster.”
Fiasco is not afraid to put his own money where his mouth is as far as creating social change and recently launched the Lupe Fiasco Foundation. “It’s really putting a brand name on something I have always been doing, which is basically helping people out. Normally we would do these one-shot deals, but it wasn’t sustainable,” says Fiasco, highlighting that the food banks and coat drives he would hold were not enough for him. “So, going beyond that, how do we focus on and eliminate the problems of why those things exist? I don’t want to just do a food drive around the holidays, I want people to be in the position where they can grow and create their own food. How do you start that education?”
Along the wild journey that is being an artist in the modern music industry, the proudest moment of Fiasco’s career happened during the making of Lasers. “Man, the fans protesting? That has so many different levels of coolness to it,” he says. “The whole process, culminating in 250 of my fans protesting, holding up picket signs in front of this corporation, singing songs, skipping school and work, people catching flights, and flying in and marching — the whole thing. And for me to see that occurring and to be a part of that? … That floored me.” For Fiasco, it was a poignant moment since he appeared in a documentary about author Howard Zinn, who has decried the lack of a youth movement in modern America. “These kids are standing up for what they believe in,” he says. “That’s why the first week sales and having a No. 1 album, it’s just kind of OK. I was satisfied, accomplished and happy when they protested, which was six, seven months before the album even came out.”
Fiasco pauses and reflects for a few seconds and finally concludes, “So, I was like, ‘yes, Lasers was a success!’ Ya know?”Follow him on Twitter @lupefiasco