Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Lupe Fiasco would be appearing in concert at Rider University. Blame my past experiences at community college, but the idea of a school paying for a celebrity to entertain its students was kind of mind-blowing.
While excited at the prospect of seeing Fiasco live, I’ve never been to one of his shows. Nevertheless, his music had a profound effect on me as a teenager.
In my high school years, I was made aware of a certain stereotype about myself that I was breaking: I was a young, black kid who had a preference for rock music rather than rap music, which was apparently a genre I was supposed to enjoy because of the color of my skin. I became increasingly hostile toward it as I was exposed to hip-hop culture through the music videos my brothers watched at home. Hearing male rappers rap about how “gangsta” they were, seeing women portrayed as sex objects meant solely for voyeuristic pleasure and the constant glorification of violence caused me to become disenfranchised from the whole “rap game.” I recognized that there were exceptions, but from what I could see, the state of hip-hop looked dire.
Around my senior year of high school my brother, of all people, introduced me to Fiasco’s 2006 premiere album, Food & Liquor. Prior to this, my only real exposure to this hip-hop artist was a music video that played at the department store where I worked. While I thought the song “Kick, Push” was catchy and somewhat interesting in its focus on skateboarding deviants, I paid no real attention to it. It wasn’t until hearing the actual album that I came to appreciate Fiasco’s talents.
Fiasco’s emphasis on intelligent lyrical content and smooth melodies created a stark contrast to the harsh, dirty nature of mainstream hip-hop, trading in juvenile boasts for methodical idealism. Even when he turns to traditional rap subjects, such as in “I Gotcha,” his boasts are playful and contain clever wordplay, while playing over a stylish, jazzy beat. What I understood the most from Food & Liquor was Fiasco’s political leanings, a side of him featured prominently in his second studio album, The Cool. A concept album featuring a darker tone than the optimistic Food & Liquor, it criticizes the state of modern hip-hop as well as turning its gaze on American politics. It’s a level of intelligence that sadly is too rare in the rap industry.
But Fiasco’s contributions to broadening my view on music doesn’t lie squarely in his own work; his music has opened my eyes to artists that are not found on the radio, such as The Roots, Common and Talib Kweli. Once I heard what hip-hop had the potential to be, I had to listen to more, and now most of my iPod is filled with multiple rap artists from a variety of genres.
I realize that this article comes off a bit clichéd, as I’m sure everyone has had that moment when some pop idol spoke to them through their music and changed their life forever. As done to death as that statement may be, it still remains true that Lupe Fiasco holds a special place in my heart.
Junior English major, Film Studies minor