by Miles Marshall Lewis

The world has a little while longer to wait for the end of Lupe Fiasco. The twenty-six-year-old Chicago MC—born Wasulu Muhammad Jaco—has declared way in advance that his delayed third album, LUPN, will most likely be his last. Hiphop has heard this kind of talk before. But Lupe pulling the plug only two years after his debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, isn’t so surprising if you’ve been following his narrative.

This bespectacled, skateboarding son of an engineer and a gourmet chef has admitted to not even liking hiphop growing up, turned off by its misogyny and flippant attitude on spirituality. (Lupe was born and raised Muslim.) He likewise confessed to never having heard the classic Midnight Marauders album, after forgetting A Tribe Called Quest lyrics during his infamous VH1 Hip-Hop Honors tribute to the group last year. Still, Lupe started emceeing at the age of 14, eventually made fans of Jay-Z and Kanye West through his Fahrenheit 1/15 series of mix tapes, and nabbed a Grammy Award for his 2006 single, “Daydreamin’.” Taking counsel from Mahatma Gandhi, Lupe Fiasco is being the change he wants to see in rap.

Sincerity and broadening the scope of black masculinity in pop culture are Lupe’s major contributions to hiphop. Cut from the cloth of 1990s Native Tongue groups like De La Soul, Lupe Fiasco expands the subject matter of his records beyond what’s typically expected in the genre. Skateboarding as metaphor for rejection (“Kick, Push”), TV addiction (“The Instrumental”) and responsible fatherhood (“He Say She Say”) make up some of the topics on Food & Liquor; armed children (“Little Weapon”) and immigration (“Intruder Alert”) are addressed on last year’s Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. Musically, rock-tinged backdrops like the one lain underneath “Hello/Goodbye (Uncool)” are common on The Cool, sonically broaching the so-called alternative hiphop space of MCs like Saul Williams.

Lupe seems willing to go wherever necessary to be genuine. His videos are drenched in imagery of Atari videogame consoles and sci-fi robots; The Cool’s packaging sports an arcane symbol on the front that recalls the mysticism of Led Zeppelin album covers. What saves Lupe Fiasco from falling into nerdcore rap is his flow. His rhymes require as much rewinding to savor every last metaphor as Black Thought or Common. Young MC was once a smart rapper too, lauded for his atypical (for hiphop) brainiac posturing, and by time the USC grad won his Grammy for “Bust a Move,” he was a dead man walking. Lupe’s skills on the microphone will save him from that kind of fate, but he still breaks the muscle-bound black buck mold of 50 Cent with finesse.

Fellow Chicagoan Kanye West (producer of “The Cool” on Food & Liquor) stretched the boundaries of how an MC should present himself visually, but Diddy had already done a lot in that area. Many a rapper nowadays suits up to get his grown man on; it’s no longer that extraordinary. But in this age of Obama, white folks—seventy percent of rap’s record-buying audience, bear in mind—are being exposed to ever more diversified representations of black manhood. (We’re not a people with one monolithic mindset or likeness and we never were.) Whenever LUPN appears next year, expect the unexpected . . . it’s practically Lupe Fiasco’s motto.


MILES MARSHALL LEWIS blogs at A former editor at Vibe and XXL, he is currently at work on his third book.