“The leak and the leak,” is what the Breakout Man of the Year, First and Fifteen’s front man, Lupe Fiasco, labels the gift and the curse of 2006. The Internet leak pushed back Lupe’s album further than Akon’s hairline, but Emperor Lu still scooped three Grammy nods, a Reebok deal and an upstart clothing lineâ€”dropping in fall 2007â€”aligned with Righteous King Fu camp called Trillion Truly. Riding high off his success, Lupe still stays grounded, but he has bloomed into a savvy businessman that understands, like his mentor that guided the Chi-town native from day-one; market the whole package and “Never chase the radio.”
Format: You have a Grammy under your belt and youâ€™re now nominated for three more Grammies. If you win another Grammy do you think it will feel like the first one?
Lupe Fiasco: The first one was awarded to the company. For this one itâ€™s automatically different, because itâ€™s from my own work [now]. I donâ€™t know. Truthfully, if it happens, it happens, if it donâ€™t, it donâ€™t. Iâ€™m happy for Soundtrack, itâ€™s his first year in, first single and then it gets nominated for two Grammies all in the same year. Iâ€™m looking at him to see what heâ€™s going to do â€“ Iâ€™m cool Iâ€™m chillin.
Format: How does it feel to be GQâ€™s Breakout Man of the Year?
Lupe Fiasco: On the music side for me the Grammies are the top, but on the other side, the more personal side, being a regular guy, thatâ€™s the tops for me, to be GQ Breakout Man of the Year. You know what Iâ€™m sayinâ€™, like the name is dope, so to be GQ Breakout Man of the Year is even fresher. Then to be in the same ranks as like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio and people like that, and to meet up with my boss Jay, and to be at the same level he is in a lot of aspects [now], early is really dope to me.
“To me, if hip-hop was a car it would be a Benz sitting on 24s…”
Format: Speaking of Jay-Z what is the biggest thing you take from your experiences with him?
Lupe Fiasco: Itâ€™s always been the same, he told [me] donâ€™t chase radio about four years ago and we always stuck to that â€“ donâ€™t chase radio and do what feels right. Get your fan base together and donâ€™t go for the status quo. And so it works, and itâ€™s continuing to work.
Format: Right now, do you feel that hip-hop is more of an art or an industry?
Lupe Fiasco: Hip-hop is an industry right now â€“ well itâ€™s both, I take that back. Itâ€™s both and I try to practice it at an artist level, but Iâ€™m a businessman, too, so to me itâ€™s fifty-fifty. I always work in both arenas at the same time. I make music that fits the industry, you know what Iâ€™m sayinâ€™, not really chasing the radio, but I keep it open where it appeals to everyone, where Iâ€™m not locked in this hole and Iâ€™m making the music, and it sounds good to me, and blah, blah, blah. I really do both where it fits both arenas and I try to package it up where it fits. Itâ€™s shiny and itâ€™s glossy, and itâ€™s not brown with a backpack on it and people canâ€™t really relate to it. I understand the importance of pop and hype, and prestige and all those different elements that you need to have to make something work especially when youâ€™re trying to sell it.
“Hip-hop should be a vehicle for the masses not ostracized, not derogatory where it’s breaking people down.”
Format: Speaking of the business side, whatâ€™s in store for RKF in 2007?
Lupe Fiasco: Weâ€™re doing our clothing line out of Righteous Kung Fu called Trillion Truly, which is like high-end clothing joints that weâ€™re putting together and we have a lot of collaborations with a few companies out of Japan and London. So weâ€™re just putting it together and building it up, itâ€™s our little baby and hopefully weâ€™ll have a full line by next fall.
Format: Whatâ€™s up with Reebok?
Lupe Fiasco: Reebok is done in February and that will be it! I think Iâ€™m going to step away from that arena for a minute. I learned a lot from them on what and what not to do. So, when this contract is up Iâ€™m going to just chill for a minute.
Format: Presently, youâ€™re very business-minded, so what are some of the things that you learned from Reebok â€“ any positive things you applied to RKF?
Lupe Fiasco: Itâ€™s stuff that I kind of knew, but it was just reaffirmed by being inside the system. You know you have certain things on the outside looking in where you make all these assumptions and then you go into it, and you think itâ€™s going to be everything you thought it was, and found out that it wasnâ€™t. It was kind of both. Learning some things and reaffirming certain things about working in a company on that scale, and the importance of niches and the unimportance; that you can be quickly looked over by these gargantuan corporations like â€œwhateverâ€ really quickly so you have to know how to move with in them and make things happen for yourself.
Format: Food & Liquor was leaked months before it was released. What do you see yourself doing differently with this next album so a leak doesnâ€™t happen again?
Lupe Fiasco: I mean itâ€™ll be the same thing, you canâ€™t escape the leak. Itâ€™s going to be a little bit tighter and the actual process is going to be condensed. There is going to be a lot of pre-set-up; so from recording, to mastering, to mixing, to production itâ€™s going to be on a real tight schedule, so weâ€™re maxing out time. What we had with the last album was a lot of time. It was three years, so now weâ€™re making The Cool into about three weeks.
Format: On your track â€œHurt Me Soulâ€, the last verse really sticks out. You rap about the worldâ€™s ills, but the same time youâ€™re sitting on 24s, so it appears like youâ€™re saying my life is great, but all this bullshit in the world is happening.
Lupe Fiasco: Well, itâ€™s a little deeper than that; itâ€™s the grotesque standing next to the beauty and they interchange, and itâ€™s really meant as a vehicle of hip-hop. To me, if hip-hop was a car it would be a Benz sitting on 24s, Rock & Roll would be an old school Cadillac from the `50s, Operaâ€™s car would be a long old fashioned car from the `20s, but hip-hop would be a Benz on `24s and thatâ€™s the vehicle conveyed in that third verse. Everything that I talked about, or something thatâ€™s real ill or going on in the world and has a certain level of grotesqueness to it. So, Food & Liquor was about balance, it was about the good and the bad. So you got this Benz and itâ€™s clean and da-da-da, and on the inside you have all this vice and nonsense, and thatâ€™s the theme I tried to carry throughout the album. It pops up in certain themes throughout the album. There was another song that we didnâ€™t get a chance to put on the album that was called the â€œPillsâ€, which came out on this MTV My Block Compilation and that song kind of personified the ills of the world standing next to the beauties of the world.
“To be in the same ranks as like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio and people like that…”
Format: Right now, you say hip-hop looks like a Benz with 24s, if you had your ideal vehicle of what you want hip-hop to look like, what would it be?
Lupe Fiasco: A Delorean!
Format: For the people that donâ€™t know what a Delorean is, can you explain?
Fiasco: The car from Back to the Future! Nah, but really, it would be a bus that one person drove. There wasnâ€™t nothing spectacular about it, but it got you from point A to point B and encompassed all the strife and struggles of everybody. So you get on the bus in Midtown Manhattan and you have someone from every culture and every walk of life â€“ from the bum to the executives â€“ getting them to where they need to be. Thatâ€™s what hip-hop should be. Hip-hop should be a vehicle for the masses not ostracized, not derogatory where itâ€™s breaking people down. It should just be something thatâ€™s open for everybody to communicate from people within â€“ like public transit.
Format: If hip-hop was more challenging and competitive, lyrically, and was a bus that could pick up everybody, do you think you would have made the statement about making three albums and retiring, because of everything you see inside the Benz?
Lupe Fiasco: Iâ€™m doing three and Iâ€™m done. Itâ€™s always about the tri-fecta. B.I.G. was only going to do three: Ready to Die, Life After Death, and Born Again, if he had lived to do Born Again, and for me thatâ€™s the same kind of route that Iâ€™m following. I donâ€™t think I have that much to say. I donâ€™t want to do the same thing twice and Iâ€™ve done a lot of songs talking about a lot of things, so itâ€™s kind of running out of things for me to talk about. When Jay did â€œWhat More Can I Say,â€ people were like, â€œHow can you say thereâ€™s nothing else to say, there always something else to say!â€ It gets to a point where the things you want to talk about and the things that inspire you to talk, youâ€™ve already talked about them, and you donâ€™t want to seem redundant, and you donâ€™t want to seem like your beating a dead horse.
â€œIâ€™m doing three and Iâ€™m done. Itâ€™s always about the tri-fecta. B.I.G. was only going to do three…â€
Format: Thatâ€™s weird, because look at rappers like Little Brother and Phonte, it is like theyâ€™re getting to the point of not being able to talk about anything else.
Lupe Fiasco: You get bored I mean look at Mos Def, he sounds bored and I love Mos Def, and itâ€™s not speaking down on him, but you can see once you talk about the message so much. You can take it outside the context of hip-hop. You look at people like Noam Chomsky or Malcolm X, their message didnâ€™t change. Once you heard one speech you heard them all, because they talked about the same things, because it was the same problems and the same solutions. It was addressing it to a different audience so some more people could hear about it, but the base message was the same.
Format: Do you think you will take it to another level, because youâ€™ve done the hip-hop thing, will you travel to another venue?
Lupe Fiasco: Maybe, thatâ€™s the good thing with music, there is so much variation and so much to do if you just open your mind and allow yourself to. Iâ€™m always a businessman so I have to know that there is a venue to do it and a market for it. Iâ€™m not going to do it like, â€œI just wanna do something crazy!!!â€ because I know it takes a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice and a lot of money. I want to make sure when I do it and go out on that limb that itâ€™s necessary.
Format: Letâ€™s do a little best and worst of `06. Best and worst moment for Lupe in `06?
Lupe Fiasco: The leak and the leak!
Format: The hottest sneaker of `06?
Lupe Fiasco: The illest sneaker of `06 is still the John Lenin Chuck Taylor, which, actually, came out in 2004. I have a pair on my feet right now and theyâ€™re still crushing everything in the world.
Format: Currently, how large is your sneaker collection?
Lupe Fiasco: My collection kind of tapered off, because of the Reebok deal, so I couldnâ€™t go out and buy Nike or any other brand, so Iâ€™m actually done and Iâ€™m reverting back from Chuck Taylors. I think Iâ€™ll be wearing Chuck Taylors for the rest of my life.
Format: Illest toy of `06?
Lupe Fiasco: Illest toy of `06 is the Futura X UNKL collaboration with 360 Toys, [it] was fresh as hell.
Format: Ps3, Wii or XBOX?
Lupe Fiasco: Wii.Virtual console you can download all the Turbo Graphic 16 games and thatâ€™s all I want, if I can get a Turbo Graphic 16 thatâ€™s all I would play. Just Blaze is being stingy and wonâ€™t give me the mod for his.
Format: You may have upped Nintendoâ€™s market. Theyâ€™re about to have a good Christmas!
Lupe Fiasco: I love Nintendo we have a working relationship. They show me a lot of love and I show it back.
Format: Last time youâ€™ve skated?
Lupe Fiasco: Whenever Iâ€™m at home. I find myself skating in my basement because thatâ€™s where the studio is and there is a little nasty, ratty skateboard and I always find myself perfecting my kick-flip.
Format: What goals do you have for 2007?
Lupe Fiasco: I donâ€™t know what I want to do, man. This year has been spectacular and Iâ€™ve been debating about trying to go hard to win the Nobel Peace Prize. You have to put out all that action from the album and put it out in the world.
More Info: http://www.lupefiasco.com