The Trouble With Lupe Fiasco Goes Beyond Pete Rock And Touching "T.R.O.Y."

occupylupefiasco.jpg
via The LupEND Blog
It was all good for Lupe Fiasco just two albums ago. By 2008, the Chicago MC, co-signed by Jay-Z and brought on the Glow In The Dark Tour by Kanye West, had released two critically acclaimed albums, Food & Liquor and The Cool, and built on a reputation as a nimble lyricist with a political bent forged by a series of excellent mixtapes by demonstrating that he could write more traditionally radio-friendly singles ("Kick, Push," "Superstar") without forsaking his essence.

But those albums were only moderate commercial successes, leading Atlantic Records and Fiasco to squabble endlessly over what would eventually become 2011's Lasers. The struggle seemed to sap Fiasco's talents (Lasers is a mess of awkward collaborations and half-hearted you-can-do-it anthems that seemed like an ungainly swing at pop, despite Fiasco passing on what would become label mate B.o.B's "Nothin' on You"; Fiasco's last widely praised project was a 22-minute mixtape, Enemy of the State, released in November 2009) and embolden him politically (Fiasco, an avowed non-voter, called President Obama "the biggest terrorist" in 2011, has allied himself with Occupy Wall Street to the point of rapping "New gang alert, hashtag Occupy," and became one of the first rappers ever to look like an idiot in a dispute with Bill O'Reilly).

But Atlantic got what it wanted in Lasers, an album Fiasco confessed to hating: a hit. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard, spawned two top-40 singles ("The Show Goes On" and "Out of My Head"), and re-established Fiasco as a source of lucre for the label while giving him a forum for his Alex Jones-caliber conspiracy theorizing—"All Black Everything" imagines a counter-factual world in which the African slave trade did not exist but rap still somehow evolved in the same way, while "Words I Never Said" allowed Lupe to indulge his 9/11 truther fantasies ("9/11, Building 7, did they really pull it?") and self-mythologize ("I'm a part of the problem, my problem is I'm peaceful") over leaden Alex da Kid production. With "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)," released Monday night, Fiasco proved that he and Atlantic understand the template for his future commercial success—rap on pop tracks and continue to vomit incoherent political screeds—but have completely lost the plot when it comes to critical respect.

"Around My Way" is another sunny polemic ("First off, I say peace to Pine Ridge/ Ashamed at all the damage that the white man wine did," Lupe begins, becoming one of the first rappers to draw directly from Nick Kristof for lyrics; he explained the subject matter by saying "a lot of stuff on that record is stuff that I just recently learned about America") that devolves into word-association worthy of Andrew Breitbart and laments "But freedom ain't free, 'specially round my way." It would be merely suitable for both the general public to ignore or Lupe's sizable flock of acolytes to mine for gems if not for its sample of the source material for Pete Rock and CL Smooth's crucial "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)," which spurred a Twitter rant from Rock and could spark a much-needed discussion over the politics of sampling in rap.

"T.R.O.Y." is considered an all-time rap classic because it is almost a hermetically sealed bit of perfection: Rock looped a glorious sax run from Tom Scott and the California Dreamers' "Today" and threw just the right drums underneath, and CL spun his own tale and that of Troy "Trouble T-Roy" Dixon, a close friend of both the producer and rapper. It's universally respected, but rarely covered or reworked, both because of the sacred subject matter and because the potential blowback outweighs the potential benefit; the original pairing collaborated with Mr. Cheeks in 2003 on the sacrilegious "Reminisce '03", uses virtually the same instrumental, adds a new CL Smooth verse, and allowed both artists to pay respect to the fallen Freaky Tah. While both Rock and Smooth signed off on it then, Rock would gripe about that decision in later years after a falling out with his MCing partner of nearly two decades.

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14 comments
joelr
joelr

gtfo comparing Lupe Fiasco to Alex Jones. His politics are only "incoherent screeds" if you aren't familiar with Black nationalist and/or anarchist ideology. nah, go ahead and try to make a rapper and pop artist look stupid, not like that's simplistic. accuse him of selling out while you dis him for not moving records, because that makes sense. blech.

BRAVO 4
BRAVO 4

"F'ood & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Part 1, scheduled to drop this summer, casts itself from the title alone as either one of the greatest rap albums ever or the first half of a monumental failure, but Fiasco's arrogance and ignorance have set himself up to be denied the laurels that would come with the former and compound the vitriol that would follow the latter."

---I ain't saying Lupe's the greatest (I liked Kick Push tho), but this sentence taken from the above article is absolute nonsense. If the album's great then it's great, if it's not then it's not. Political or personal bias shouldn't enter into it. This writer's attitude seems more than a little churlish and unprofessional. It's a lot of great new rap coming out these days, too bad this doesn't seem to be represented by more enlightened writing on the new wave...

Jed Brandt
Jed Brandt

That's the best "critical" hit piece on a radical artist since the "truffle fries" incident with M.I.A.

But you were saying more about how Lupe is a paranoid because he isn't down with the program? Your only kind words are in regard to making money for the label?

Then I remembered: nobody on earth gives a shit what music critics say, and no one has given a shit about the Voice for decades now. Carry on!

coldshouldercity
coldshouldercity

the troll writing this incoherent article. needs to understand.. Lupe and his team didn't sample t.r.o.y. or sample the OG tom Scott version. they had musicians replay it. pete rock spiritually owned T.R.O.Y. but legally its owned by whoever has the rights to the samples used. so technically dood didn't have to go though PR just the record labels and parties legally involved.now I believe it would be a dick move not to get the blessings of the genius of the OG version , but that's bizness. as for the political views of Lupe, the author has stated his dislike of......what's wrong with questioning the status quote of American Hippocricy( sp )? sound patriotic to me. more patriotic then a writer /blogget sitting idle and criticizing rappers political beliefs. knw what ur talking about before writing about it.

KNyce
KNyce

Lupe Fiasco is the truth. Pete Rock is a liar who doesn't even own what he thinks Lupe should pay homage to? I think he is just mad cuz his a$$ is old. No one is checking for him.

cyberstreets
cyberstreets

are you in the college young republicans club? you don't seem very knowledgeable. maybe try using your ears more and mouth less.

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas

This is the most irrational and unedctaed post I have ever seen in my life. You my friend are  just retarded .

IndieSaint,JazzDevil
IndieSaint,JazzDevil

What a Dumb Article, Lupe Looked like a fool. on o'reily?..Your Intelligence should be questioned. Did you suck a dick to get this Job?

Jared
Jared

and last but not least someone who deserves no press, lil b. you could do an entire expose on how ignorant that dude is.

Jaredmassee
Jaredmassee

sounds like you ran out of topics to write about, so you nit-picked a socially conscious rapper to death. why don't we discuss how badly ALL men are being Stereotyped by females in music right now, why don't we discuss the incessant glorification of money and nothing else in much of hip-hop. in fact to stay right with topic, if you're going to pick on a rapper, why don't you go after rick ross, future, lil' wayne, tyga, 2 chainz, meek mills, gucci mane, waka flocka flame, french montana the entire swisha house, and YMCMB catalogs. the list goes F-ing on... all i have to say to you, is GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER! and this is coming a white man.

RLXPRESS
RLXPRESS

 I agree that there should have been communication with Pete Rock on the sample. I disagree with the devaluation of someone that is saying what needs to said. Particularly when there is next to no consciousness in R.A.P.

What is sorely needed is more consciousness, we need RAGE.

motm
motm

"With "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)," released Monday night, Fiasco proved that he and Atlantic understand the template for his future commercial success—rap on pop tracks and continue to vomit incoherent political screeds—"

You really called that beat poppy? lol stopped reading after that.

Moan and groan about Lupe violating an unwritten rule in rap all you want, but how are you gonna say that beat is anything but soulful?

And him being socially conscious (huge difference with a song like this and Words I Never Said) is "incoherent political screeds"?

Clearly you just don't like Lupe. Admit it.

JB
JB

It might have been heavily sampled but it's not like Lupe put weak bars on it. Lupe did great

Song is too dope

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