Lupe Fiasco

Rolling Stone Magazine, Published Sep. 7, 2006 

Chicago’s young MC has a hit single, Kanye in his corner, a black belt and the fall’s hottest debut

Lupe Fiasco is backstage in Chicago, running from security guards. A few seconds earlier, he was goofing around with his friends in a competition he calls “Feats of Strength and Agility.” Eventually the guards realize that the lithe twenty-four-year-old in the purple A Life sneakers is the same guy who just finished headlining the Vice Intonation Festival for an adoring crowd of his hometown fans. Fiasco laughs it off, and as he moseys past a group of fans toward the parking lot, one yells, “Listen to Lup’! He’s the future of Chicago! He’s the future of rap!” After perching on the roof of his Land Rover, Fiasco sets to analyzing the pressures associated with such a title. “No matter what happens, I’ll still be the future,” he says. “Nobody said if it would be good or bad. I’m just the future.”

In September, Fiasco will release the year’s most hotly anticipated hip-hop debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, which already has its first major hit in the form of the skate-rap anthem “Kick Push.” But the full-length, executive-produced by Jay-Z and featuring collaborations with the Neptunes and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, isn’t Lupe’s first taste of the limelight. As a teenager, he was a member of Da Pak, who were briefly signed to Epic. More recently, he started his own production company, 1st and 15th, whose credits include BeyoncE’s “Hip-Hop Star.” And last year, fellow Chicagoan Kanye West invited Fiasco to guest on his single “Touch the Sky.”

Offers from major labels started rolling in, but Fiasco insisted that the album be released on the 1st and 15th imprint, and he shopped around until he found a label, Atlantic, willing to accommodate his demands. “The music business is trash,” says Fiasco. “I love music, I love business, but I hate the music business. I vowed I would never sign if I didn’t have 100 percent creative control. Even though I was pretty much an unknown, I’ve been around for years. I didn’t just pop out of nowhere.”

Lupe was born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco and raised in a rough part of Chicago’s West Side. His father, a martial-arts grandmaster who was on the U.S. Olympic judo team in 1980, wanted his son to be able to defend himself and had Lupe taking martial-arts classes from the age of three. “The thing about martial arts is that it disciplines you to recognize when a conflict is coming and evade it,” says the rapper, who owns four black belts. “But, yes, I can kill a man with my bare hands if I have to.”

As a kid, Fiasco says he didn’t like hip-hop and considered it negative, obnoxious music that degraded women. But rappers like Nas convinced him he could use the genre to tell stories with social merit. On Food & Liquor‘s “American Terrorist,” he examines the dark history of slavery and genocide in America. “I feel I have the responsibility – since I have this soapbox – to not only entertain but to educate,” says Fiasco, a devout Muslim whose only admitted vice is a jones for cutting-edge streetwear. “The world is in a really terrible place, and you have to stand back and ask why we’re in this situation.”

It’s a far cry from the catchy “Kick Push,” which Fiasco dropped first to disarm listeners and open their ears to what he might do next. “I had a lady tell me she thought ‘Kick Push’ was about giving birth,” he says with a chuckle. “A lot of my songs have double meanings, but that song is genuinely about skateboarding. I wanted to come out with a story, because stories have more longevity. They don’t really pigeonhole you. I can reinvent myself on the next record. I want people to say, ‘Lupe is always reinventing.’ ”

From the hood of his Land Rover, he gives a smirk and pushes his glasses back up his nose. “I’ve done everything in the music business,” he says. “I’ve been on world tours, I was flooded in ice at nineteen. Now I’m good. I’m just hopping over fences and playing with skateboards.”