By now, judging by the amount of articles I’ve written about him, you know my bias when it comes to Lupe Fiasco. That’s not a secret, and frankly that’s neither here nor there when I'm pointing out why he's one of the greatest of our generation. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why my sentiments are justified.
Back in the day, a former mentor of mine told me something vital: The innovator who takes a risk and steps out to do something new, that in turn gets duplicated, replicated and popularized, usually doesn’t end up getting credit for being the first. I always allude to an article I wrote a few years back called “The Superstar Formula,” where I hailed Lupe as one of the best artists at knowing how to convey conscious messages in ways that were still commercially appealing. We saw it with “Superstar” in 2007, a song literally about getting into Heaven, and wondering if you’re good enough, while figuratively speaking on “Heaven” as the idea of superstardom and success. That’s a pretty deep concept for a song that went Top 10 on the Billboard Pop Charts.
He’s done it countless other times, most recently with “Bitch Bad,” where over a trap-esque beat, he discussed the different views of the usage of the word “bitch.” I can attest to the song's dual appeal, both the song itself and it's message, because I witnessed plenty of D-boys riding through my city (Minneapolis) cranking it through their systems, perhaps not knowing what the song is fully about.
Lupe’s latest, and possibly most intriguing effort is his current single, “Next To It,” with the ever-so-great King of Ratchet Brilliance, Ty Dolla $ign.
The greatness of “Next To It,” in looking at the approach Lupe takes with human duality, is that he’s truly mastering the grey area of simultaneously appealing to the intellectual and ignorant parts of the human brain.
In doing so, there will be some isolation of Lupe's original fan base, for a few reasons. Take the line, “It’ll be even better with 30 girls next to it…” What better way to get your point across than to actually feature some very sexy and visually appealing women in the video? This makes the visual still essentially appealing to the average rap fan, even if he decides to use the mute button. What's more, Lupe is becoming more comfortable in delving and dabbling in the same imagery that he, for the most part, speaks on as the problem with modern rap, modern music, and our view and consumption of mass media; sex selling product. It’s the same strategy that movies depicting historic racial experiences use. We can talk about how bad it was, and still is, but it really puts things into perspective when you view it with your own eyes, and “travel” to that place, for just a second. The visual is everything.
Subtly is another large key in Lupe getting his point across. The hatchet criticism that came down for Lupe’s last full-length album effort, “Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album,” is that Lupe was really getting quite “preachy” without the art of subtly, which turned a few people off, especially the ones he was really hoping to reach with his message; the streets and hood, in a nutshell.
With “Next To It,” the Atlanic Records artist returns to speaking his mind in a way people can understand, without them feeling like they’re in a college course. The concept is relatively simple - we all see things from different perspectives, and what lens you are looking from will determine how you see and accept the world around you. So while some diehard “Food & Liquor” Lupe rap fans will see this as Fiasco selling out - and getting a little bit too comfortable with the trap-beats, drill-influenced flow, video hoes and of course, collaborations that make you say “Is he losing it…or nah?” - I see it as Lupe continuing to evolve in his purpose as an artist. He's staying relevant and conveying his outlook on life to the listeners. Relevancy is a huge part in having influence, and why wouldn’t he want to maintain that influence, to get his ideas out to the most people as possible?
Remember, there’s levels to this. With this single at the helm, I’m hoping album number five truly brings back some critical and mainstream acclaim for the Chicago veteran emcee, and maybe even a plaque “next to it.”