2007 was a pivotal year in hip-hop that, ultimately, was run from two very different sides of the genre; one by Kanye West and another by Soulja Boy. Soulja Boy would clearly influence future acts like the present-day Migos, Rae Sremmurd and more, while Kanye’s influence is seen within a vast amount of progressive present-day artists, including Drake, J. Cole and A$AP Rocky. Among those very obvious heavy hitters, there was also an emcee that was steadily rising in popularity and prestige; Lupe Fiasco. It was his 2006 debut album release; the critically acclaimed Food & Liquor, that put him on the map, but it was '07s The Cool, released exactly seven years ago yesterday, that really established Lupe as one of the best and most respected artists in the game.
Many still connect Lupe with the Kanye West co-sign in 2005, on the hit single “Touch The Sky,” and Lupe certainly used this co-sign to his advantage early in his career, staying closely knit with 'Ye during his promo run for Graduation and appearing on “Us Placers." Lupe, at that point, was the underdog that also had the world at his fingertips. Food & Liquor was critically acclaimed, and had enough commercial success to set him up as the artist to watch as he approached his sophomore release – would he capitalize or drop the ball?
He quickly answered that question by releasing "Superstar," his most successful single to date and what would become his signature song alongside “Kick Push." “Superstar" went on to reach Top 10 on the Billboard Pop Charts, which buoyed into The Cool spending nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Rap Charts and generally positive reviews from media’s most respected opinions. Lupe was clearly now a force to reckon with, setting the tone for a generation to come and receiving guest verses from established superstars like T.I and Young Jeezy, and co-signs from legendart vets like Bun B. Oh, and let’s not forget the worldwide “Glow in the Dark” tour with Kanye, Rihanna and N.E.R.D., which gave me two of my greatest live show moments. One was meeting Kanye West, and the other was watching Lupe go out onto the downtown streets of my city, Minneapolis, to sell The Cool hand-to-hand to fans. When security said, “Hey, wait, you can’t do that!” he simply said, “I’m Lupe Fiasco. I can do whatever I want.” That’s been my defining statement for him ever since.
The Cool was a fearless, risk-taking album that paid off handsomely in the long run. Lupe took the blueprint Kanye West had begun drafting in 2005 with Late Registration and expounded on it to create The Cool. The production was top notch and the guest features, though still virtually unknown at the time, seemed to be able to hold their own in the popular realm. There was one point in time where critics were fancying Matthew Santos to an Adam Levine. That’s pretty big.
The hip-hop climate at that time demanded something different, something fresh and innovative, but also something that still reminded them that hip-hop was alive and well, and not dead like Nasir Jones ironically stated it to be that year. The Cool delivered that. No one was making music like Lupe Fiasco then, and it that originality created a legion of fans, myself included, who felt like we were listening to a once-in-a-generation artist. We were a special breed. He was a special breed.
Whether you feel Lupe still has this respect or influence as an artist today, there’s no denying The Cool’s place in hip-hop history and it’s overall influence on modern hip-hop music. From ideas such as garnering popular success with a concept album (see Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.D city) or being able to rise to popularity while still presenting conscious lyricism and having a dedicated fan base throughout everything, (see J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive). Lupe established the idea that an artist can generally stay true to himself and reach new heights of success in popular and mainstream circles. It helped continue the acceptance of experimenting with genre blending and crossover sounds. It’s the reason I cite it as one of my Top-10 favorite hip-hop albums of all-time, and why it’s considered to be one of the most important hip-hop albums of the new millennium so far.
Lupe has always been a vanguard and trendsetter in many various ways, and it would be a lie to say he didn’t help reshape the climate of the game. I think that’s what he means by his line in “SLR 2” when he says, “I’ve done so much, no matter how far you go, you will reflect me…”, directed towards the current top artists in today’s rap game. You can’t be a modern-day rap superstar without reflecting some part of Lupe Fiasco’s success. Well hey, if you are who you say you are.
So today, go back and listen to an album that helped change hip-hop forever as we celebrate the seven-year anniversary of The Cool.