Why Lupe Fiasco Needs to Chill

Some time ago, I began to write a post about Lupe Fiasco in an attempt to make sense of his change in musical style/subject matter (which I don’t think has shifted much, but many seem to) through an analysis of his song, “Bitch Bad”, from his forthcoming album, “Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1”. I never finished that post, however, because I figured, “hey, I’m gonna let Lupe cook, and whoever doesn’t vibe with his music is entitled to their opinion.” That position was rockin’ for a bit, but now I feel an imperative to finish what I started for two reasons: there is a growing amount of vitriol being espoused toward and about Lupe that I think is severely unwarranted, and his responses to said vitriol have been becoming less composed and more reactionary, allowing for those that would see his downfall to have a never-ending bevy of source material from which to draw when they are ready to sling more mud.

The most recent example occurred when an article by Brandon Soderberg critiquing his video for “Bitch Bad” was published in SPIN magazine, resulting in Lupe letting fly a flurry of tweets that culminated in a call to boycott SPIN magazine. Now, I’m not going to waste time with a breakdown of the song, or the video. However, I would like to point out a few places in Brandon Soderberg’s coverage that I take issue with.

The first is his assertion that women do not want to be called ladies. He states, “Its hook goes, ‘Bitch bad, woman good, lady better,’ which sounds sweet and all, but does any female want to be called ‘a lady’?” Soderberg leans on feminist beliefs about patriarchal and misogynistic societies oppressing women through dictums of what womanhood should and shouldn’t be. Often this set of standards is capsulized into what it means to be “a lady”. While I am in no way in favor of oppressive gender-normative standards for women, and while I think that there is still room for fleshing out and filling the holes in Lupe’s proposition put forth in the chorus of his song when looked at through a feminist lens, I don’t think he should be condemned as just another perpetuator of patriarchal thought and standard-creation.

It’s no secret that many women have re-claimed the word “bitch” in much the same way as many Blacks have re-claimed “nigga”. Bitch, when used with a certain intention in a certain context, could be perceived as uplifting and positive for women, perhaps alluding to strength, independence, self-definition, or a host of other empowering descriptors. However, used in an alternate context with negative intent, “bitch” can be derogatory and degrading, and a label to avoid (I shouldn’t have to spell out the parallels with “nigga” in terms of intent and context of use at this point, right?).

Degrassi Drake

Bitch Nigga? Depends on who you ask.

So now we have a multidimensional word with many variables effecting how its use is perceived. Now, and just go with me here, assume that the little hood children about whom Lupe speaks in his song are unaware of feminist perspectives, but are all too aware of the decidedly patriarchal and derogatory use of “bitch”. Would “lady” not then be a better option for describing one’s female counterparts in the community? I think so, and more than that, I think that this step must first be taken before any sort of feminist approach can be applied. To quibble about whether or not “lady” is in fact better belittles the message Lupe is attempting to convey, and ultimately everyone loses because there is no thought given to the use of any of these words, their meanings, or the consequences dealt with by those to whom they are applied.

The second issue I have is with Soderberg’s assessment of the video’s depiction of a “rap thug”. He asserts that the thug in the video is made to look like 50 Cent, and while one could make that argument, 50 Cent is far from unique in appearance. Black guy. Beater. Jeans, with glock tucked. Optional fitted/du-rag combo. Sounds like the general “hood nigga” uniform to me (again, I’m not disputing that “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” 50 looked about as much like a generic hood nigga as one can, so sure, one could say it was him in the video). Ask any Black dude you know, however, and I’m almost certain he has, at some point in life, donned the hood nigga uniform. But wait; there were ads for “sugarwater” in the video. That must be an allusion to Vitamin Water, right? So it’s gotta be 50! No. It doesn’t.

SIDEBAR: At this point I feel it’s necessary to clearly state that I’m giving Lupe the benefit-of-the-doubt because, historically, his music has been much more complex than what one could take away from face value. Therefore, I look to a deeper meaning behind his music. I don’t see how one could only look at the surface when Lupe has only been developing a more complex socio-political consciousness since we were first graced with Food & Liquor.

Lupe Fiasco

Respect my gangsta.

That being said, the ads for “sugarwater” in the video could be representative of Vitamin Water, but are more-likely representative of the entirety of unhealthy foods that are present and pushed in lower-income and minority communities. Many children growing up in impoverished urban communities (and I’m now speaking from first-hand experience) have been so sheltered from real food that they know nothing but high-sugar drinks, chips and other junk food. They will literally eat flaming hot Cheetos (pronounced “hot flamin’s” if you live in Chicago) for every meal of the day. Even when offered an alternative, they choose the “food” that they’ve been conditioned to like, even though it is the most nutritionally lacking choice possible. Rappers come into the fold, obviously, as the pusher, the endorser, of these products. Children follow their idols. We know this. Through that line of thinking, I hold that Lupe is concerned with the larger social issue, but Soderberg seems bent on fostering a fabricated beef between Ferrari F50 and Fiasco.

Now, I’d been holding back the, “this white dude is whylin’ and has no idea what our culture is about,” thoughts that always crop up when white folks start trying to analyze anything Black (I have trust issues with white folks; I’ll just point to their history of academic, medical, social, physical and mental pathologizing of Blacks as why). But then Soderberg had to put his two cents in about the black face.

He puts forth that Lupe’s parallel between rappers and minstrel performers is ludicrous. Gotta call bullshit on that one. His argument is based on a misconstrued interpretation of Spike Lee’s satirical film, “Bamboozled”. Looking into the history of minstrel shows (which is clearly depicted in the film, so I’m confused as to how one could miss it), it is clear that performers unwillingly debased themselves in order to make a living. I can point to more than a few rappers who’ve done the same; in order to get on in the rap game, one must put out what record companies deem the most marketable product. This is often in contradiction with the artist’s own scruples and what they know to be right, but, one still has to get that check. Same shit, different decade.

William Henry Lane

William Henry Lane, a.k.a “Master Juba”. Bands made him dance.

At this point (and I appreciate it if you’re still with me), you may be wondering why I’ve taken 1,200 words to rebut what most probably hold to be idiotic stances (I’ve been talking about a guy who said Jay-Z, “sensitively deconstructed,” “bitch” on his song, “99 Problems”. Crock of shit? Big time.). I want to drive home just how silly Soderberg’s entire critique is in order to further drive home how ridiculous Lupe’s reaction to it was.

Lupe took to Twitter, once again, to defend himself and his art, railing against SPIN and the machine it functions as a part of. He even went so far as to create a hash tag, #BoycottSpinMagazine, for his fans to rally around in support. I support self-defense, but I also support maintaining composure. There are obvious frustrations Lupe is dealing with. Most Black people must confront the issues he’s been at war with daily. But I feel like Lupe is reaching critical mass; we’ve already seen him break down on MTV after the realization of how little has changed since his ascent, and I fear that the weight of all the issues that contribute to maintenance of the status quo, coupled with his increasing isolation from others due to stardom, is killing his spirit. He even admitted, bravely, in an interview with the Guardian, that he was, “super-depressed, lightly suicidal, at moments medium suicidal – and if not suicidal, willing to just walk away from it all completely,” when working on his third studio album, Lasers.

I worry that Lupe is swiftly painting himself into the “angry Black man” corner. There’s nothing wrong with being an angry Black man, but when it gets to the point where people discredit you because of outbursts like those on Twitter, you risk losing the platform that allows you to be effective in the espousing of your beliefs. Lupe’s responses to criticisms like Soderberg’s are bringing him dangerously close to being stuck in that corner, and if he isn’t able to reach some level of chill, I fear he may flare out before he is able to complete his mission.

7 Responses to “Why Lupe Fiasco Needs to Chill”
  1. G says:

    Great write-up.

    The SPIN mag article appears to be another “shock & awe” grabber.

    The “sugar water” reference I thought was a jab at Kool Aid quite honestly.

    And the whole “feminist” stance….FOH. The minstrel show theme towards the end summed up the video, song, message rather perfectly.

    However, i almost feel as though Lupe is justified for his overreactions. He makes a song FULL of substance, and some magazine editor gave the OK on an article that negatively crituiqed it.

    Meanwhile Chief Keef, GBE etc (from the same city) have made video after video full of the same imagery; gun totting, money, herb, shirtless savages. But for these videos there is no breakdown of the negative impact or underlying misogyny expressed in the image or message.

    They (these corporate conglomerates run an owned by white people mind you) condemn the someone such as Lupe makes at making a song with a vital and necessary message, all the while, making a “bamboozled” version of a rapper from Chicago (Chief Keef) the “next big thing”.

    The furiousness and frustration expressed by Lupe is a temperament that I wish would resonate within more of us. Albeit, controlled and well directed/executed.

    • First, thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful reply.

      I agree with you that he is battling a machine that would uplift the Chief Keef’s of the world (although I’m still reserving judgement, because I believe there are also issues underlying why they exist that also link to the media and social climate of our society today, but that’s another, related, convo), and that he is justified in his outrage.

      However, I still maintain that, as you say, he must be controlled in his responses and subsequent actions. Really, the greatest error is the twitter tirade (a pitfall into which many celebs seem to fall these days; I can’t blame them though, it’s natural to want to vent). If he quietly started a substantive boycott of SPIN, then fine, if that’s what you feel is necessary. But by making a spectacle of the entire situation, I think he lessens the seriousness of his actions.

      Simultaneously, I do think that making a spectacle can be necessary sometimes in order to bring attention or whatever else to a situation for which you need to gain traction, however, I don’t think Lu has that luxury at this point given the track record of “overreacting” in the media that he’s constructed. And keep in mind, it’s the danger of losing, or rather having it taken, the fame and influence that he is trying to but to goo use. I’m all about eating certain situations in order to accomplish the overall goal.

      At the end of the day this was a no-name writer who published a scathing review and was lucky enough to have an editor interested in such journalistic filth. But, so? It’s Lupe’s reaction to it that’s given it power; the article was benign and could’ve remained lost within the annals of the Internet.


  2. isomKuade says:

    I commend Lupe for being true to his craft and his voice. I also commend him for expressing how he really feels about the SPIN article.

    I don’t commend the boycott attempt. The journalist has a right to his interpretation either right or wrong. Lupe has the right to correct what he sees as misconstrued – much like you did (good job by the way).

    I think this is a good example of why it’s so difficult to be an artist or a public figure. You pour yourself into your work and then release it to the world for open scrutiny. It’s a very vulnerable action each and every time. If the world rejects your work, they’re rejecting you. They misinterpret your work, they don’t understand you.

    That’s the risk you take, and you have to be prepared for the ones that won’t get it – cause not everyone will. Unfortunately, some of those that won’t will have access to their own audience.

    Great write up, sir. I’m new to blogging, and my writing is ROUGH in comparison. Looking forward to reading some more of your musings.

  3. Carmen says:

    As a black female I appreciate the dissection of Lupe’s message that your post suggests. The ability to bring a perspective often lost in the entertainment factor alone is necessary and confirms why Lupe needs to “chill”. His message is strong and relevant; therefore, maintaining validity is crucial to whether he’s able to convey what he originally set out to do. We need talented artists like Lupe, Mos Def, Common, TRIBE (TCQ), De La Soul (yeah, dating myself), but you get the picture; so I’m going to need Lupe to chill and ignore the irrelevance that is Pop media, as it does not deserve his energy, or ours. I mean, what can a white dude really tell us about US; especially about what black women will accept or prefer? That alone is reason to ignore his comments. Now, dont misunderstand – I know that there are white journalist who might have a pulse reading on our community and can effectively convey our plight; however, they can not surmise how we feel or fully understand our needs and why?

    Look, simply put, I’m counting on Lupe to continue being a part of our evolutional transformation that educates and empowers out young people, and credibility is vital to making sure we keep those messages flowing.

    @F Nice post! Lupe is one of a few lyrical artists that I enjoy and I’d like that to continue.

  4. Carmi says:

    Q&A with Lupe Fiasco… RS article brings more insight to his growing frustrations. While he may not feel that his goal is not to
    influence; I must disagree that he’s doing exactly that, and for what it’s worth to Lupe – much appreciated!

  5. HipHopUpdate says:

    Amazing article. I agree with it all. My only issue is, you had the perfect setup for the “fabricated beef between Ferrari F50 and [Carrera Lu]” line but didn’t go for it… WHY?! Haha. Great read!

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