To hear him tell it, Lupe Fiasco is the most unusual rapper in the game. And sure, a 26-year-old Muslim who raps about vinyl toy robots and Goyard luggage is left of center, but the Chicagoan fits in perfectly with a new generation of fans who are discovering that Lupe is the closest thing it has to a hip-hop “everyman” (Sorry, Yeezy). Do a cross-reference of rap fans today, and chances are you’ll find a kid who has no dreams of moving weight, likes video games, and lusts after the newest graphic tees and limited-edition kicks.
It took those fans a little time to catch Lupe’s drift, though. His debut album, the Jay-Z executive-produced Food & Liquor, was a Grammy-nominated flop that left most people scratching their fitteds—but since then, Lupe has gone from the geeky skateboarder who was Kanye’s mans-an-’em to an international style icon who’s embraced by everyone from X-Gamers to ex-cons. Mr. Gold Watch sat down with Complex and hipped us to everything from his Fall of Rome clothing line to how he dumbs it down. This ain’t no time where the usual is suitable, so pay attention.
Your fans have a perception of you as this well-read scholar.
Lupe Fiasco: No, no, I’m a dummy. I’m Discovery Channel smart, for real. My real learning and education came from my mother and my father, them teaching me to be interested in thinking. My mother would pull me inside, and we would discuss Middle East politics when I was 12, 13.
So when you have a song like “Dumb It Down,” does that seem contradictory? It seemed like you were trying to reach a certain…demographic, right?
Lupe Fiasco: The dumb-ass niggas in the hood.
So you think that was the best way to talk to them?
Lupe Fiasco: [Laughs.]
Because I’ve heard people who are “dumb- ass niggas in the hood” be like, “I feel like he’s talking down to me,” like, “Why not just be on some Tupac shit and go straight at me?”
Lupe Fiasco: Tupac went over people’s heads, too.
But Tupac was basically like, “Black people, you’re in trouble.” Like A, B, C, D. Your shit was, like, Ichabod Crane and—
Lupe Fiasco: Well, this is what people don’t understand: On the original beat, the hook was saying “Space, space, space, space travelin’. ” And so I’m fittin’ to just rap the deepest raps that I can think about. My A&R was like, “Nah, the hook is weak. Put another hook on it.” So we was in the studio like, “Aight, aight, we need to dumb it down…hey hey hey, that’s it, ‘dumb it down.’ ” It wasn’t as contrived as people may think.
The first album was dope, but you had a lot of people in the hood like, “Yo, this motherfucker is on some smarty-arty shit. I’m not really tryin’ to fuck with it.” But now it seems you kind of crossed over into both worlds.
Lupe Fiasco: That’s because of “Superstar.”
So more people know you, but I remember you saying that you’re three albums and out—is that still the case?
Lupe Fiasco: I’ll keep performing, you know? I doubt if I’ll make any more albums.
Rapping is your passion, but you’re gonna stop after one more album?
Lupe Fiasco: I don’t understand who wrote the rules, you know what I’m sayin’? Because Jay-Z had 12 albums or LL had 12 albums? Why would people want to question my passion?
Because if people stop, it’s usually because they don’t want to do it anymore, because they lost their love of it.
Lupe Fiasco: Usually. Now how unusual am I? Like, real talk. How unusual? I’m the most unusual rapper in the rapping business.
You’re one of them.
Lupe Fiasco: And I’m not even talking about “Yo, this dude just wore a bathrobe,” I’m talking about “He looks like this lame-ass nerd nigga, but he carries himself like he’s this fly-ass, gangsta nigga. This nigga did a song about robots, dog.”
So are there gonna be no more Lupe solo albums? Is there a CRS project that you’re—
Lupe Fiasco: Yeah, the CRS project hopefully will come before my last album. So that will probably be the next thing that everybody kind of goes into.
I heard you were the one that actually gave the sample for “Us Placers” that was out there.
Lupe Fiasco: Yeah, I produced the record; Pharrell came up with the name and the idea. And “Us Placers” was the first song that’s like, “Yeah, this could work.”
You’re like the rap Rat Pack.
Lupe Fiasco: The Backpack Rap Pack.
When you came in at 18, rappers trying to be fashionable weren’t the mainstream; rappers were still wearing Rocawear and shit.
Lupe Fiasco: There’s cameo videos of me with two Rolexes and Rocawear sweatsuits.
So how does it feel now to be the dude who’s emulated on the street everywhere?
Lupe Fiasco: There’s billions of people on this planet. There’s been lines around the corner for Supreme for years before me and long after me.
Let’s talk about Fall of Rome—to come out with a clothing line yourself, it just has to be flawless.
Lupe Fiasco: Ask my friend, Virgil. We was talking one day and he was like, “Yo, what’s your trunk?” Before the clothes, Louis Vuitton’s claim to fame was the trunk. So it was like, “What’s the thing that you do naturally outside of every other thing that you do?” And I tell stories.
How does that translate into clothing?
Lupe Fiasco: I give my clothing a story. I create a purpose for it, you know? The theme for the season coming in October is the Fall of Rome, it’s the fall of decadence. It’s the absence of gluttony, just simple. So it’s black.
Lupe Fiasco: Yeah, everything’s black. And the logo for it is this broken statue that was pushed down when Rome was invaded; it represents the decay of beauty. And that nothing lasts forever. So it starts to get like my raps where everything becomes a metaphor for something else.
Are you going to wear Fall of Rome exclusively once it comes out?
Lupe Fiasco: Yes! [Laughs.] That’s how it’s supposed to be. You don’t see niggas on the Bulls rockin’ a Celtics jersey because the shit matches their shoes. When your game is to sell clothes and for people to believe in your brand and to push your brand, you keep your game face on. And if your game face is Billionaire Boys Club, it’s Billionaire Boys Club. If it’s Bape, it’s Bape. That’s one of the things I love about Nigo. It’s like, “This is me. I’m engulfed in it. I’m every part of it. I am it.”
Are you the kind of dude who buys something and if someone asks you where you got it, you’re like, “I can’t tell you”?
Lupe Fiasco: Nah, I tell them what it is. I like to share with the world. It’s nothing for me—this my girl right here, she’ll tell you. It’s nothing for me to just take it off my back and give it away.
[To friend] He gives shit out?
Friend: Yeah, all the time.
Lupe Fiasco: Every day. “Here, you like these? Have them.” I don’t need to have it to own it. I don’t need to own it to have it. It’s not that deep and at the end of the day, it’s not that important.
If it doesn’t mean anything, why not just rock a white tee, some no-name jeans and…
Lupe Fiasco: If you’re informed, you make an informed choice. You know? You understand the quality of certain things and you understand the history of certain things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have people in in a lab like, “Yo, I only use test tubes that are handblown in Italy.” Like, why?
“Because they’re the best.”
Lupe Fiasco: “Because they’re the best test tubes in all the business.” So if we going shopping, we going to Paris. Or we going to SoHo.
The Good Life.
Lupe Fiasco: Every life is good, man. This doesn’t make life. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a style of life. Style is what you are, but everybody has life. And everybody’s life should be good. Some of the happiest people in the world have nothing. Nothing. And they find happiness in being in the world. They wear the world with a smile. I feel bad for all the people standing in line with all that shit on and they not smiling. And somebody walks past who knows nothing about it with a smile on his face got the freshest shit on in the world.
there's also a short video interview with him at the source.