It's not easy being a best kept secret, especially for an artist who is constantly mind traveling and has so much to say. It has to be just as hard when one of hip-hop's greatest and most respected MC's tells one of the most powerful record executives in the world that the talents of the person he's representing are similar to his own five years ago. That's exactly what retired rap legend and current President of Def Jam Records, Jay-Z, told then Arista Records CEO L.A. Reid in a meeting back in 2002 about wunderkind Lupe Fiasco.
The 23 year-old Chicago native, who has been highly regarded and coveted by many top-level executives and industry insiders for the past three years, has remained relatively unknown in the public eye. Until now. With the release of his Atlantic Records debut, FOOD & LIQUOR, Lupe Fiasco is sure to take the entire music industry by storm.
Raised on Chicago's Westside as the youngest boy of nine brothers, Lupe (born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) is an eclectic soul with varied interests; something that was developed from the upbringing of both of his parents. Lupe's parents made sure he was exposed to anything and everything that was in their environment, which he credits as a major influence as a person and as an artist.
'My father was a real prolific African drummer and can play anything from the Djiembe's to the bagpipes. My mom is a gourmet chef that has traveled the world. We were always around different cultures. It is because of these artistic experiences [that] there are no limitations to what I talk about on my record.'
There are also no limitations to Lupe's skill and ability as an MC. He has the drive to explore artistic region beyond your comfort zone and the desire to break boundaries, all the while having the edge and street credibility to resonate with the purist and the thug, suburbia and the streets, all in one. Rapping since the eighth grade, Lupe began taking the craft seriously when he was 17 years old, inspired by other MC's and groups such as Twista, Nas, Crucial Conflict, Spice 1, Eightball and Psycho Drama. Lupe followed this love, and at the age of 19, his group Da Pak landed their first major record deal under Epic Records. The set-up of the four-man group was 'similar to Boyz N Hood,' according to Lupe. Unfortunately, the group disbanded soon after releasing their first single.
Unfazed and determined, Lupe and his manager/business partner Chill moved ahead. At one point, the rapper planned to sign with Roc-a-Fella Records. 'That's when I first met Jay,' recalls Lupe. 'The situation fell through, but we always stayed in contact because he respected my partner and me as a fellow rapper. He did [a lot] to help me boost my career.' Lupe then signed with Arista Records, but once again his career was halted, this time because Arista head L.A. Reid was relieved from his post. After being thrown around labels, luck finally struck when a former Arista A&R rep and manager of the Notorious B.I.G., Mark Pitts, brought Lupe to the attention of Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman. Atlantic proved to be a perfect fit.
'The title reflects on me being Muslim and being from the streets,' says Lupe about FOOD & LIQUOR. 'In Chicago, instead having bodegas like in New York, the majority of the corner stores are called 'Food and Liquors.' The store is where everything is at, whether it be the wine-o hanging by the store, or us as kids going back and forth to the store to buy something. The 'Food' is the good part and the 'Liquors' is the bad part. I try to balance out both parts of me.'
Laced with 14-tracks of complex, thought-provoking and playful lyricism coupled with sure-fire beats, FOOD & LIQUOR will be distributed by Atlantic through Lupe's company, 1st & 15th Productions, and will feature production by the likes of Nottz, Needles, the Buchanans, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, not to mention 1st & 15th producers Soundtrakk and Pro. The song that is sure to help thrust Lupe from underground phenom to mainstream success is the album's lead single that is dedicated to the art of skateboarding, 'Kick, Push,' produced by Soundtrakk. 'It's a skateboarding song. I used to skateboard when I was younger. I was really into it. I never really knew that skateboarding was so deep as a culture. It's just as deep as hip-hop. I'm not the greatest skateboarder, but I'm a damn good rapper, so I made a damn good skateboarding song.'
Many artists have albums that aim to reach a diverse audience, but Lupe is a living embodiment of the word. Lupe is a devout Muslim and a deep thinker who listens to jazz. But he's also a young man who loves the ladies and likes to chill with his crew. The continued success of hip-hop depends on individuals who combine the streets with intelligence with strong radio airplay. And with Lupe Fiasco, rap has found another favorite son. '[When I retire], I want to step away on positive note.' says Lupe. 'What you put out into the world comes back to you. You actually change the world with what you do. I want to put some good in the world.'
--- from the official Lupe Fiasco website