Lupe Fiasco's got a mind that runs a mile a minute, and a mouth that can keep up with it. The sharp-tongued Chicago MC will follow-up last year's well-received Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor with Lupe Fiasco's The Cool, due December 18 from 1st & 15th/Atlantic. We phoned Lupe and did our best to keep up as he talked about the character-based concept behind The Cool, the album's darker hues, the infamous cheeseburger track, radio and comic book spin-offs, Child Rebel Soldiers, Cornel West, and his plans to "retire" after his third album.
There's a lot going on on The Cool, but the basic idea revolves around three previously mentioned characters-- what Lupe calls his "three evil angels"-- depicted in symbol form on the record's cryptogram cover. The first character, the Cool, is a zombie hustler of sorts based on the Food & Liquor song of the same name.
"I expand on the story," Lupe explained. "I introduce two other characters, the Game and the Streets. The Streets is a female. She's like the action personification of the streets, the street life, the call of the streets. The Game is the same way. The Game is the personification of the game. The pimp's game, the hustler's game, the con man's game, whatever."
He continued: "Then they've got supernatural characteristics. Like the Cool, his right hand is rotted away. The only thing that rotted away was his right hand. It represents the rotting away of his righteousness, of his good. And the Streets and the Cool kind of have a love affair going on. So she's represented by this locket. And the locket has a key and it's on fire. And as a gift to the Cool on his rise to fame, she gave him the key. And the key represents the key to the Streets. So she wears a locket around her neck at all times.
"And the way the story goes, she has given that key to tons of people throughout time. Al Capone, Alexander the Great, whatever. She's giving them the key to the Streets. Fame and fortune-- but also the prices.
"The Game, he's represented by a stripped-down skull, a skull with dice in his eyes and smoke coming out of his mouth. The billowing smoke is actually crack smoke."
"It's not a full concept album; it's more spread over like five [tracks], really abstractly."
It's also apparently going to spawn a franchise. According to Fiasco, there are plans afoot to spin The Cool into a horror-themed radio program, complete with Vincent Price-inspired voice-overs. "To really tell it," says Lupe. "Because I think it would be corny to try to be spooky on a hip-hop record. We're actually going to tell it as it is, like a horror psycho-thriller kind of situation."
Indeed, folks will notice a less-than-sunny vibe to the new disc on the whole. "This album was influenced more from the dark side. It's more because of the loss I experienced at the beginning of the year," Lupe explains, referring to the deaths of several loved ones. "I'm in a dark, melancholy mood. I'm not a happy camper right now."
After the radio show, according to Lupe, "we're going to do a comic book."
To bring his characters to life, Lupe linked up with California-based artist Nathan Cabrera. "He did the album cover, and when you actually see these characters, you're going to flip. Like the Streets has dollar signs in the eyes; they glow when she gets angry. [And the Game is] so vivid and so fucking terrifying, yo. It's crazy."
Then there's the track "Gotta Eat", on which Lupe, yes, personifies a cheeseburger. Turns out the man is not kidding.
"On this album, I wanted to talk about five or six things directly," Lupe explained. "I wanted to talk about the environment-- which I didn't really get a chance to do-- immigration, rape, drug abuse, and health. And it's like, damn, how do you talk about health dope, though? How do you make it cool?"
"[Part of] the inspiration for The Cool actually was Cornel West. The guy was like, 'If you really want to effect social change in the world, you have to make those things which are uncool, cool. You have to, in essence, make it hip to be square.' And it's more about how you deliver those things, how you package those things for people to digest them.
"Dead Prez did it on one of their albums, but they did it directly. It was like 'Yo, you should eat tofu.' It was dope! But it was like, 'Damn, niggas aren't gonna listen to that.'"
So Lupe had a revelation: "I'm gonna make this cheeseburger a fuckin' Tony Soprano mafia boss. His whole goal is to kill the entire world. He's fast food, trying to kill the entire world. It's really Tony Soprano shit.
"But it's basically about how you gotta watch what you eat 'cause this shit will kill you. If you go through the hood, drug abuse is one thing, fathers not being there is another thing, but then there's also the situation about health. We eat a lot of bullshit. There's no Whole Foods, none of this, none of that. There's like fuckin' hot dog stands and Italian beef places and cheeseburgers and pizza puffs and fried food and shit like that. We're destroying it on all angles."
Fiasco doesn't just talk health, however, he lives it. Articles on the MC often note his refusal to drink or smoke, and that stance still holds true for Lupe. "I don't have a genuine interest in it," he explained. "I don't have a genuine curiosity for it. I don't want it."
You'd think a guy would take a lot of flak for sticking to principles like that, but Fiasco's associates have come to respect his views. "They actually look at it like, 'Damn, I wish I could do that.'"
Yet the music profession has weighed on Lupe, and his plan at the moment is to throw in the towel very soon, at least in part. "Retirement", of course, is a word too often bandied about among rappers, but Fiasco seems to have thought his through. On The Cool he alludes to his next and final album, titled L.U.P.End-- derived from the initials Fiasco would habitually enter into arcade game high score lists.
"I'm at a creative end," he explained. "I really don't think I have that much to say. And I don't want to get to the point where I'm putting out music just to put out music. Especially recording music. I'll still perform as long as a venue will have me and a promoter will have me. Always. Until I'm 100 years old. "But actual recorded music is another thing in itself. The interview process, the radio process, the video process, the budget process-- that shit wears at you, tears at you. And I've been doing the music business for like eight years. And prior to that, on the underground level trying to get to a professional level, about 10-15 years. It's a heavy process and you just get to the point where you're just like, 'I don't know.' It's just like three is enough."
So where will Lupe turn his efforts once he's sworn off recorded music? "I'm going to step back and run my label [1st & 15th]. I've got Matthew Santos, who's my artist. Gemini, Sarah Green, Soundtrakk, just on a more production side. So I've got a full-fledged credible label with credible musicians on it. So I'll sit back and do that. And then I'll talk to different people and get inspired."
And like most hip-hop "retirements," this one seems provisional. According to Lupe, we can still look forward to "a couple concept records" and, "god-willing," an album from the previously mentioned hip-hop supergroup Child Rebel Soldiers, which brings Fiasco together with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.
What's the word on CRS? "Waiting. Everyone's focused on something else at the moment. [We're trying to find] two or three weeks to sit down and hammer it out. We're all kindred spirits; let's get together and unify that and see what happens."
Lupe's got a few shows lined up to close out the year, including a December 18 album release bonanza at New York City's Irving Plaza with a full live band. A House of Blues-sponsored tour is in the works for January. Finally, The Cool's tracklist has undergone a few revisions since our last report; check that just below.
Lupe Fiasco's The Cool:
01 Baba Says Cool for Thought
02 Free Chilly [ft. Sarah Green and Gemstones]
03 Go Go Gadget Flow
04 The Coolest
05 Superstar [ft. Matthew Santos]
06 Paris, Tokyo
07 Hi-Definition [ft. Snoop Dogg and Pooh Bear]
08 Gold Watch
09 Hip-Hop Saved My Life [ft. Nikki Jean]
10 Intruder Alert [ft. Sarah Green]
11 Streets on Fire
12 Little Weapon [ft. Bishop G and Nikki Jean]
13 Gotta Eat
14 Dumb It Down [ft. Gemstones and Graham Burris]
15 Hello/Goodbye (Uncool) [ft. UNKLE]
16 The Die [ft. Gemstones]
17 Put You on Game
18 Fighters [ft. Matthew Santos]
19 Go Baby [ft. Gemstones]
11-30 Urbana, IL - University of Illinois
12-02 Champaign, IL - University of Illinois
12-06 Los Angeles, CA - TBA
12-07 Los Angeles, CA - TBA
12-18 New York, NY - The Fillmore at Irving Plaza
12-27 Honolulu, HI - Pipeline Cafe
Stream: Lupe Fiasco [ft. Matthew Santos]: Superstar [from the forthcoming Lupe Fiasco's The Cool LP]