Cool Hand Lupe

“I just don't think I have that much tosay,”Lupe Fiasco says over the phone, explaining why he plans to quit recording music in the near future. “A lot of the stuff that I want to say musically, it has a limit. You can't compress and process certain things into 16 bars or a song.”

This will surely come as news to fans of the mainstream/underground-straddling MC; he's been hailed as a visionary and antidote to the crack rap that dominates the airwaves. It's also news to anyone who's heard his new CD, Lupe Fiasco's The Cool, a concept album featuring characters called The Cool, The Streets and The Game. It delves into issues ranging from death and resurrection to eating habits in the black community.

A 25-year-old critical darling who broke out after appearing on fellow Chicagoan Kanye West's 2005 album Late Registration, Fiasco scored three Grammy nominations with his debut, Lupe Fiasco's Food N Liquor. The album's memorable centerpiece, “Kick, Push,” extolled his love for skateboarding, and rap magazines cited him as hip-hop's next big thing.

But Fiasco now says that making records is unsatisfying, both financially and creatively, though he still plans to tour. “The entity of recorded music really sucks,” he says. “It's really wack, especially when you're doing it through a major.”

He's more interested in pouring his efforts into other projects, which range from clothing lines to comic books to more traditional literary endeavors. He's been writing essays “battling” with Friedrich Nietzsche in his spare time, he says, and he's in the midst of writing a novel about a window washer.

“[I]t's deep, though,” he says. “Imagine all the stuff I don't put into my music because I can't find a word to rhyme with 'plethora.' I'm trying to practice how to write for an extended period of time.”

If it seems like Fiasco-whose real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco-is self-consciously weird, well, he is. After all, he once had a stipulation in his concert rider calling for only yellow M&Ms, and The Cool has a song told from the perspective of a cheeseburger.

But he also comes across as a sincere, principled guy. He doesn't smoke or drink, and he says that the health issues he discusses on his album came about because his father died of diabetes.

“[The song 'Gotta Eat'] kind of reflects the health situation in the hood,” he says. “People in the hood eat a lot of garbage. I was setting up this community-activism group that works on the south side of Chicago, and one of the bullet points–outside of gang violence and drugs–was health. There's definitely a lack of attention to the health issues [facing] black communities. You go through there, and you're like, 'Goddamn, you can't eat shit around here. There's nothing but McDonald's and Taco Bell.'”

Fiasco seems somewhat relieved that the talk surrounding him is once again focused on his music. His buzz was decidedly negative this fall after he flubbed the lyrics to A Tribe Called Quest's “Electric Relaxation” at VH1's Hip Hop Honors Awards, inspiring a situation that became known as “Fiascogate.”

Things got worse when Vibe magazine published quotes in which he said that Tribe wasn't really much of an influence on him. He then threatened to sue the magazine–claiming the timing of the quotes was misrepresented–and Vibe issued a correction. He no longer plans to sue, but, he says, “they could give me 50 covers–I want nothing to do with them.”

The issue has since died down, and critics and fans are licking their chops for The Cool, an ambitious work that sometimes bites off more than it can chew. The hour-plus work could be easily trimmed by six or seven songs. The disc also suffers from fairly monotonous production and could have benefited from fewer tracks by his beat-making associate Soundtrakk (who produces about three-fourths of the songs) and a bit of Kanye's magic. The big singles, such as “Go Go Gadget Flow” and “Superstar,” are a blast, but many of the album cuts feel like padding.

That being said, a slight misstep from an obviously talented MC is nothing to get worked up about, and The Cool will nonetheless satisfy Fiasco's fans. In fact, one hopes he will renege on his promise to quit recording after he completes the album's follow-up. Despite his own assertions to the contrary, you get the feeling Fiasco has plenty more to say.

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