Lupe Fiasco: God willing. I literally put it in God's hands. You know what, Lasers is a record I poured my heart into. I was actually making my own music, in the studio making the songs, and rapping on them. And at the same time, making the music more acceptable. Not making it more poppy, but making it more popular. Putting it in the position where more people can understand it but at the same time still satisfy my hardcore fanbase.
Complex: Like the people behind the petition?
Lupe Fiasco: Right. That fanbase who wants to hear stuff they can't even understand, who like puzzles. But at the same time, I felt like I was doing myself a disservice by having all of this stuff that I wanted to say that I thought was right to the people who are the scholars, the Cornel Wests of the world, but it was getting lost in translation. So I was like, "I'm going to make it untranslated." And give you the message in the raw and hopefully you'll pick it up. To me, I found that medium and I was happy with it. But the market forces were not. And then the fixers, they weren't happy with the fixers either. So, God willing. Until then... Japanese Cartoon.
Complex: As far as putting out stuff to the fans, why not just go on the mixtape circuit and give your fans something to go on?
Lupe Fiasco: I think it burns you out. I had this conversation with Kanye when we were doing the CRS project: I don't like to do a bunch of records just to do it. I want every record to have a purpose and mean something. I don't want to do it to satisfy some perceived demand. If you give into everybody's demands, then what are you left with? I always came into the music business saying, "It's 50% me and it's 50% y'all." So let me make my 50% and then you can have it. I didn't want to get caught up in the "put out a mixtape every month" because I think it cheapens you as an artist. I ain't even gonna front, I think it cheapens your work.
People are happy, fans are cool, some people aren't cool. But I'm not doing it for the Internet dudes on the message boards who don't like nothing. Who are always comparing you to somebody else. I'm not doing this for you to have one more piece to play in your game of "this rapper is better than this rapper." I'm not in competition with nobody. I want to make good music for my fans who want it, who enjoy it, who learn something from it. And that's what it is.
And in this instance, Lasers has been done for two and a half years. I was ready to give it to you two and a half years ago. The reason I did Enemy of the State was out of desperation. Releasing these records now is out of desperation. This isn't out of my feeling like, "Oh man, I got to satisfy my fans." And this isn't coming from some artsy place. These are acts of desperation. I don't want to do desperate acts, I want to make music because I want to make music.
Complex: You keep referring to it as Lasers, but on the Internet now people are saying the record could be called Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album. Is that not a real title?
Lupe Fiasco: When I said that I was going to do an album called The Great American Rap Album, I did it. Lasers is one project.
Complex: So you have two albums already done?
Lupe Fiasco: Yeah. I make music every day. [Laughs.] Half of the next Japanese Cartoon record is done. When I say Lasers has been done for two and a half years, what do you think I've been doing since then? I've been sitting back and making more music. I get beats every day from every producer. People want me to feature on their songs, and favors for favors, and all this other craziness. Lasers is one project on its own. It's its own project, sitting being done, waiting to be released. And I'm in talks with doing the record after this one. So I'm constantly creating. But that doesn't mean I'm constantly releasing.
Complex: A number of songs have been out from you in the past 12 months like "I'm Beaming," "Shining Down," and "What You Want." Are those songs from Lasers or The Great American Rap Album?
Lupe Fiasco: Everything that has leaked between "Paris, Tokyo" and "Go To Sleep" was for Lasers. "Go To Sleep" is Food and Liquor II. [It was released] simply because I was in the position where I wanted to put out some music. Nothing was officially released off Lasers. Nothing. Not "Shining Down," not "What You Want," not "I'm Beaming." Everything that came off of Lasers was leaked or stolen. We didn't put out anything. The reason the songs are iTunes and we shot videos for them is because we felt like we're going to lose these records. It's like we paid $80,000 to $120,000 dollars for this record. If we gonna pay that much we might as well follow though instead of letting it get lost on the Internet. Our hands were forced.
We felt like half the album is out in the midst of finishing it. So it's like, we're not feeling to put out any records. For what? A record to beat the record we already got out? It doesn't make any sense. If the record leaked, then we're going to chase it. I'm not happy about it, but so be it. In the midst of all that you get this stalemate with the record company. And it's like, "Well I got to do something."
So out of desperation, you get "Go To Sleep," which is a record from the next record. Lasers is its own project, it is its own sound, its own mood. Food and Liquor II is completely different. So I don't want to keep just dropping records. To be honest with you, if I could just stop I would stop. If I could just stop and let everything clear the air and let everything settle, then I would literally stop. But it's just my movement has so much momentum and it's so self-fulfilling sometimes that even when I do stop, it keeps going on without me.
Complex: Are you now actively pursuing the release of Food and Liquor II?
Lupe Fiasco: Nah. People were saying they wanted a Lupe record, so here's a Lupe record, from me, not some dude leaking it. Like, "Here's a good, solid, Lupe Fiasco record that's official and that's from me, that I like, that you'll like, and I'm gonna shoot a video for." You can treat it as an underground record, as a mixtape record, as a no-single, as a first single. I don't really care. I'm not trying to dictate what I want that song to be. But it's my first act of control in the last two and a half years.
Just to summarize, Lasers has been done for two and a half years. I started on another album after that, with features on it and all types of craziness. But everything was supposed to be in time. What messed up the schedule when Lasers didn't come out when it was supposed to. So you get this backlog. And then Lasers kinda prematurely leaked out because of all these songs leaking. It's kind of like an unclear moment of what Lupe Fiasco album-wise is going to be. So I would just say stay tuned. Don't believe anything unless I tell you. Please don't believe anything anybody says unless I say it from my official Twitter page or my official UStream page. I'm like one of three people who actually know what's going on. In the meantime, we're going back on tour. We'll see you guys out there on stage. There might a Japanese Cartoon tour coming up too.
Complex: But don't you want to release Lasers? You made the album because you wanted to make it, right?
Lupe Fiasco: To be 100% honest, if it comes out, it comes out, if it doesn't, it doesn't. It's not going to affect me either way. That doesn't mean I don't like hip-hop, that don't mean I don't want to be a rapper. It just means that I know what everybody else doesn't know about that album. I know the dark side of that album. Nobody else knows the story. It's a dark, deep, twisted, nasty story that people lost their jobs for.
It's like Lasers, that's one album that got disrupted in the business process. It's a great album, but that album may not come out. But here's Food and Liquor II. So what's going to make you happy? What's truly going to make the people happy? I'm giving you another album. I'm already past it. I'm not sitting around, "Oh man, I want Lasers. Why don't they put out my songs?" Crying. For what? You go in and put out another record. And that's what I did.
If God wills it to be, we'll be talking about Food and Liquor II. And if Food and Liquor II doesn't come out, we'll be talking about Food and Liquor III. [Laughs.] If Food and Liquor III doesn't come out, we'll be talking about Food and Liquor IV. If that doesn't come out, we'll put out The Cool II, The Cool III. I'm never going to stop.
I love music. I'm never going to stop making music. I just did a whole punk rock album. So when the business overshadows the music, then I'm done. And I'ma step away from that, which is what happened to Lasers. All people see is music. It's a music business. The music is beautiful and great. I love to perform it, and I love to go around the world, and I love to sing it and say it. But I hate to pick up my phone when I get off stage to talk about the music business!
I hate to be looked at as the villain. I can't control my perception to the public but I try not to be a villain. My greatest fault is that I refuse to backbite others and put others on front street to the public. Because if I did that, I would be justified and vindicated with everything that I'm saying. But I'll be doing myself a personal injustice in something I don't believe in. If somebody wants to come to the plate and talk about the stuff that they're doing behind the scenes as to why XYZ isn't happening, then so be it. But I'm not going to put people on front street. That's why I don't do dis records or any stupidness like that. I'd rather to talk to somebody personally, and if they still motivated enough to tell the public what's going, then so be it. If not, then I'll take the L, publicly. And I don't mind taking the L. I don't really care.
Complex: Earlier, when speaking on Japanese Cartoon, you used the phrase, "If Lupe failed." Has Lupe failed?
Lupe Fiasco: I don't know. How do you define success?
Complex: How do you define it?
Lupe Fiasco: No, how do you define success? Am I arguably one of the best rappers in the world? Do I am have a massive, rabid fanbase? Do I have a Grammy? Do I have multiple Grammy nominations? Yes. Am I constantly on tour? What else can I say that could be a measure of success? How many Ferraris do I have? Do I have my own clothing line? Yes. Am I respected by every single noteworthy artist, rapper, producer in the game?
Complex: On the flip side, do you have an album out?
Lupe Fiasco: Whoa, whoa, whoa. See, that's even greater. Even with me without having an album out, am I still in the public consciousness?
Complex: Yes, but for how long?
Lupe Fiasco: Whoa, hold on. Wait, wait, wait. Are you doing an interview with Lupe Fiasco right now? "Who doesn't have an album out" about an album that's not out? What does that say?
I'll [give] you a definition of what people say success is. People say Jay-Z is successful. Why is Jay-Z successful? Because he has his own clothing line, he has a collection of Ferraris, because he's worth millions of dollars. Because he has connections to everybody around the world, he goes on fantastic vacations, and he sits front row at the Louis Vuitton fashion shows. I do that too.
Now let's talk about rapping. Is Lupe Fiasco not revered? Did Jay-Z not stop his show because at his show there was a girl wearing a "Hip-Hop Saved My Life" T-shirt in the front row? So he stopped his show to point out that I was standing at the booth and said, "That's one of the greatest writers of our time." And that's Jay-Z. You could do that with Kanye, Pharrell, and Drake, who called me a legend in my own city. And that's Drake, he's way bigger than I am. So let's look at that.
Then let's go to our garages because we want to go out to the club. What are you driving? You're driving a Benz or something. Let me take this Ferrari I'm gonna drive today. And that's not to boast. That's to show people, what is success? And I don't even care about the cars. I drive them to the grocery store. I drive them to the masjid to make salah. I don't care about none of that. All of that material success and what people quantify as being successful means nothing to me. I'm satisfied, I'm happy. My family, my friends, and everybody is happy. I'm at the best time of my life. It's Ramadan. But people always want to bog it down with "success."
Success is a very dangerous thing and I think we have to be very careful about when we dictate what success is for somebody else. Because you don't know what it's like. I'm happy with two albums. You may not be good with two albums, but who are you to tell me to put out three albums? I can tell you, "Man, you need to quit Complex and go work for Rolling Stone. But who am I to tell you that? If you feel comfortable, and you feel happy, and successful at your job, then that's success. You define that as success, then that's success. Success is not a general thing. It's a personal thing. It's a personal attribute.
So let's look at success is for me. When Jay-Z told me I was nice when I was 19, I was done. That was success for me. I didn't want much. Little kid from the hood who wanted to be a rapper, my idol at the time told me I was nice. I was done. And I used to say that to people, "Listen, Jay-Z says I'm nice, so I don't need to rap for you. I'm good." [Laughs.] I don't really care about the five mics, I don't care about the XXL ratings—not the magazines, I mean the ratings. I don't care about Pitchfork's 8.1 or 6.2 or whatever, The Rolling Stone's five stars or four stars. Jay-Z said I was nice, so as a rapper I'm good. And I'm better than you. And I can really rap. And you'll even say that I'm better than you. And just when you think that I'm not... go to sleep!