The last time we spoke with Lupe Fiasco, things were not looking good. His oft-delayed third album, Lasers, seemed destined for major label limbo and Lupe was busying himself with side projects like Japanese Cartoon—his post-punk rock band—and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Lupe’s fans fought back and took things into their own hands by protesting the delay of Lasers. And then a ray of hope: Lupe tweeted a picture of himself with Atlantic Records Chief Operating Officer, Julie Greenwald, and the long-standing feud between him and the label seemed resolved. Shortly thereafter Lasers was given a release date, and it looked like everything was going to be alright.
But pictures can be deceiving. Despite having a legitimate hit on his hands with “The Show Goes On,” and having a solid release date of March 8 for his album, things between Lupe and Atlantic Records haven’t really been resolved. We got on the phone with Lupe and he went off about how he was pressured into doing “The Show Goes On,” why he’s still not cool with Atlantic Records, and why he (sometimes) hates his own album.
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
On "The Show Goes On"
“There’s nothing really to tell about that record, to be honest. I didn’t have nothing to do with that record. That was the label’s record. That wasn’t like I knew the producer or knew the writer or anything like that. That was one of those records the record company gave me, [they even gave me] stuff they wanted me to rap about. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey I did this and I went to a mountain and found inspiration and it was this.’ [Last April] I was backstage at a show at the House of Blues in L.A. and the president of [Atlantic Records] came to me and said, ‘Hey check this out, I got this song.’ He played ‘Show Goes On’ for me on the iPod. I was used to it because they presented me like ten other songs in the same fashion or via email. So for me, at that point, it was just another record like, ‘Is this a song you want me to do?’ There was nothing special about it for me at that point. It was like, ‘You know we still want off the label, right?’ That was the conversations we were having.
“I did the record maybe a couple weeks after I initially heard it. We were on tour and I didn’t have the schedule to go record it, so the first instance that I had to actually go do it, I went and knocked it out. I knocked out ‘Never Forget You’ that same day. Then we had ‘Show Goes On’ for two, three months completed in some fashion. It was never a record like, ‘Hey! Lupe is super excited about ‘Show Goes On.’’ At that point, I was just drained. I was like, ‘Whatever. Another song, another day, another dollar.’
“I had to do ‘Show Goes On,’ that was like the big chip on the table. I had to do it and it had to be the first single if the record was going to come out. And then there’s ‘Never Forget You’ [featuring John Legend]—which is another record I had nothing to do with—which became another bargaining chip, like, ‘Yo, after ‘Show Goes On’ there’s going to be this other record that you had nothing to do with.’ And I know John Legend, he’s a cool dude. But it was just a record he had sitting around and Exec A or Exec B heard it, and they were like, ‘Oh yeah! We’re going to put this on Lupe.’ And it wasn’t like, ‘Hey Lupe, do you like this song?’ it was like, ‘You got to do this record.’ At that point, I had already done ten records [the same way]. It was like I’d fly out from whatever spot I’m vacationing in, cut these records, and fly back.”
Why He Hates Lasers
“One thing I try to stress about this project is, I love and hate this album. I listen to it and I’ll like some of the songs. But when I think about what it took to actually get the record together and everything that I went through on this record—which is something I can’t separate—I hate this album. A lot of the songs that are on the album, I’m kinda neutral to. Not that I don’t like them, or that I hate them, it’s just I know the process that went behind it. I know the sneaky business deal that went down behind this song, or the artist or singer or songwriter who wrote this hook and didn’t want to give me this song in the first place. So when I have that kind of knowledge behind it, I’m just kind of neutral to it like, ‘Another day, another dollar.’ As opposed something like The Cool, which is more of my own blood, sweat, and tears, and my own control. With this record, I’m little bit more neutral as to the love for the record.
“I don’t like the process behind Lasers. The music is dope but I just don’t like the process. We were literally at the point where all this music was done except for a couple songs that we did after the protest. So the bulk of the album was done. And we were talking about shelving the album and going to another label, that’s where we were like, ‘If you put the record out, put it out. Either move on to another album or can it and we’ll do other records at another label.’ The business of it got solved. I’m happy for the fans, this is their album. This is the album that they fought for and that’s what made me do songs like ‘Words I Never Said’ and ‘All Black Everything.’
”The [fans] came and put their lives on the line in some instances—because you never know what could happen, it could have been a stampede. I look at that as very inspiring and motivational. That was one of the only reasons the label got on the phone and wanted to have that meeting, they seen the outpouring of support and the critique that was beginning to mobilize via the Internet. CNN, MTV, and Village Voice was picking up the story of the protest and actually interviewing the kids and the kids was speaking their piece. And it wasn’t the most glorifying things that they were saying. I think that, as well as the pressure of the business itself, where it was at a point like, ‘Look, Lupe is not going to come into the building at all.’ It was periods of stalemate where I wasn’t going into Atlantic Records. I had nothing against the average employees—a lot of those people are my friends—but the executive attitude was something I did not like.
“We were literally going on tour and a lot of the records that are on the album [are songs] that the record company was saying, ‘Hey we don’t like this record, it’s not up to par,’ and we already been performing them for two years. And you got kids who know all the words to a lot of the records that are going to come out because our thing was, ‘Alright, if you’re not going to put it out, we’ll perform it and go on tour.’ For me, there’s always another outlet that can be more meaningful than having a release date. Especially, if an album is coming out and you’re not making no money off of it then what’s the point? How excited can you possibly be? My excitement comes from being on the stage.
“For me, it’s the fans and for them to get a victory and for us to get a release date. That’s all we really wanted the whole time like, ‘Either give us a release date or let us go.’ And they were like, ‘No, we’re not giving you either one of those.’ So it was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just go back on tour, go climb a mountain, and busy myself with other things until this stuff gets situated.’ [The value of getting a release date] it depends on what level of education you have in the music business. For some people that’s amazing like, ‘Oh my God! My life is going to change and blah, blah, blah.’ For other people, it kind of means nothing. It’s like, ‘Another album out but the main root of the problem is still unsolved.’ And then there are records you literally had nothing to do with. That was a part of the compromise. Compromise doesn’t mean everybody is going to be happy, it’s just we’re going to do the best thing we can. The best thing for both parties is for this album to come out. Whether that means we’re homies or whether that means everything is cool now, that’s a different story.
On “Words I Never Said”
“Alex Da Kid was trying to work with me for a couple years, as far back as The Cool. He was submitting tracks and different things. And that was the one record that really caught my attention. The hook was already on it with Skylar. The first day I heard it, I went into the studio and recorded it. The song had a bridge we took out because initially, the song was supposed to be about a relationship, like a boyfriend/girlfriend, Drake song or something. And I’m like, ‘Nah, I’m going to talk about world affairs.’ I’ve been talking about [terrorism] since back on Food and Liquor. It’s weird to me that people forget that I had songs called ‘American Terrorist.’ And I’ve been kind of toeing that line whether it be on freestyles or what have you. I’ve always been talking about the same thing, so when people ask me what’s different with this album, I just say the music. The messages on the album, whether they’re little more or less lyrical than their predecessors, I’m basically saying the same things I’ve said on other mixtapes and albums. [The song] is not a big step for me. It’s not me striving to do anything different.