Editor’s note: It’s worth mentioning that this editorial piece went through 4 revisions (and a last revision just before this was added to the mag) because I wanted to get this right. I had to give myself an 1000 word limit not including this brief note since I could go on and on about this subject with various examples. However, I didn’t want to go on an epic multi-page assault so I will oblige to my own restrictions to master the art of less is more. This will serve as more of an intro to a discussion. Enjoy
There is a common biblical saying that goes “In the beginning, there was the word” which in many ways is very prophetical in its meaning and all that holds true. Ironically, my first introduction to Lupe begins on Kanye’s Touch the Sky “Yes, guess who’s on third? Lupe steal like Lupin the 3rd.” Initially, I thought nothing of that line, or that verse except “okay, this guy is kind of cool.” It would be years down the line where I fully realized how dope that line was in the scope of lyrics on top of lyrics. It wasn’t until Kick, Push that my Lupe fandom began. I got ahold of “Food & Liquor” in 2006 when I was a scrawny high school-er and was blown away. He was rapping about racism, poverty, black boys being raised without their dads and the ill-effects of that, terrorism and embracing yourself. It is important to note that in 2006, hip-hop was entering one of its more forgettable eras. 50 was king and Kanye wasn’t Kanye just yet. Lupe was billed “the savior of rap” and I totally believed it. He wasn’t just a talented emcee, his range of topics and storytelling ability was rivaled by only Nas.
On just that album alone he had songs like “The Instrumental” where he raps about folk’s penchant to sit in front of a TV and succumb to media brainwashing and propaganda:
He just sits and listens to the people in the boxes
Everything he hears, he absorbs and adopts it
Anything not comin’ out the box, he blocks it
See he loves to box and hope they never stop it
Anything the box tell him to do, he does it
Anything it tell him to get, he shops and he cops it
He protects the box, locks it in a box
When he goes to sleep but he never sleeps
‘Cause he stays up to watch it, scared to look away
While I have your attention, I should point out that my first intro to J. Cole went much better. I am a proud (and true) day 1 fan of Hov’s first Roc Nation artist. I still remember that summer of 2009 back in my Junior year at Oneonta when I came across “The Warm Up.” There was an instant connection, he was easily relatable and he rapped with so much hunger you couldn’t help but want to see him win. So seeing how far he’s made it today, from where he started is pretty special.
On the flip side, I’m not so much of a big Kendrick fan. By the time I caught onto K.Dot, he was already the internet’s favorite rapper, he had Dre, Snoop, Game and others cristen him “That new West Coast king” and folks spoke about him as if he was black Jesus. This all comes before the “Control” verse which might be one of the most overrated verses I ever heard. It put me off a lot. There was a certain aura of “overrated” I felt, which of course isn’t his fault. However, I do enjoy his music and his message.
This brings me to the heart of this article: I have a hard time understanding hip-hop fans who laud in appreciation for Kendrick & J. Cole but scoff and undervalue Lupe. If you’ve ever heard the three of them, in a decent size sample of work, one would gather that Lupe is the OG to this “socially aware, conscious” rap and Kendrick/Cole are his offspring.
Lupe was Kendrick/Cole before they hit the rap scene. Unfortunately for Wasalu, he was a victim of the era in which he first became known. 2006-2008 was the dread ringtone era of rap, the time where Lupe was more prominent. It wasn’t until 2009 when the “era of Yeezy” began and by then folks like Kid Cudi, Wale, Drake, and Cole were the new school being ushered in. Lupe at the time was in the midst of a war with his label, which began the beginning of the downfall of his relevance.
Whenever I hear kids today pump their chest up to Kendrick and Cole, I always can’t help but think about how Lupe has been rapping about the same things for years. I appreciate songs from Kendrick & Cole like ‘No Make Up’ ‘ADHD’ Ronald Reagan Era, ‘Real’ practically all of TPAB or Rich Niggaz, Crooked Smile, 2Face, Never Told and I Get Up. But Food & Liquor had tracks like “Real, Just Might Be Ok, The Cool, American Terrorist.” While his magnum opus “The Cool” told the story of our youth who spend their lives raised in the streets, invested in the game all for materialistic wealth. Lets not forget that Lupe is also the most outspoken rapper out now. Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap album tackled issues you’ve probably heard 3-4 years after the fact on To Pimp a Butterfly. I purposely left out a lot of music from all 3 in the hopes you see what I’m talking about for yourself.
Lupe had said in rebuttal to Kendrick’s “Control” verse
“You aint Nas, nigga you aint Jay-Z, but you will respect me, you will reject me but no matter how far you go, you will reflect me”
meaning even Lupe knows the parallels btw those two emcees and himself. I’m at the point where I can appreciate all three since I’ve been an avid listener of them all from the beginning. So while Kendrick & Cole stand at the forefront as the new faces of hip-hop and rightfully so, Lupe continues down a path of mainstream irrelevance. But that’s okay; Lupe has never been the type to pander to the masses for affection. In the 21st century, Lupe was one of the first artist to pioneer staying true, taking on a major label in the process, for the likes of Kendrick & J. Cole to bring socially conscious rap back into the top of the art form.