Lupe versus Atlantic

Straight Talk Sunday: The Day The Music Dies

Last Thursday, I wrote an editorial for a music editorial blog that I write for called Paper Crane Collective. It was called “Hip Hop Aint Dead: Not For Lupe Fiasco, Anyway.” This is a continuation of that editorial. Though some of my opinions may have changed, the bottom line remains the same: I am a fan who wants to see Lupe Fiasco freed from the death grip of the major record labels in the music industry.

Straight Talk Sunday

Straight talk: The big dogs in the music industry (record labels, mainly) are restraining the creativity of music as an art form. If this continues, music represented by labels will soon not be what it once was.

Last week, Lupe Fiasco released his album L.A.S.E.R.S, which his fans had been waiting on for three years. Since its release, it has been receiving mostly negative reviews from the critics. I am one of the biggest Lupe Fiasco fans out there, and I’m here to say that I think it was a weak album from Lupe. But I don’t think it was his fault. I made it clear in my editorial on Paper Crane Collective that Atlantic Records is mostly to blame in the album coming across as scattered, inconsistent, and unappealing to the critics and, more importantly, to the true fans of Lupe Fiasco and his mission in creating music.

In the end, though, what does Lupe think?

In interviews, Lupe has said that he went through periods where he was so down about everything in his life, particularly the conflict with Atlantic Records, that he contemplated suicide. Additionally, he has said that Atlantic, rather than he himself as the artist, dictated the direction of the album. Of “The Show Goes On,” he said “It’s their record. My words, their music. They forced this song to be a No. 1 single, and that’s what they got. I can’t take any credit for it.”

How can an industry survive when the only goal is to make money and to put songs on the radio, particularly when, these days, so many young people (who, let’s be honest, drive the continuing trends in our nation) aren’t even going to the radio anymore to find their new music? In my opinion, the labels are putting the noose around their own necks by demanding that their artists create music that they think will make money. Lupe Fiasco and his latest release are a perfect example of this.

It’s all coming clear to me now: Lupe Fiasco is a caged beast. If you’ve ever listened to some of Lupe’s earlier releases or even songs from his mixtapes, you know that he is an incredibly intelligent artist who likes to rap about social and political issues. Atlantic Records, though, has chosen to tell Lupe that he is not to rap about deep social issues, but instead he needs to focus on creating songs that will be played on the radio and thus will make money. Darrale Jones, the same man who signed Lupe to Atlantic Records in the first place, has been quoted in the media saying that Lupe’s songs were not “commercial enough.” It seems to me as though Atlantic never really gave Lupe’s songs from the past a true listen. Did they hear “Dumb It Down?” “They told me I should come down cousin/ but I flatly refuse, I ain’t dumb down nothin’.”

“Dumb It Down” – Lupe Fiasco (2007)

Atlantic is asking for Lupe to be someone who he isn’t, and that leaves us, as listeners, with something false, something that isn’t real, something that isn’t rooted in anything but the label’s desire to make money. Lupe said it perfectly himself: ‘I’m not writing about someone else. I’m writing about me. This is my life. It’s very personal for me. So for somebody to kind of put their fingers in that and play with that, it becomes more damaging.’ Meanwhile, though, he’s being told by his label that he isn’t living up to success or fame. Lupe rebuts, though, “whose success? You define success. But there’s this kind of artificial ‘unless you achieve this number, unless you achieve this status, then you’re not worth anything. You’re value-less.’

To me, the day that labels are able to have this much power over the art that artists themselves set out to create, is the day the music dies. It seems the system is being tested on Lupe Fiasco, who, through his battling depression and contemplating suicide, hit rock bottom from the repercussions. Luckily for all of us, Lupe proved strong and was able to come out alive from this giant mess of a conflict the between artist and the businessman.

Though I consider that a win, there’s potentially a more damaging loss in the mix. Lupe, the educated pursuer that he is, is left bored without the ability to explore issues that matter to him. With two album releases remaining until his contract with Atlantic ends, Fiasco is left twiddling his thumbs. Even after putting L.A.S.E.R.S out, he admitted that he was forced to find ‘some emotional distance from the music.’ Frankly, I don’t blame Lupe, either. Making music should  mean that you have the creative license to speak your mind; if not, why even put lyrics to the instrumentals?

Understandably, it seems that Lupe would rather not put his energy into creating something that is not his, or that he does not believe in. Instead, he’s waiting for the day he can split with Atlantic, and at that point, he may not have any desire to continue rapping. Call it pessimistic, and I hope it isn’t so, but we may have seen the last of the Lupe Fiasco that I, for one, came to know and love. The Lupe Fiasco who speaks his mind, raps about the greater matters in this world, and who wanted to make a difference in the game of hip hop. If that comes to be the case, I’ll make a stand to never listen to an album released by Atlantic Records again. #FreeLupe

Quotes in this article are from Sun Times and Lupe’s interview with Tavis Smiley. Inspiration to write this piece came from @owensk.

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