Life, Death and Love from Lupe Fiasco – How One Artist Turned into an Education

I recently wrote a column regarding experiences of my own racist behaviors growing up. While it was never blatant, it was certainly there. I alluded to the fact I wasn’t exposed to many black people until I was 10.

When I say that, know that I mean it was not like me discovering a unicorn. There wasn’t this shock of not knowing people with a different skin tone exist. I just didn’t have the day to day interactions that I began to. It wasn’t until much later the preconceived ideas that had manifested began to unwind a little bit.

The one statement I can think of which began the unwinding of my preconceived ideas dates back to when I was 17-18.

I couldn’t see former President Barack Obama being elected in 2008 because he’s black. Not because I hated him for being black, but because my reasoning was “the country isn’t ready for a black president.” Sound familiar? It was an echo many white people had. It was an echo of many in the community I grew up in.

Ironically, I left school early, after texting my mom to call and check me out, to watch his inauguration no more than a year later because I wanted to see history unfold. For whatever reason, it meant something to me. It was groundbreaking. I didn’t want to miss it.

No more than a year later, I had an experience with a college roommate who was black. I made the statement that the election of Obama v McCain was voting for a lesser of two evils. Sound familiar? Probably something you have heard for every election since. I know I have. My roommate lit in to me like a damn Christmas tree. Rightfully so. It was an ignorant statement from an echo chamber of the town I grew up in. When asked why I made the statement? I told him McCain is old (meaning he would probably die in office) and wanted to bring back the draft and the aforementioned statement. All he could do was laugh. He should have. I deserved it.

A time shortly prior to that, my other roommate turned me on to Lupe Fiasco. I heard his freestyle for All The Way Turnt Up from his mixtape Enemy of the State. A year or so later, Lasers was released. Little did I know the impact his music would have on me a decade later.

Since then, I have become a massive Lupe fiasco fan. Now, I don’t necessarily subscribe to every idea he has or that he portrays in his music. However, his music sparked ideas that allowed me to educate myself on some of the flaws within the establishment of the US.

Those flaws include the oppression of black people. It’s a very common theme in his music. I would listen to his songs and then I would go down the rabbit hole researching the lyrics and what he meant. Rap Genius (now just, Genius) became my best friend for his music as silly as it sounds. From there, I would start digging more into what he was talking about. I learned more about policies like redlining. I dug into concepts like white flight.

By the time Black Lives Matter was established and mainstream, I had a better understanding for the message. Of course, I will never fully be able to understand empathize because I am a white male.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have to work to make a living. That doesn’t mean I can sit around and do nothing and still be successful. But, I started from birth with a better hand because of my skin color alone.

That doesn’t mean I feel ashamed about who and what I am. If I could erase hate and racism, I would do it in a heartbeat. I do sympathize and listen to struggles of others who run different races than I do (no pun intended). I think we should all do the same.

As silly as it is, I don’t know if I would have the same mindset regarding race without Lupe Fiasco’s music. It forced me to open the door to learning a new history. Not the history we are taught in school.

I can’t tell you one time in all of my schooling where we sat down and talked about racial relations of the present day. American History is taught under the microscope that America is the good guy in every situation, at least that was my experience and takeaway from it. We helped people. We re-wrote our wrongs. It’s skewed.

It’s amusing when people say things like “well they have a black history month” to say how society caters to black people. We need it because we’re not actually taught the REAL black history. We’re not taught the REAL American history. We get a watered down version driven by propaganda.

Which makes it even more ironic when people complain about tearing down statues and erasing history. Yeah, because we do such an amazing job teaching it now. Look at the number of people who cried about the name “Dixie” being changed and tried to spin it to mean something other than what it is truly synonymous with.

I am thankful for being turned on to Lupe’s music. Before Childish Gambino set the world on fire with “This is America,” there were artists like Lupe hitting heavy on the politics.

I wanted to share 10 songs I love that opened my mind and heart to what the Black Lives Matter Movement is trying to tell us.

I will share a quick synopsis on each as all have many layers and rabbit holes to go down.

10. State Run Radio (Lasers)

State Run Radio talks about distractions of pop culture that keep people from learning the truth or adhering to your own bias. It talks about breaking from that stigma and learning to think for yourself.

People are influenced by their families and the peers they surround themselves with. That trickles into politics, religion and how they feel about certain socioeconomic classes of people.

My favorite quote from this one is the following…

You’re now tuned into the weakest
Frequency of fear, keep you locked right here
And hope you never leave this, never be a leader
Think inside the box, and follow all procedures

It’s funny talking about this now because of what is happening Covid19 and the amount of people who are not adhering to procedures. However, in that case, it’s not a positive. But the part about thinking inside the box is my favorite because we can all probably think of people we know who share news from the same sources and people over and over without questioning any of it.

9. Hip Hop Saved My Life (The Cool)

The message behind this is one that gets lost so heavily when it comes to discussing families of inner cities. These children are born into brokenness so they look for ways to get their families out of that cycle, which is damn hard. It talks about the endless cycle of going back and forth between making money to buy material things to appear to “make it” in order to obtain a following to actually make it. Of course on the side is selling drugs just to have money to provide for your family.

Cryin’ from the next room, a baby in need
Of some Pampers and some food and place to sleep
That, plus a black Cadillac on D’s
Is what keep ’em on track to be a great Emcee, yea

I often hear people compare their financial plight to those from poor areas. By the time some “get out,” it’s already too late which the end of the song alludes to.

8. The End of the World (Friend of the People)

The song was released after the Occupy Wall Street movement and discusses specifically that in many references. The overall message is fight until the death for what you believe in. Stand up and let your voice be heard.

So be it, outspoken and low key it
My heart big, limousine no Fiat
And you can hear it loud every time God beat it
Love always shines every time I see it

The lyrics here describe the size of his heart. I always felt that because I try to use my own heart to try and understand the pain of others. It also alludes to speaking up when you feel it is necessary, but also choosing battles.

7. Lamborghini Angels (Food & Liquor II)

Disclaimer. This is one of the most direct, vile and truthful songs I have heard. It pertains to religion. While his music alludes to religion and it’s shortcomings, this one packs a haymaker talking about it. It is a direct shot at those who hide behind religious preachers who are sending messages of the greater good, but are not good.

With his crucifix inside his pocket said his mission is divine
Put his bible on the bed and then he touched on his behind
Told him take off all his clothes and put your penis next to mine
Now the little boy think it’s normal because they do this all the time
With no life inside his body now he finally think he’s safe
But they cut off all his fingers while they piss all in his face
He take pictures with his killers then they sneak back to the states
Now he sit next to the picture of his wife when she was raped
With the teleprompter rolling he looks right into the lens
Doesn’t mention his redemption but absolves him of his sins
He forgives them in advance says that he will do again

That was the final verse before the last hook of the song. It alludes to the awful things that happen and get swept under the rug when it comes to some religious figures and members of the military.

6. Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free) (Food & Liquor II)

This song is essentially a shot at everything he dislikes from the past and present. He talks about the treatment of Native Americans to political prisoners for speaking out to standards of beauty in America to imitation of hip hop culture. The hook of the song talks about the non-sense we see and buy into as we move from one issue to the next.

Live from the other side what you see
A bunch of nonsense on my TV
Heaven on Earth is what I need
But I feel I’m in Hell every time I breathe
Reporting live from the other side what you hear
A bunch of nonsense all in my ear
Rich man, poor man, we all gotta pay
Cause freedom ain’t free, especially ’round my way

5. Words I Never Said (Lasers)

This. This was the song that really opened the floodgates for me. This was second on the album. I listened to this about a dozen times before moving on. It hits hard. I could write an essay about every line in this song. But, I will stick with the hook.

It’s so loud inside my head
With words that I should have said
As I drown in my regrets
I can’t take back the words I never said
I can’t take back the words I never said

Often times we are told we can’t take back the words we say. Of course, we can’t. Once those words come, they can pack a punch and do damage. At the same time, we also can’t take back the words we never said. I was talking with a friend recently about my blog and some of the political posts. If those things prevent me from landing certain jobs, so be it. I don’t ever want to feel like this…

I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence
Fear is such a weak emotion that’s why I despise it
We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth
So scared of what you think of me, I’m scared of even telling you
Sometimes I’m like the only person I feel safe to tell it to
I’m locked inside a cell in me, I know that there’s a jail in you
Consider this your bailing out, so take a breath, inhale a few
My screams is finally getting free, my thoughts is finally yelling through

4. Strange Fruition (Food & Liquor II)

These lyrics opened FNL II…

Now I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag
‘Cause I can’t find no reconciliation with your past
When there was nothing equal for my people in your math
You forced us in the ghetto and then you took our dads

It directly approaches his opinion on pledging his allegiance to a flag. It goes on to talk about the systemic oppression and the treatment of certain people. For Lupe, he’s not only black. He is Muslim.

For me, I find it odd that kids stand every day at school and recite something they can’t even decipher. Until a certain age, they can’t even pronounce the words. I talked about propaganda in school. That’s not a form of patriotism like we make it out to be. It is a form of nationalism.

3. American Terrorist (Food & Liquor)

In a nutshell, it is a huge shot at the 1%. It takes a shot at the self-serving interests of those who are in charge. The intro of the song is a great message altogether.

(Close your mind, close your eyes, see with your heart
How do you forgive the murderer of your father?
The ink of a scholar is worth a thousand times more than the blood of a martyr)

Being Muslim, he once again sheds light on his faith and how it is misinterpreted by many. Essentially, it is saying do what you can to change the world and that the pen is mightier than the sword.

2. All Black Everything (Lasers)

I remember someone telling me that this song was racist because of the lyrics. It’s not. All he talks about is dreaming of a alternative version of the world without slavery and racism. This was his direct quote regarding the song…

“I just started thinking, ‘What if things had gotten off on a totally different foot?What if they just came over to Africa and said, ‘We want you guys to work for us.”

The first verse alone refers to reversals on many things from people to organizations. So what if?

Uh, and we ain’t get exploited
White man ain’t feared so he did not destroy it
We ain’t work for free, see they had to employ it
Built it up together so we equally appointed
First four hundred years, see we actually enjoyed it
Constitution written by the W.E.B. Du Bois
Were no reconstructions, Civil War got avoided
Little black Sambo grows up to be a lawyer
Extra extra on the news stands
Black woman voted head of Ku Klux Klan
Malcolm little dies as a old man
Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him
Followed by Bill O’Reilly who read from the Quran
President Bush sends condolences from Iran
Where FOX News reports live
That Ahmadinejad wins Mandela peace prize

1. Unforgiveable Youth (Food & Liquor II)

The songs takes us through the journey of the establishment of the US. It talks about the rise and ends with the hypothetical fall. It alludes to how we appear to have it all together when in reality we don’t. We have many shortcomings. But, would people know that if they discovered us years after the fall? The entire last verse is easily my favorite thing he has ever written…

As archaeologists dig in the deserts of the east
Appeared a 100 meters wide and 100 meters deep
They discover ancient cars on even older streets
And a city well preserved and most likely at its peak
A culture so advanced, and by condition of the teeth
They can tell that they was civil, not barbaric in the least
A society at peace.
With liberty and justice for all
Neatly carved in what seems to be a wall
They would doubt that there was any starvation at all
That they pretty much had the poverty problem all solved
From the sheer amount of paper, most likely used for trade
Everything’s so organized.
They had to be well behaved
Assumed they had clean energy, little to no enemies
Very honest leaders with overwhelming sympathies
Religions kinda complex.
Kinda hard to figure out
And this must be the temple
This White House

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