They call him Lupe
And to my Akh’s tryin’ to stay on their deen
It gets mean especially when you stay on the scene
And at the same try to stay out of trouble
But don’t forget the blessin’ is in the struggle
The Most Forgiving will forgive it if you stay repentant and hustle
Lupe Fiasco, “Muhammad Walks”
Lupe Fiasco, born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, is a Chicago-based American Muslim rapper. First making a name for himself on the back of a number of independently-released mixtapes thanks to his lyrical dexterity, Lupe signed to record label Atlantic Records and released his debut album, Food & Liquor, which was executive produced by Jay-Z and earned Lupe his first Grammy nomination in the category of Best Rap Album.
The album title is a reference to corner stores in Chicago which commonly advertised themselves as Food & Liquor stores, the rapper uses it as a metaphor for both the good (food) and evils (liquor) inherent in human nature.
While beginning his career in the genre of gangsta rap as a member of a group known as Da Pak, Lupe soon dropped the gangsta angle as a solo artist and began releasing more thoughtful, nuanced music dealing with a number of topics.
“All Black Everything” features Lupe imagining a world where the African slave trade had never existed, and blacks and white people had worked together to build America. “Words I Never Said” was a verbal attack targeting the American government, the education system, Islamic terrorists, corrupt banks and corporations, and urged people to speak up and take action against injustice in their communities. “Bitch Bad” is Lupe’s statement against the misogyny apparent in much of hip-hop music and culture.
Lupe has also spoken out in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement and Palestinian independence among other causes. Lupe participated in the Occupy Oakland protests, writing the poem ‘Moneyman’ in tribute to the protesters and performed at the BET Awards with a Palestinian flag draped on his microphone with back-up singer Erykah Badu (no stranger to controversy herself) dressed in a niqab.
The rapper is also the founder of the Lupe Fiasco Foundation, a non-profit organisation aimed at providing inner city youth in Chicago with positive development in the areas of education, service learning and music education.
Islam and Social Media
Lupe Fiasco has always been upfront with his faith, and recorded the song “Muhammad Walks” (a play on his fellow Chicago resident Kanye West’s song “Jesus Walks”) for free on his mixtape “Fahrenheit 1/15”. On the song, Lupe talks about his Islamic faith and his intentions to dispel common misconceptions of the faith as a terrorist religion.
Lupe Fiasco has also used social media to his advantage when defending Muslims and Islam. In 2010, when the controversy over the Park 51/Cordoba House project (also known as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’) erupted and in protest controversial preacher Pastor Terry Jones held a “Burn A Koran Day” event in conjunction with the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Lupe Fiasco responded on Twitter with the following
“If they burn a book have no worries…the book will feel NO pain so neither should you!
True destruction of the Quran cannot be done with fire it is destroyed when we fail 2 remember & practice its lessons in our daily lives. If this occurs then it is ANOTHER fire that you should truly be concerned about!”
More recently, in response to the protests that erupted worldwide in response to the video Innocence of Muslims, Lupe Fiasco created the hashtag #MuhammadShowedMe on Twitter to defend the true legacy of the Prophet (SAWS) and tweeted the following:
“Prophet Muhammad SAW was dope…taught me to be respectful of others and be patient in the face of ridicule… #MuhammadShowedMe”
“I think to really show we CARE about Muhammad’s SAW legacy we should educate people on what he means to US… #WWMD”
#MuhammadShowedMe trended worldwide, getting almost 15,000 tweets in just two days, with many Muslims posting about the lessons they had learned from the life and legacy of the Prophet (SAWS), gaining the attention of media outlet Al Jazeera in the process.
Lupe’s little-known Local Links
It might not be common knowledge that Lupe Fiasco has strong Singaporean connections. Before performing at the 2010 Singfest concert with fellow Chicago natives Kanye West and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, Lupe Fiasco first came to Singapore in 2005 for the iDN (International Designers Network) Conference prior to the release of his debut album.
He performed at a small showcase and skated at Raffles Place, and also forged friendships with local graffiti artist The Killer Gerbil and Le Messie, founder of streetwear line FALSE Clothing. Lupe Fiasco has endorsed FALSE clothing and worn their designs on the album sleeve to Food & Liquor, and Le Messie also acts as a producer for Lupe’s punk band side-project, Japanese Cartoon.
In 2007, Lupe Fiasco drew flak online for his comments that he had never listened to A Tribe Called Quest’s classic album Midnight Marauders, despite the similarities between his music and Tribe’s. Despite this however, he accepted an invitation to perform at a tribute to A Tribe Called Quest on VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors event, but flubbed his lines during the performance. He remained apparently unapologetic over the whole affair and this earned him further derision from fans of A Tribe Called Quest.
Lupe Fiasco also attracted some controversy over his rallying his fans to petition Atlantic Records to release his oft-delayed 2011 album LASERS, and then once the album was released he subsequently stated that the record was made under pressure and he was forced to make a more commercial-sounding album than he had originally wanted.
Despite the controversies, Lupe Fiasco has had a positive impact on at least some of his listeners.
Imam Suhaib Webb has remarked on his programme Real Talk on One Legacy Radio that he personally encountered at least one person who took shahadah after listening to Lupe Fiasco’s 2011 album “LASERS”, and in light of recent events made the following comment on his Facebook page:
“I say that Muslim artists like Brother Ali and Lupe Fiasco have done more good for Islam this week (when both artistes released new albums) than those who destroyed property in the name of the Prophet (SA). Thoughts? ”
After all, how many of us can say that we helped bring people to Islam with our words?
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local research institute and a part-time writer.