The last time we spoke you were putting the finishing touches on The Cool. Are you happy with how the album came out?
Most definitely. Most definitely. Diamonds take a long time to make. In that last moment, you’re like, ‘Yeah!’ We had some heatrocks come out towards the end of the process. That kind of pushed some of the songs that we thought were concrete into bangers, where we were like, ‘Damn!’
The last time we spoke you were also nearing the album deadline. Do you work better under pressure?
Sometimes. Sometimes. You have to learn how to live with regrets. There are certain things that take time and they’re meant to take time. When you’re hit with a schedule and that schedule gets accelerated, you can’t get everything done because some things take a long time to make. But the process works. It’s all good.
It’s amazing that The Cool hasn’t leaked yet. How have you managed to keep it under wraps for this long?
By not giving it to nobody! I haven’t given it to any magazines. I don’t really care for the reviews anymore. That kind of thing in hip-hop was done when The Source kind of lost their credibility with the 5 Mics. It wasn’t a credible source giving you 5 Mics. You know, the other reviews are like, ‘Whatever.’ That’s another person’s opinion. There are certain people where I honestly respect their reviews, but it’s more newspapers in particular cities as opposed to a magazine or some kind of website or whatever. That’s the main thing on how albums get out. People send their music out to see what people think. I don’t care what people really think! The upside to sending out your music is that somebody likes it. But what’s the point of having one person like it and then your shit is all over the internet?
A lot of publications want the exclusive review and they want something from you that no one else has or can get. Can not giving your album to certain people hurt your coverage in their publications?
Nah, not at all. If your joint is hot, people are going to rock with it regardless. It’s not for particular sites. My new mantra is that the media shouldn’t dictate how the music sounds and how the music is put out. For instance, iTunes wants you to put a sampler together for them. I was like, ‘Hell no, I’m not doing no sampler.’ They’re like, ‘Well, we’re iTunes.’ So? It’s not like iTunes isn’t going to put the album up and promote it. I want the least amount of music as possible out and I want the strongest records to be out to sell this album before it comes out. I don’t want to put out all the songs and I don’t want to put out remixes. I don’t want to do that.
It’s like, ‘How strong are you on your own business and doing things on your own terms to tell someone as powerful as them ‘No’?’ Are you sitting on a treasure chest of hot shit or are you just wolfing because you want to be an asshole? In this particular instance, I have hot shit and I want to dictate how it goes out to the world. If somebody don’t grant you an interview or somebody don’t put it up on their homepage, it’s like, ‘So?’
You asked HipHopGame to take the sampler down. Do you want fans to experience the album as a whole as well?
I didn’t authorize that sampler. I thought that sampler was a bad idea. I didn’t “thumbs up” it. I had a big thing with the label with it. It wasn’t supposed to exist. So if it wasn’t even supposed to exist, that means that everything that happened afterwards wasn’t supposed to happen either so we had to take that down. It wasn’t no shot. I told Busy (at Atlantic) to tell people that it wasn’t malicious towards them or that I was on some RIAA shit and I didn’t want people to have my music. It was a business decision.
Did you want to change anything in the production on The Cool that you didn’t get in Food and Liquor?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Food and Liquor was kind of stale if you compare it to the stuff that was going on my mixtapes. This is way above what Food and Liquor was and I was already doing that. I was like, ‘Let me take some of that progression and experimentation that I was doing on some of those mixtapes and inject that into The Cool instead of making Food and Liquor over.’ This one is a little more experimental and focused. The hip-hop fans may not even understand the audiences that I have. Let me cater to that kid who doesn’t even care about hip-hop but wants to hear me collaborate with Patrick Stump. Let me cater to that audience as well to just expand my horizons.
Expanding your horizons can be tricky because if you go too far you’re not the same artist, but if you don’t go far enough you’re not growing at all. Do you just do what you want and not worry about the fans’ reactions?
Yeah, that’s what it’s about. It’s supposed to be you do what you want to do. You make sure that your bottom line is taken care of. If you feel like you can run your household on $200,000, then so be it. If you feel you need $200 million dollars to run your household, then so be it. But you gotta understand that the stuff that you do to turn around that type of profit is going to be different. You’re going to have to go a particular route, dress a particular way and reach a particular crowd. But if you’re comfortable with where you’re living and you can pay your bills, then it’s cool and you can accept that. I don’t look at that as pressure. This is me. All of this is me. I really fuck with rock shit. I really fuck with skateboards. I really fuck with ninjas. I really fuck with cartoons. I really come from the ‘hood and all my niggas sold dope and half my niggas are killers and some of those niggas are locked up. All that mixed in together, yeah, that’s me. It’s not an act. It’s not a reach to try and sell records. Nah. This is really Lupe Fiasco. We’re really going to go to the skateboard shop, then we’re going to go to the projects and then we’re going to go to Tokyo. On a daily basis, this is what I do. I don’t really look at it like reaching. Other people may look at it like I’m reaching but they will never get close enough to know that that’s really Lupe. They have to take it from the music and the mixtapes and the interviews think that I’m whatever they conceptualize me as, but this is me.
When you forgot lines during the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors tribute to A Tribe Called Quest, a lot of fans said that was career suicide. What did you think when you heard that?
Career suicide? Are you serious? I just got another Grammy nomination off a record from my first album. I’m going to the Grammy’s again. Not even for The Cool yet, but for my last album. I’m still on a world tour and I’m still popping. I’m still credible. I’m still here. I’m still wrecking and rocking and rolling. Half the people don’t care about that Tribe Called Quest shit anymore. Half the world don’t even know it exists. Not even half. I’ll say 90% of the real world don’t even know that that existed (The VH1 situation). How is that career suicide when I’m still here? I didn’t get banned from Hot 97 or any New York stations where they were bashing me at. Angie Martinez was bashing me and then they would play “Superstar” in the mix. If I was banned, they wouldn’t be playing my records. The DJs that broke A Tribe Called Quest wouldn’t be playing my records, but they were.
So that whole situation got blown out of proportion?
Of course it did. A bunch of people built me up into an image of something they wanted me to be and then when it turned back on them and it wasn’t really me, their feelings got hurt and it gave ammunition to the haters and it made some haters like me, like, ‘I had this dude pegged all wrong.’ It was definitely blown out of proportion but it’s all good now. Me and Q-Tip are good. Me and Ali-Shaheed and A Tribe Called Quest are all good. We’re still homies. That’s really what’s important.
Do fans get too into artists at certain times?
No, not at all. You have certain people who live their lives vicariously through other people. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have any self-esteem and originality to lead their lives in an authentic way or do something that’s true to them. They’re always chasing the next. “I wear this because such-and-such wore it. Not because I’m comfortable in it, but because such-and-such wore it.” Or, “I said this because such-and-such said it.”
At a certain point, you have to learn how to speak a language and your parents have to teach you how to walk, but outside of that, where are you going to get the ingredients to live your life by? And then you start pulling that shit from other people who are doing it. We want to be successful. We look at rappers and athletes and comedians and are like, ‘Damn, I want a life like that.’ When you compare your life to their life, your life looks kind of boring. People want a Phantom and a private jet and their girlfriend to be Beyonce. People want that so they live vicariously through other people. I think that’s just a part of life. We do that with a lot of people. I want to be like Noam Chomsky, fucking Nietzsche and Picasso. Is that a flaw in me? Is that a fault in me? Nah. So how could I say that’s a flaw or fault in somebody else?
You admitted to not having listened to A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders in the past. Have you gotten a chance to hear the album yet?
Nah. I listened to a couple joints on it, the songs that I was genuinely interested in listening to, but nah. It’s like, ‘Why?’ Why? For who? Because I caught a little slack because something got blown out of context and people didn’t understand? Nah. I’m going to go back and listen to it when I really want to listen to it.
Can you see how fans could be surprised and maybe even mad that you haven’t heard a classic album?
That’s to them. If I turn around and I ask an East Coast cat if they heard Ridin’ Dirty, they’ll say no. If you look on OkayPlayer.com, in their tribute to Pimp C, they say they really didn’t know that dude. The dude’s a legend and the whole city shut down. They’re playing nothing but Pimp C and he’s got umpteen albums, but they’re saying they didn’t really know him like that. That’s the other side of it and the stuff that other people don’t want to admit to. These guys were legends and kings in their regions the same way other guys were.
It’s like, ‘This is a classic. How come you haven’t heard it?’ I’m like, ‘Ridin’ Dirty is a classic. How come you haven’t heard that?’ That’s why I don’t bring it up and why I don’t say nothing to nobody. I don’t make those statements. “You never heard of this? You’re not real.” The opposite side will say, “Well, you never heard this” and we cancel each other out. It may be classic status to some people, but at the same time, you have people who don’t respect what other people consider classics. Some kids who grew up on a sound in a region are called “bumpkins” or “bammers” but they’ve listened to albums that you never heard.
Your last single was “Superstar” and a sign of being a superstar is that you have rumors spinning out of control about you. A month ago there was the rumor that you choked a woman at a party. Do those rumors bother you?
Nah. It exposes us human beings. We like to wait and we like to focus and we like to create shit that doesn’t even exist just to entertain ourselves without thinking about what it does to other people. We’re really some dirty motherfuckers. The human machine is a dirty motherfucker. Look at what they’re doing in Iraq. Fuck them saying I choked a bitch in a club, look at what George Bush is doing in Iraq. Look at what’s going on in the Middle East. Look at what niggas are doing in their neighborhoods. It just shows how much time we have on our hands and how much time we spend entertaining ourselves with the shit that’s not real. But that’s life. That’s humans. That’s us. That’s what we do. I’m not surprised by that at all.
It’s not about being a superstar. It’s about being a human being. I know people who say stuff about you that’s not true and you’re not a rapper selling 10 million records. That goes on with everybody. Everybody talks shit about somebody else just for entertainment and to entertain themselves. Participate. Participate in the Lupe Fiasco Experience whether you love me or you hate me. Whatever. That’s what it’s for. That’s what we do.
You’ve always been an artistic guy and for the cover of The Cool your name is spelled in an Arabic script and the cover as a whole has an intricate design. What inspired the album cover?
My homie designed that cover. He based it off of how there was the light saber script for Food and Liquor. He said he was going to expand on it. That wasn’t me asking for an Arabic script. That was him bringing it to the table and I thought it was fresh. There wasn’t an ulterior motive to that. The rest of the shit was kind of me, like the skeleton hand and the locket and the skull. All of that represents the different characters in the album The Cool, the streets and the game.
Why do you think you can appeal to an international fanbase that a lot of artists can’t appeal to?
Because I have respect for the world and I can articulate it. I’m one of those kids that doesn’t have a problem saying, “Fuck the ‘hood” if the ‘hood is trying to keep me down. Some niggas be trying to please and appease the ‘hood until they die or end up in jail. I knew there was a bigger world out there and I was supposed to go out and understand it and articulate it and be a part of it as opposed to looking at it from afar like it was some big mystery. I took that perspective and education and I went overseas and I really impressed people. They were like, ‘Damn, a young, black kid from America kind of articulated our culture to us, in some instances even better than us, because he’s on the outside looking in.’ That just kind of built up from going over there on my own dollar. I’ve been to London alone eight times on my own dollar, just going out there, hitting the pavement and shaking hands like I’m running for president. That has an effect. People want you to come back and be a part of what they do.
What are your goals for The Cool?
The first one was for it not to leak too prematurely. It’ll probably leak in a couple of days, but that’s a victory. Secondly, probably to sell records. Probably. (laughs) To entertain my fans one more again, take it on the road and go on tour with it. And what happens, happens. I know we got heatrocks on there and we got smashes on there. As long as it goes out there and it gets the proper attention, not to go above and beyond the call of duty and do wild shit, but as long as it goes out there and does what it needs to do for the music that’s on there, that’s a victory to me. It’s breaking Matthew Santos, who’s my artist. It’s breaking him and it’s breaking Gemstones. It’s breaking Soundtrakk as a producer. That means more to me than getting another set of Grammy nominations or selling more records.
What’s your plan for the next few months?
We’re going on tour in January. We’re hitting 20 cities in the U.S. We’re putting that together now. We’re going to shoot a few videos and we’re going to work at selling this music.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Much love. Lupe Fiasco, The Cool, in stores December 18. I appreciate all the love and support thus far. Hopefully we’ll continue on and make beautiful music together.