choco candy: hey dickie
drey: what’s good b!tches?
—James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work
Speaking last Tuesday at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, on the night of his fifth solo release, Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang, legendary artist Raekwon listed a few pillars under which “real Hip-Hop” must fall—wittiness, slang, real-life value, lyrical worth, and a non-commercial edge. In case the concert audience had slumbered through the last item, he repeated with emphasis: “It’s got to be non-commercial!” On the same day, another prominent artist was living the reality of a music industry whose iron fist often tightens around the necks of those who refuse to submit and do as told. Lupe Fiasco’s Lasers dropped, following a tumultuous three-year delay no one saw coming.
After two superb albums released in the winter months of 2006 and 2007, all eyes fell upon the Chicago native to invade a territory only few have ever trudged; and for most fans, this represented less a demand and more an expectation. The last ten years had produced in Rap no fresher voice, no wittier mind, and it just seemed inevitable—that time would do him justice, and the ladder of quality would stretch higher on his behalf (especially since the sophomore curse had so eluded him in an age of ephemerality), and that with a third album he might possibly accomplish in ways a predecessor had tragically failed (Illmatic, It Was Written… I Am), successfully dodging the deadly commercial darts flying his way: darts which pierce with determination, rendering great artists casualties of early success; more importantly, repeated success which upset the logic of cemented probability, which undo tried and true equations record labels have built castles upon: Street Consciousness + Social Courage + Lyricism = Billboard Disaster.
Fans, it turns out, were wrong; and just like his predecessor, Lupe is now staring at an impasse, unable to reconcile his third effort with the two classics of a not too distant past. And his fingers have for the last few weeks been pointing in one direction—the record label, Atlantic Records, which signed him in 2004 to a rumored six-album deal. This is the label’s album, Lupe has been chanting to music websites for a few days now. Even when the success of his first official single, “The Show Goes On,” is raised, Lupe seems hardly moved, explaining to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Thomas Conner: “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.”