Lupe Fi­asco at­tacks Barack,

Lupe Fi­asco turned his ‘new’ al­bum in to At­lantic Records in late 2009, but it is only re­leased to­day. What hap­pened? The Chicago rap­per tells Jim Car­roll about his ‘360 deal’ stand-off with the la­bel, about los­ing cash and about his op­po­si­tion to the US

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

THE END of the saga is nigh. Af­ter a lengthy ges­ta­tion pe­riod in­volv­ing a cou­ple of rounds of record-la­bel pol­i­tics, Lupe Fi­asco’s new al­bum, Lasers, fi­nally gets a re­lease. It’s been a long, vex­a­tious trip for the Chicago rap­per and what has turned out to be a de­voted fan base, but they got there in the end.

Lasers is worth the wait. For long-term fans of Fi­asco, there’s enough tough-hit­ting tunes here to jus­tify the in­vest­ment. For the Johnny-come-latelys there are tunes such as the raved-out Break the Chain, which meet Fi­asco’s need to do some­thing new.

“I’m known for go­ing against the grain and for in­tro­duc­ing new things. With Break the Chain, I’ve just started DJing, and you get a dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing of mu­sic from be­ing in that world. It’s all about mov­ing peo­ple, and you start to think about how you can make mu­sic to move peo­ple, and it doesn’t al­ways have to be the su­per-poppy dance stuff. You can take stuff like deep house or rave and tweak it a lit­tle bit so you can rap over it.

“ Break the Chain was done by a Swedish pro­ducer [Ishi, who has also worked with Tinie Tem­pah, Ex­am­ple and Chipmunk] and we know how the Swedish peo­ple love their dance mu­sic.”

Even though the al­bum is out to­day, the in­ter­view turns to what de­layed the re­lease. Af­ter all, Fi­asco handed a fin­ished al­bum to At­lantic Records in late 2009.

The prob­lem was he had a tra­di­tional kind of record deal – one where the la­bel re­leases and makes money from the al­bum. How­ever, At­lantic wanted Fi­asco to sign a “360 deal” – where the la­bel gets a chunk of money from all of the artist’s ac­tiv­i­ties – and he wasn’t in­ter­ested.

“I signed a tra­di­tional record deal with At­lantic just be­fore they went into 360 land – right at the tail end,” he says. “Record la­bels now want to be like Dis­ney. Some­one like Dis­ney is in com­plete con­trol of their artists, like the Jonas Brothers. They’ll have a TV show, a ra­dio sta­tion, a tour and mer­chan­dise and the record la­bel want that too.

“But it’s one thing to want it and it’s an­other to be like Dis­ney where you have the in­fra­struc­ture to do that. They own the ra­dio sta­tions and TV sta­tions and the fac­tory which makes the clothes. All the record la­bel does is make records, and they send ev­ery­thing else out to in­di­vid­ual ven­dors.

“I told the la­bel I’d sign a 360 deal if they brought the fa­cil­i­ties and ex­perts in to the build­ing. I’m not go­ing to sign a deal to do TV shows if you don’t have an ac­com­plished TV pro­ducer work­ing for you. The A&R man can’t do TV shows just be­cause he went to school. Just be­cause you’re a mas­ter at mov­ing records doesn’t mean you’re a mas­ter at ev­ery­thing else. They need to spend more time work­ing out those deals in­stead of try­ing to cheat the sys­tem and get things on the cheap.”

The more Fi­asco asked ques­tions, the more At­lantic stalled. “It’s three years since you’ve had a Lupe Fi­asco record be­cause ev­ery­thing got parked. I wanted to come in at the ground floor with fair busi­ness prac­tices and do things dif­fer­ently, but then it be­came this hoopla and ev­ery­thing stalled.”

As the stale­mate be­tween artist and la­bel con­tin­ued, tracks such as Shin­ing Down and I’m Beamin’ were leaked on­line, forc­ing Fi­asco to rush-re­lease them as sin­gles. As well as los­ing mo­men­tum, he was also los­ing cash.

“It costs about $80,000 to $100,000 per track. When you work with cer­tain pro­duc­ers they charge a pre­mium, and some of them will charge up to $100,000. Some peo­ple will charge $50,000 or $60,000 for a hook. You can eas­ily blow half a mil­lion dol­lars in a few tracks.

“So when you see your tracks – like Beam­ing, which was a $100,000 record – get leaked, you’re like, oh shit. That’s why we did the video real fast and got it on iTunes in an at­tempt to make some of the money back. When I talk about this, I’m not whin­ing or com­plain­ing for the sake of noth­ing. That’s $80,000 gone. Woosh! And that’s be­fore we work out the cost of the time in­volved.”

His fans ral­lied round with Fi­asco Fri­day, a fan-or­gan­ised protest out­side the New York of­fices of At­lantic Records in Oc­to­ber 2010. Cue some give and take on both sides and the even­tual re­lease of the al­bum.

Fi­asco was de­lighted with this dis­play of fan power. “It was dope to see that. I didn’t fall back on them to do that, they did that them­selves and protested in the streets to get my record re­leased. It was also hum­bling, be­cause it makes me think about my re­spon­si­bil­ity when I go to make records.”

You get the sense that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Fi­asco and At­lantic Records doesn’t have long to run. “One of the mis­takes I made was get­ting too in­volved with the record busi­ness and At­lantic Records. The rev­e­la­tion I had was that these are just peo­ple who are about money at the end of the day. The re­la­tion­ships are fine, but they are

“One of the mis­takes I made was get­ting too in­volved with the record busi­ness and At­lantic Records. These are just peo­ple who are about money”

main­tained be­cause they’re about mak­ing money. Once you stop mak­ing money the re­la­tion­ship ends – so it’s fake. They don’t give two shits about you; it was al­ways the bot­tom line.”

At­lantic aren’t the only ones in Fi­asco’s sights. On Words I Never Said, from the new al­bum, he gives US for­eign pol­icy (along with Pres­i­dent Obama, Glenn Beck, Rush Lim­baugh and the cast of Jer­sey Shore) a tongue-lash­ing. “There’s a cer­tain level of hypocrisy when Amer­ica goes into the world and it al­ways falls back on mil­i­tari­sa­tion rather than fair diplo­macy to get its way. The eco­nomic poli­cies of the United States and its af­fil­i­a­tions with the World Bank and IMF mean it does take over coun­tries.

“Maybe not overtly, but it does hap­pen with poli­cies on trade and aid. Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy has no­to­ri­ously been im­pe­ri­al­ist and racist.

“I’ve never been a fan of the Amer­i­can sys­tem be­cause of the ed­u­ca­tion I got from my mother, who used to pick cot­ton when she grew up in Mis­sis­sippi, and my fa­ther, who was very po­lit­i­cal. Sure, it’s a mile­stone to have a black man in the White House, but look past that and the prece­dent has been set in Africa. There’s al­ready been black pres­i­dents who’ve been cor­rupt, so it doesn’t strike me that hav­ing a black man in of­fice means he’s go­ing to be the mes­siah.

“Obama came in and gave $700 bil­lion to the bankers off the top, as op­posed to giv­ing $700 bil­lion to the poor. The rea­son we have a deficit is be­cause of the mil­i­tary spend­ing, which is ridicu­lous but which we have to sup­port dic­ta­tors across the world to main­tain Amer­ica’s fi­nan­cial and eco­nomic in­ter­ests.

“In­stead of slash­ing the mil­i­tary bud­get to fight the deficit, Obama slashed af­ter-school pro­grammes, the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get and the pay for fed­eral work­ers. They’re look­ing to cut the peo­ple’s legs off be­fore they cut the mil­i­tary’s legs off.”

Fi­asco pauses for breath. “I sup­pose I am out­spo­ken. But when I see things I don’t agree with, I have to speak up and ex­press my­self.”

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