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 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.”