Guest Post: Lupe Fiasco and the hip-hop rebel’s emotional breakdown

Written by Rahiel Tesfamariam

It’s not everyday that rap artists have a public emotional breakdown, so fans and the media should pay close attention when they do. One of the most memorable displays of emotion from a hip-hop artist came just last week when Lupe Fiasco struggled to get through an interview on MTV’s “RapFx Live,” with host Sway Calloway.

After watching the 2006 video clip of himself that brought Lupe to tears and listening to him speak about his hard-knock-life upbringing in Chicago, I was left thinking that this emotional moment offered a powerful glimpse into the makings of a modern hip-hop rebel.

The interview makes it clear that Lupe’s desire to find an escape route out of his childhood neighborhood never resulted in detachment or indifference. His pain goes deep and is rooted in years of loss. He has lost friends to gun violence and prison bars — and likely the alienation that stardom brings. As he is unexpectedly overcome by grief over the “ghosts” of his past, he gives us a glimpse into how much he cares, why he often seems angry and why he is who he is — a rebel amongst a pack of pop-culture conformists.

“Chicago’s the murder capital,” Lupe tearfully said. “The dudes in that video are in prison, a couple of fed cases, and then there’s ghosts. You see people that . . . that ain’t there.”

His moment of transparency gives his fans, particularly other young men, greater permission to lose themselves in emotion — to cry, to be at a loss for words, to mourn and to be angry.

While Lupe is a product of a city that is no stranger to black nationalism and politicized thought, I’ve always wondered how he came to stand out amongst his rap peers. How did he come to posses so much consciousness and commitment to rebellion amidst all of the chaos that he grew up witnessing? What led rap mogul Jay-Z to label him a “breath of fresh air” when he was still so new within the industry? How did he escape the reality that took the lives of so many of his friends? And what clues can his life give us into the resilience of young black men?

Lupe credits his parents for not only his success but also his survival. There was a balance between the urban despair he witnessed firsthand and the values instilled in him by his mother and father. His parents’ insistence that he use the talents and skills at his disposal to “get out” of the ghetto ensured that he never romanticized poverty and glorified violence.

While Lupe grew up seeing prostitutes on the corner, he was also immersed in a literary household that prided the ideology of great minds like Malcolm X. It had to take great courage to pick up his skateboard and keep kicking and pushing as he passed a sea of unfulfilled dreams. Oftentimes, that courage comes from adults that help you envision a life greater than their own. It’s not surprising that Lupe’s lyrics reflect a commitment to “generational parenting” – a desire to instill the same fearlessness in others that was passed on to him.

During last week’s interview, there was a clear difference between the young-faced Lupe that eagerly gave a MTV crew a walking tour of his West Side neighborhood and the 30-year-old version that lost his composure while speaking of the sense of helplessness he feels when it comes to saving black youth from poverty and early death.

The former had not yet experienced all the good and bad that comes with fame and fortune, which is displayed by the simplicity of his 24-year-old self, a simplicity that appears comfortable in and proud of his humble beginnings. The latter, on the other hand, knows international success intimately and appears to be searching for a quiet place within his own identity. The distance between the two reveals a man that has undoubtedly evolved.

But as much as he’s changed, there’s so much about him that has remained the same. He remains just as complex and multifaceted today as he was when his album “Food & Liquor” was first released. His Islamic faith remains prominent in his artistic branding, and his refusal to “dumb it down” still challenge commercial hip-hop to do and be better. Calling President Obama a “baby killer,” as he recently did on Philly’s Power 99, might be shocking to some, but it’s still a continuation of his “American Terrorist” critique.

While many of us may be turned off by Lupe’s personalized attacks on Obama, it’s important to know that it comes from a place of pain as much as it does anger. We’ve all become so desensitized to violence that we often forget that a parent has lost a son or daughter — a community has lost a potential change agent. We sound off the alarming numbers of black men in prison, forgetting that a child is now forced to grow up fatherless. Lupe’s breakdown suggests that he makes these connections often and wants to help others do the same.

At a time when too many Americans are obsessed with what society defines as “the [newest] cool” thing, there remains a small remnant of vanguards who are rebellious enough to pursue honesty over and above popularity. Count Lupe among them.

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14 thoughts on “Guest Post: Lupe Fiasco and the hip-hop rebel’s emotional breakdown

  1. I just watched the entire clip and I am wiping my eyes right now. There is so much pain there. This particular quote stuck out at me: “You gotta get out. Stick to what you know and get out. Because if you stay here, you gonna die, and you not gonna die for anything heroic, you not gonna die for anything meaningful. You gonna die for something that is worthless and nobody is gonna remember your name.” Lupe Fiasco is true to himself. Now THAT’S a man.

    1. I don’t like to admit that I cry, but when I saw this, I started to tear up. I don’t know what it’s like to lost your friends to gun violence, but I still feel – like literally feel his pain.

  2. Brotha, I know this is off topic but would you please do a thread about the amazing Miss Gabby Douglass and all the phucktards making comments about this young woman’s hair. She is making history. NBC is being biased in their commentary about her and she is working just as hard and out performing those white girls. I would appreciate it if you did something on her. She is so awesome. Thank You.

  3. Again Brotha, I am so upset right now right after Gabby’s win NBC showed a racist commercial with a monkey doing a routine on the rings in gynastics please consider a post about our two African American gymist and why they choose to have this racist image on after Gabby won the gold. Thank You.

  4. This is all just rehearsed, coreographed lies, to make PoC appear “the humble victims of hardships that we couldn’t even begin to imagine”.

    Oscar Worthy.

  5. The situation Chicago is horrendous something needs to be done. But because they are young black men nothing will be done, If waiting for politians to do something. The people in that city need to call a state of emergency to address these deaths. But just like any other urban city as long as black young men are killing each other something needs to happen with people in the cities to stop the violence.

    1. They have been, and there are people that are doing something, but it looks like things are beyond their control. The city – no, the nation needs to do something about it that is certain to work. More police and prisons won’t cut it.

  6. Lupe is an innovator for sure, and I luv the fact that he is manly and matrue enough to feel comfortable expressing himself! (Kudos to Brothawolf for being man enough to admit this, also)-it’s uplifting to know there are still real men in the world.

    @Leigh204 Agreed! : )

    @mary burrell Co-sign on Gabby! She is an inspiration..

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