I’ve long defended Kanye, Jay-Z, The Roots, Nas, etc. when people said that all hip-hop is just junk, a glorification of all that is wrong with our world. Obviously those people haven’t listen to the whole catalogs of the above artists. But it’s not always easy defending the majority of hip-hop, even the majority of the above artists’ catalogs. That’s why when Lupe Fiasco put out his latest album, “The Cool,” I was intrigued by the name. I wasn’t sure how to take name of the album at first; Lupe’s been known to employ some heavy satire at points, like on his previous album when he questions what hip-hop is all about: “Now come on everybody, let’s make cocaine cool. We need a few more half naked women up in the pool.”
So after listening to “The Cool” I was shocked at how Lupe went after, not only the heart of what hip-hop seems to be, but also at the individual: rapper and listener alike. In a country that holds up individuality and the competitive spirit as the unstated national religion Lupe’s album is quite a statement. He’s not about to back-off though, as one of the tracks on the album, titled “Dumb It Down,” admits that Lupe’d sell more albums if he’d dumb it down. But don’t think that Lupe’s just throwing stones from his glass house; he seems to know that this is his own personal problem as well.
By this point the single from the album, “Superstar,” has made its way to the radio waves and begins with Matthew Santos singing the chorus, “if you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear, the camera’s here.” The problem with what Lupe’s calling “The Cool” is that when we claim The Cool we have to run away from who we actually are as awkward, unglamorous, uncool people. Lupe gets this as he raps, “[I] wanna believe my own hype but it’s too untrue…the world brought me to my knees.”
I don’t know how it couldn’t redeem your faith in hip-hop to hear an album dealing not only with personal brokenness (as opposed to personal wealth, sexual conquest and personal violence), but also with AIDS, systemic sin, and real love… and the beats and flows are some of the best around. This isn’t just a verbal manifesto; this is a great musical work as well.
Most parts of our society, not just the hip-hop community, could stand to listen to Lupe’s “The Cool” a few times through. While at universities it’s not necessarily money and sex that earn The Cool (it’s usually intellect and a faux “uniqueness”) and from 8-5 in the Loop in Chicago it is drive and professional success that earns The Cool, it’s still a façade none-the-less. What would happen to our world if we did away with The Cool? What if we prayed Lupe’s pray from the song “The Coolest”: “Lord please have sympathy and forgive my cool young history”? Well, I can tell you that Mac’s ad campaign would be useless. But also we’d be forced to deal with some secrets of others that we might not want to, but isn’t that what relationship at it’s most basic should be? Isn’t that what it means to relate?