KEEP ON PUSHIN’
by Noah Callahan-Bever
As far as evolution is concerned, cross-pollination is the key to survival. Chicago MC Lupe Fiasco, potentially the leader of rap’s new school, is well aware of this. “I’m more a fan of skate culture than I am of hip-hop ,” says Lupe, 24, perusing limited-edition laser-etched Nikes and other skate-and-graffiti-inspired accessories at N.Y.C.’s Lower East Side emporium of cool, The Reed Space. “I actually think that skate culture is more progressive, so that’s what I rap about. But I still rap about being a black man in America, being Muslim, being a nerd in high school. I add all that, so my music isn’t just focused on hip hop.”
And it’s that mixed bag of influences, exemplified by his stellar performance on Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky” and his skate-rap first single, “Kick, Push,” that has made Lupe, with his high-pitched voice and many flows, the one to watch in 2006. Oh yeah, that and the fact that Jay-Z is executive-producing his album, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. “Before he became the president of Def Jam, Jay had wanted to sign me to Roc-A-Fella after I spit for him in Chicago,” he says of his unlikely mentor, who crossed company lines to endorse Lupe’s Atlantic Records release. “It didn’t work out, but he agreed to executive-produce the album anyway.”
However, Lupe, born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, has more than Hova holding him down in the ’hood. Raised on the Chi’s West Side, Lupe is well acquainted with the realness, though he couldn’t care less. “It doesn’t authenticate anything,” he says. “It doesn’t certify me as being real, because you can be a real dude and not ever seen a gun. I been holding guns since I was a baby, because my dad was a Green Beret in Special Forces, but that shouldn’t make people say, ‘Oh yeah, now we can trust him ’cause he real.’”
He may not pride himself on war stories, but Lupe certainly has a hustler’s ambition. With an album in the chamber, he’s already inked a deal for his label, 1st & 15th, and started a design/streetwear company, Righteous Kung-Fu. “I’m a humble dude about my music and everything,” he says, “but my team is putting all the pieces in place. It’s just a matter of people hearing it.” And, of course, the right kick, push.