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By Andrea Woo

Lupe Fiasco is in Los Angeles, where he has just wrapped shooting an appearance on MTV’s Wild ’N Out. In the coming weeks, the Chicago native will hit a long list of cities across the US –– doing interviews, shows and television appearances –– to promote the release of his upcoming album, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor.

In the past few years, Lupe’s hustle has undoubtedly paid off. He has been called a “lyrical prodigy” by MTV and “potentially the leader of rap’s new school” by Vibe. He has been cosigned by hip-hop giants Jay-Z, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. He owns multiple companies, has graced the covers of magazines and has music videos on MTV and BET. Not bad for someone who has yet to cut an album.

While one might expect the 24-year-old to be geeked off his considerable lead in the game, the truth is that he doesn’t really care about hip-hop anymore.

“I don’t really rock with hip-hop too much, even though I do it and I’ve been a fan of it for so long,” says Lupe, whose real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco. “I’ve been in it half my life, so now it’s just kind of, like, whatever.”

Lupe was introduced to hip-hop after his father, a prolific African drummer, put him on to N.W.A. While the self-professed nerd was at first put off by its vulgarity, the music eventually grew on him, and he began rapping in eighth grade. By 18, Lupe and his four-man group, Da Pak, had signed a deal with Epic Records. In the following years, he dabbled with both Roc-A-Fella Records and Arista, before finally signing with Atlantic –– the label he is currently with.

Arguably, the most pivotal moment in his career thus far came when he released a song in 2005 called “Conflict Diamonds,” which used the beat from Kanye’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” The song got air play on Chicago radio –– which caught the Louis Vuitton Don’s ear –– and subsequently led to an important friendship, the “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” remix and Lupe’s appearance on Kanye’s “Touch the Sky.”

All efforts since have whet the appetites of hip-hop heads, if the response to the Food & Liquor bootleg is any indication. Hitting the internet more than two months before the scheduled release date, the 15-track rip spread like, well, a bootleg album on the internet. Lupe stresses, however, that at least half a dozen songs on the bootleg were never intended for the retail.

“The bootleg version wasn’t the album,” he says of the LP, whose name is a nod to Chicago corner stores. “It was a leaked set of songs, and there was songs on there that wasn’t gonna make the album. There was like, mad old songs on there…. It’s definitely going to be different.”

When asked what one can expect from the album, Lupe responds with what one shouldn’t expect: “There’s no cocaine, there’s no ass-shaking, there’s no guns, there’s no cars with 27” rims on it. [It’s] regular, old-fashioned hip-hop.”

Unlike the bootleg, the retail version will be executive produced by Jay-Z and feature production by Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park), Kanye, Pharrell, Needlz, the Buchanans, Soundtrakk and Pro. (The last two are on Lupe’s own label, 1st and 15th). At press time, Jill Scott is the only confirmed featured artist, though Lupe adds nonchalantly: “[I] think Jay-Z’s gonna jump on it.”

So how is it possible that, with the world of hip-hop seemingly at his fingertips, Lupe doesn’t really care about the music anymore?

“I’m more focused on my design, and the fashion stuff that I be doing, than I am into hip-hop, you know?” he says, referring to his other ventures, like his shoe deal with Reebok and his design and street wear company Righteous Kung Fu. “I just do hip-hop now just to do it. It’s like my love, now, is somewhere else. Not really fully on, but the music business of hip-hop? I lost the love for that a long time ago. But I still write, and the whole thing, just to entertain myself. Now, it’s more like the fashion and stuff.” When asked what he really wants to do, he responds quickly: “Probably move to Paris and just design. Move to Singapore, design stuff…. Art, web sites, video games, whatever.”

While hip-hop purists around the world shed a collective tear, Lupe has no plans of slowing down, even if his heart is not in it. In June alone, he has at least two major shows: Marc Ecko’s Save the Rhinos benefit concert on the 8th (with Common, Rakim, Rhymefest and Kid Capri), and the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival on the 24th (with Big Daddy Kane and Rhymefest). He is also working with the three acts signed to his label, 1st and 15th: Gemini, a rapper and singer; Shayla G, a female emcee; and Risqué, a girl group.

“I made promises to certain people, and I’m like, contractually obligated,” he says. “I’ve been doing it so long, it’s just a regular thing to do now. I had a record deal since I was 18, so I always had a record deal and that caters to how I am now. It’s what I do.”


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