By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
November 25, 2013 12:47AM
Lupe Fiasco grew out of a movement of socially conscious hip-hop stars from Chicago in the middle part of last decade when he released “Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor,” his debut album. Today he’s an elder spokesman for the genre, having sold more than 1.5 million albums that are complex, both musically and thematically. The former West Sider, who grew up near the intersection of Madison and Albany, says he now spends only a third of his year in his hometown, but he’ll return Tuesday to the House of Blues to preview new songs from his fifth album, “Tetsuo & Youth” (Atlantic), due next year.
Q: Your new single, “Old School Love,” has vocals by Ed Sheeran and a really 1970s-era vibe to it. Is this a new musical direction?
A: “Old School Love” is one of those weird records that came from the record company. Me and Ed are on the same label and it’s something they put together with me and him in absentia. It’s an authentic record, yes, because we’re all authentic artists, but bringing that together was a little bit contrived on the label’s part. We used that, not as a pattern to make the [new] album laid back and very sentimental, but instead tried to make eight or nine songs that went in the opposite direction: more visceral, more graphic, more hard musically.
A: That’s the only sneak peek of this upcoming record. How is it connected to what you’ve done in your past?
A: It’s not a rehashing. You always expect someone like Thom Yorke to do something experimental simply because of Radiohead. You expect in whatever he does the DNA with his sounds and time signatures. I analyze myself in the same fashion. There is definitely a Lupe Fiasco formula: there’s the expectation there’ll be some social commentary, there’s the expectation there’ll be some sentimentality, hip-hop and experimentalism. Those are the core guidelines. But that doesn’t necessarily mean every song is trying to recreate “Kick, Push” or “Superstar.” But that’s in my DNA. And that’s also the deal I have with the record company in setting the records they want me to do. So you see that blend throughout all my albums. You’ll get a little piece of my true, artistic, unbinded expression and you’ll get that, ‘Oh we need to get that song on the radio and we need to sell 3 million singles.’ ”
Q: What’s the social commentary on this album? What happened in the world since the last album that made you take notice in the writing?
A: Nothing really changed as far as the climate politically or socially. So do I keep talking about the same thing? I told Rolling Stone that there’s no politics on this album and there isn’t. But then when I say that, I have to incorporate that with what the outside world thinks is politics and what they think is political, opposed to something social or cultural. So it’s a pigeonhole for me: If I say something about schools in the neighborhood or if I say something about shootings in Chicago or the state of music, it immediately become this political debate. And I never really wanted that to be that, but I have no control over journalism. So it’s unfortunate. Everything I do becomes political.
Q: Why do you feel you are stigmatized as overly political?
A: I honestly don’t know. But as people more engaged in the political process … there’s been certain pushback that people are becoming too informed. “Yeah, we want you to be educated to a certain point, but not to the point where you become so educated where you take our place.” Me being who I am, being outspoken, I think people give me the benefit of the doubt — but in reverse. They expect everything I say has a political undercurrent to it. Even an early record like “Kick, Push,” people thought it was a satirical piece about selling drugs. There wasn’t any conspiratorial meaning to the song. That was truly about skateboarding. So I think it’s a climate of people who are outspoken are immediately stigmatized. Hopefully we’ll dispel some of that with this this next record and focus on just music.