Will post-Atlantic Lupe Return to Prominence?

Wasalu Muhammad Jaco — better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco has been one of the most controversial, significant and overall headache rap stories of all time. The man who could rap circles around your favorite rapper easily and create thought-provoking creative music, is now the guy nobody believes in — even many of his fans. With Fiasco now in a position for the first time in his career to release music on his own terms, will we see a return to form for the once heralded MC from the West side of Chicago?

In 2005, Fiasco was a young MC from Chicago, known little to the world at the time. The skinny, nerd-embracing rapper began working on his debut release Fahrenheit 1/15 Part I: The Truth Is Among Us. Immediately after releasing the project, Fiasco became one of the more intriguing and buzzed-about acts in the hip-hop world. The tape which has been heralded a classic for Fiasco’s ability to craft double entendres and captivating storytelling made everyone in hip-hop from Kanye West to Jay-Z pay close attention.

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Lupe Fiasco (L) hanging out with Jay-Z (R)

Fast forward a year later, Fiasco released Food & Liquor, executive produced by Jay-Z, a seminal masterpiece which received universal acclaim for Fiasco’s ability to not only rhyme and tell stories, but being ahead of its time as HipHopDX put it at the time of its release:

“For those who remember when Nas dropped Illmatic, the critics knelt and gave praise to his game-changing opus while the platinum plaques came much later. So while Lupe Fiasco has become the quintessential next big thing, he will also suffer the same unfortunate fate that many others before him had to deal with… having to wait for people to digest how special this man’s gift truly is.  When you are this far ahead of your time you have to remember that it will take even longer for the average listener to catch up. But for those of you who have been yearning for the day that someone will take Hip Hop upon their shoulders and hoist it to the next level, fear not because the future is here and he comes in the form of Wasulu Jaco – otherwise known as Lupe Fiasco.”

For the juggernaut Food & Liquor was — and still remains– it seemed impossible Fiasco could live up to the lofty expectations following its release. Fiasco was now in the spotlight and many fans and the music industry players were expecting major success.

Fiasco answered with a promotional street single ‘Dumb it Down’ for his second album The Cool. When Dumb it Down released, it was clear Fiasco had every intention of not only dropping another stellar album but perhaps one that could rival his first. Dumb it Down told a story, perfectly executed on the ways in which the streets and music executives influence artist to dumb down the content of their music. Instead of preaching for girls to go to school and be queens, the two sides are telling Fiasco to dumb the content down and make songs that lack conscious content. Fiasco ultimately denies both sides and refuses to dumb down.

Dumb it Down has been dubbed a classic, and it was followed up by the first official single Superstar, in which Fiasco effortlessly created a top 10 Billboard record (No. 10), without disappointing out his core audience. In fact, Superstar continues to be a favorite among many Fiasco fans. When The Cool released on Dec. 18, 2007, Fiasco had answered the bell again, he put together two albums that are now staples in the hip-hop industry. The Cool was a concept album revolved around characters entitled The Game, The Streets, and Michael Young. The dark record was sonically different from his debut but remained creatively daring, conscious, and lyrically iconic. At the time, Fiasco had been dubbed one of the few newcomers who could potentially compete for the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) title.

Then everything changed.

Fiasco was a successful artist whose name and acclaim was growing. Atlantic Records, a label pressed to push their artist for more commercial hits didn’t view Fiasco as some sort of rap savior, certainly not after refusing to sign a 360 deal, but rather a potential pop-rap sensation more in line with a B.o.B at the time. In fact, in the process of creating his third album Lasers, Atlantic insisted Fiasco claim three songs that eventually became major billboard hits under different artists: Just the way you are, Airplanes & Nothin on You. Fiasco would have certainly cashed in on serious checks had he decided to follow his labels orders, however, the MC whose music speaks to much of the environment he came from, didn’t want that sound to be the face of his career.

The aftermath of this dispute is one that ranged from 2010 until finally resolving in 2016 when Atlantic Records granted Fiasco his exit from the label many believe tried to sabotage his career.

Lasers, Food & Liquor II and Tetsuo & Youth all have gems that remind you Fiasco still has the gift, but the overall projects lack something that his first two studio albums possessed. Next month, Fiasco will be dropping album No. 6 entitled Drogas light. Atlantic is no longer a factor in Fiasco’s career.  Now being seven years removed from a “classic” album, many have abandoned the Lupe train, with only a few hanging to hope the once genius with a pen can rewrite history and deliver another Food & Liquor or The Cool. The question is can he still do it? Can he prove his doubter wrong?