Friday, April 29, 2011

Lupe Fiasco: The 2nd Coming of Nas

Oftentimes I theorize about Hip-Hop, and occasionally drop a gem or two. Despite what many believe, the culture & music is very cyclical. I've even made the analogy that Hip-Hop is nothing more than a high school cafeteria. Every superstar has a crew, and every few years, someone replaces a seat. For example; for every Busta Rhymes there's a Ludacris and for every Snoop, there's a Wiz Khalifa. You follow?

I guess Nasir Jones summed it up best on Stillmatic's "What Goes Around". Mr. Ether isn't exempt from a successor to carry his baton. Hell, if you're old enough to remember, even Nas was heralded as the second coming of Rakim. Which brings me to Lupe, who seems to be his heir apparent. I've followed both of them and their careers are eerily similar.

Let's begin with their 1st appearances, which were both features. Nas stole the show on Main Souce's "Live at the Barbeque" and was instantly immortalized for his shocking, "when I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus". Lupe's 1st big look came back in 2005 courtesy of Kanye on "Touch The Sky". Furthermore, both of their debut albums were both counter movements to the popular sound.

If there were ever a single Nas line that spoke volumes, it has to be on "Ether" when he recites "I am the truest/ name a rapper that I ain't influence". To fully grasp it, I'll put it in a tangible context for you. Pre-Illmatic, Hip-hop was popularized by Onyx's screaming, Das Efx's "bum stiggity", and Chip Fu's uber fast rhyming. Even Jay-Z was doing "that stuff". However, post-Illmatic, we saw a renaissance with more poetic flows and lyricism from Common, Biggie, Jay, Raekwon, and too many others to mention.

Lupe's Food & Liquor debuted while Nas defiantly claimed Hip-Hop was dead and Dem Franchize Boyz had the world "leaning with it and rocking with it". I've always felt this was the beginning of what I like to call the "Great Divide" which segmented the community and artistry into 2 distinct groups: lyrical Hip-Hop & non-lyrical Hip-Hop. As a direct result, people looked towards Lupe to be a savior of sorts, especially with the co-sign of Kanye and Jay-Z. Similarly, Nas must have felt the same pressure while crafting an album produced by the heavyweights of an era in DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, and Q-Tip. Still following?

Ironically, the most interesting part of their journeys has to be the quest for mainstream appeal. Despite being critically acclaimed and viewed as perennial all-stars in the eyes of Hip-Hop purists, there's been a conscious effort by their labels to make them more appealing to the casual fan. For Nas, this meant pairing him with the Trackmasters, Lauryn Hill, video treatments based on Casino, and wearing pink suits. Lupe seems to be going through his own "Steve Stoute era" with the recent release of Lasers. While it marked a period of increased popularity for Nas by transforming him into "Escobar", he was also crucified by his diehard fans. The short term success became a long term fight for creative control and artistic integrity. It further escalated into disputes with his label Columbia and later Def Jam. Present day, Lupe's been going through the same thing with Atlantic and it's been well documented. It's taken the form of album delays, fan petitions, and what seems like outright discontent in interview

Drama aside, they're both 2 of the best lyricist Hip-Hop has ever seen. Lupe has also openly stated that Nas' "It Was Written" was very instrumental in him rapping. But if you need further proof of how similar they are, just listen to "All Black Everything" which strikes me as a modern day take on "If I Ruled The World". Just food for thought....

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