Lupe Fiasco

The Cool

(1st & 15th/Atlantic; 2008)

By Clayton Purdom | 13 February 2008

(Open in smoky living room. CLAY sits in his boxers and an undershirt with a thermo of coffee at his side and a chunky laptop on the footrest in front of him. Scattered throughout the living room are empty cans, coffee mugs overflowing with cigarette butts, shrink-wrapped promos, Wii nunchaku, Arrested Development discs. A few of Clay’s favorite rappers wander in and out of the room at various tasks. For example, RAEKWON is asleep on a nearby recliner, mouth agape. PUSHA T will twice walk into the room, eating something, then stop, surprised at the audience, and leave cautiously. JAY-Z is quietly on his cellphone in the back throughout the scene. LUPE FIASCO is on the couch playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, pausing occasionally to deliver his lines.)

(NAS enters and points accusatorily at Clay, who is typing something.)

Nas: Hip-hop is dead.

Clay: No. Yes. Wait. I don’t have time to argue with your album titles, Nas. I lack the willpower, knowledge and impetus. I get what you are doing, and I am okay with it. You are at this point the contrarian spokesperson of your movement, tirelessly obsessed with its status in the world and its internal credibility. I’m glad that you’re doing this, and I’m even more glad that Chet Betz has taken it upon himself to react to your movements in the name of the Glow. I love you, but I cannot parse your shit.

(Nas points again)

Nas: Cokemachineglow is dead. (Leaves room, signs to Koch)

Clay: Hip-hop is strange, if we’re gonna be boilerplate about it. I in my small corner of the e-critical megachine — a corner closer to sendspace than iTunes, more Bowersly than Breihanian but who am I kidding — have a different savior, and he is accordingly exceptionally strange. On his debut record Lupe Fiasco proved himself to be the most comprehensively talented lyricist spitting, never resting on simple charisma (though he had that, Jigga) or giddy wordplay (though he had that, Weezy) or uncompromising artistic vision (though he had that too, Nasty). The beats lacked in places but the flow was profound, and more than any other rap record of recent memory it begged for a follow-up.

(Light on Clay from 2006, standing upstage in a stupid sweater)

Clay from 2006 (Grandly, with wild gestures): The follow-up will be a masterpiece. Bolstered by multiplatinum sales and his starring role in the Wachowski’s upcoming Speed Racer, Lupe will hold beneath his astral gaze the fullness of hip-hop and its global implications, and he will sire a concept album with the intentional/unassuming epochal worldliness of OK Computer or London Calling. It will be large and grandiloquent, but unimpeachably so. It will contain within it The Joshua Tree’s generosity of emotion, and it will be seen in the popular canon as a definitive record of the new millennium.

Lupe Fiasco: Yes, it will. It will also feature a talking hamburger.

(Light off on Clay from 2006)

Clay: Alas, despite my onetime enthusiasm and Lupe’s best efforts, The Cool is obviously not a masterpiece. Neither was Food & Liquor, I just had enough time at the time to fall in love with every single word Lupe spit. To wit:

(Light back on)

Clay from 2006 (Grandly): I am taking ten credit hours and do not have a job. I also smoke bad weed constantly and have a moustache. Lupe for President!

Lupe Fiasco: Hillary Clinton for President.

Clay: (Coughs awkwardly) That too. In the 20-some months since Food & Liquor leaked to everyone’s quiet individual amazement Lupe has become an awkward and at times unappealing firebrand, avaricious in places, hopelessly ideological in others, and disappointingly ignorant in still more. He seems alternately determined not to fulfill our idealistic wishes of what he can do for hip-hop and disappointed that we don’t expect more from it. As figureheads go, he resides in the same rut between abstruse intellectualism and pop appeal as Kurt Cobain, though, to be sure, a few dozen strata less tortured or famous. He has, however, weathered some hate.

Nahright Comment Junkie (Typing on other corner of living room. He reads the words to himself.) : Re: “paris, tokyo.” SMH @ lupe sleeping on Tribe and then coming out on some blackeyed peas “joints and jams” shit, straight aping the ummah without the good drums or the phife. ps – seriously, how does one fuck up “award tour.”

Clay: These criticisms are valid, but a track like “Paris, Tokyo” is ballsy, which is kinda the point with Lupe these days. More than anything else, The Cool succeeds by failing, by going in strange places nobody else would and finding nuggets of slipshod success. This record sprawls in ugly ways, but unlike so many other records of its kind (see: The College Dropout (2004), Idlewild (2006) ) there is no “better” record waiting to be unearthed within it were certain songs excised and others drawn out. It is what it is, and it is maddening. Lupe is nothing if not uncompromising. Like, check this. Hey, Lupe! What’s your favorite part of this record?

Lupe Fiasco: I can’t believe how hard I rock on “Hello/Goodbye (Uncool).” That chorus where I’m like “Hello nowhere / Hello oblivion,” that will blow up with the Linkin Park set. And the beat is crazy, full of rain effects and drum rolls and electronic guitars.

Clay: We just say “electric,” Lupe, and that’s an UNKLE track. UNKLE sucks. Nahright Comment Junkie, what’s your shit?

Nahright Comment Junkie: Lupe may not know “Award Tour” (WHAT THE FUCK@!!) but he’s at least been listening to some Twista. His flow is insanely quick on “Go Go Gadget Flow.” That is good.

Clay: You are also incorrect, Nahright Comment Junkie. “Go Go Gadget Flow” is peculiarly unimpressive, like a technically dazzling Talib Kweli freestyle that leaves a pedantic aftertaste, or the band Hot Chip.

(DOM can be heard from down the street)

Dom: Hot Chip is good!

Clay: No, they’re not. “Gold Watch” sure as fuck is, though: some quick drum hits flipped over and over and microscopic vocal clips twisted into something like a melody. Here Lupe goes nerdcore and materialistic simultaneously, bragging about how now that he’s paid he can buy all the shit he wanted as a kid — which happens to largely be comicbooks, which is funny. There a couple other self-contained triumphs scattered through these nineteen tracks, like the lush “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” or the moment when the album stuns sleekly awake on “Superstar” after four tracks of wrought filler. Indeed, freed from the weight of expectation of being Lupe’s New Single, “Superstar” boasts a sanguine hook and a sophisticated mess of rhymes about fame and backlash and fandom and such. Unfortunately much of the rest of the record lacks this clarity, and while the first part of that “sophisticated mess” description remains valid the second part becomes dominant.

Lupe: Don’t be a dick. You care too much about the art of emceeing to give me a sub-70 score. Go ahead and call the record a “dexterous mindfuck” like you did on your first draft. Give me back that 78.

Clay: I can’t do it. But how’s this: if you are the intellectual savior of hip-hop — which you want to be, whether you’re admitting it — then you are at this point merely reflecting the culture and not quite elevating it. This is why you can’t stop after your next record: you have to continue to step your game up. You have to get better production. You will make your great album. You need to; we need you to. Besides, where else are we to turn?

(A great rumbling is heard as the stage splits and every other rapper emerges to run about the stage. 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying is being played on reverse. Clay runs about as various rappers grab him and attempt to assert their dominance.)

(FREEWAY’S BEARD rises above them all, wreathed in flame)

Freeway’s Beard: Respect me!

Clay: We do, Freeway’s Beard! We just wish you wouldn’t yell at us so much. Tracks one, three, five, and ten on your new record are phenomenal! The rest is pap!

(LIL WAYNE appears covered in boogers)

Lil Wayne: I am the infinite!

Clay: You are, but you don’t stand for anything besides your next punchline!

Doseone: Newell thinks I’m the best!

Clay: That’s cool but I don’t really get you and he’s not here to defend you!

(BUSTA RHYMES, SCARFACE, and KOOL G RAP are wheeled forward by a couple of Jeezy’s weed carriers)

Busta Rhymes: Remember when I was in Native Tongues?

Scarface: I am still rapping about pussy!

Kool G Rap: I am on a cruise ship!

Rhymefest: I am a goofball!

Clay: I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m a dick! I don’t even like Ghostface anymore!

(BEANIE SIGEL emerges and Jay-Z slowly sneaks out)

Beanie Sigel: I have been cast adrift by my label! I am the underdog you wish Lupe was! I —

(Catches sight of Jay-Z and chases him offstage)

(A VOICE booms from offstage)

Voice: STOP.

(All cease frantic movement and watch as ANDRE 3000 floats through wearing suspenders)

Andre 3000: There is no need for this bullshit. All you motherfuckers trying to be the best are trying too hard. You either are or you aren’t. Lupe’s as good a pick as you’re gonna come across. He’s a good pick, Clay.

(Clay looks happy at Andre 3000’s approval. The other rappers all seem to be considering what he has decreed.)

Andre 3000: Lupe, you are trying too hard in your own way. Take a year off. Read the Harry Potter books, they’re pretty clever actually. Then come back, tap into the celestial and make your five-mic record. You can do it if you want to. Clay, finish the review.

(All the other rappers disperse, crestfallen.)

Clay: Andre 3000, I don’t quite know what to do now.

Andre 3000 (Exiting) : You should watch Battlestar Galactica: Razor. And you should eat lunch more often, it’s unhealthy to skip meals. Goodbye.

(He floats away. The other rappers are mostly gone. Raekwon is settling back into his chair, Jay-Z sneaks in cautiously, and Lupe and Clay are left standing center stage.)

Clay: Let’s never fight again, Lupe.

Lupe Fiasco: It was my fault. I’ll make a better album next time, I promise.

Nahright Comment Junkie (to himself): Homos.