Lupe Fiasco | New Boyz Chaifetz Arena September 29, 2011
The world is going mad as Lupe Fiasco leaps onto the stage, flying in from somewhere behind the black curtain to take his pulpit behind the microphone stand.
"I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bull shit..."
He is rapping "Words I Never Said," rolling his shoulders to the rhythm of the full band behind him, his short dreads bursting skyward like fireworks.
"Your child's future was the first to go with budget cuts/ If you think that hurts then, wait, here comes the uppercut, the school was garbage in the first place..."
At the tail of each bar he gazes into the mass of swaying arms and bouncing bodies, packing the floor of the Chaifetz Arena at Saint Louis University. It's homecoming weekend here and Lupe is preaching to an anguished generation crippled with college debt, staring into the mouth of the worst economy in 80 years, adolescent idealism prematurely eroding into disillusionment. We're a generation at a crossroads between empowerment and cynicism. Lupe gives us voice.
"I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence/ Fear is such a weak emotion that's why I despise it/ We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth..."
The song winds down and Lupe smiles, leaning on the mic stand.
"Youth of America! Youth of St. Louis!" he says. "Welcome! Generation Laser!"
With that the band booms into "State Run Radio." The drums and electric guitar thump deep into the chest. The keyboard, violin and bass hover over the top. Lupe rocks out, jumping up and down as he bounds across the stage, athletically careening off speakers and platforms. It's an unpretentious energy that disarms you, makes it feel okay to drop your guard and join his excitement.
"We interrupt this broadcast/ To bring you this special message on the forecast/ The future's cloudy and it's raining on the poor class/ Road to peace is closed, heavy traffic on the war path..."
Lupe starts with two of his most socially conscious songs on Lasers, setting the tone for the show. Of the twenty songs he plays tonight, half are from the album and half are an abbreviated assortment of his classics.
The New Boyz opened for him earlier, which is fitting. The Los Angeles duo's catchy trunk rattlers and club bangers, built for the thick bass of live shows and an arena full of college kids, represent the role hip-hop has played for (at least) the last decade. It is music that allows a listener to escape from the problems of life and drift into a dream world of flowing drinks and carefree dance and all around good times. It brings hope through fantasy. But then the beat stops, the rush ends, and it's back to the tough times.
Lupe Fiasco music is realism. He paints the dark side of the world -- the cycle of poverty and bombings in Palestine and child soldiers in Africa and the military industrial complex and the crack fiends and the police brutality. He connects with the anguish of the generation. And he seeks to create hope, not by pulling you out of the world, but by challenging you to look the world square in the eyes, dig in your heels and push back, all the while knowing that there are many more alongside pushing just as hard. It's a message of empowerment particularly resonant in an era of growing disillusionment. And it's a message delivered through one of the most gifted rappers of all time.
A few songs in, the music stops and he crouches on a platform at the right side of the stage. "You ready?" he says to the crowd. "You sure?"
He pauses for a second or two, then accelerates: "I'm from the city in the midwest, best city in the whole wide wide world..."
"Go Go Gadget Flow" is the best showcase of his physical skills. Lupe's identity as an artist is defined by his political activism and his brilliant lyricism. His word plays are complex and precise, he never wastes bars, his rhyme schemes are innovative, his narratives are vivid, his song concepts are high-minded. So it can be easy to overlook his pure vocal talent.
But he's perched on that platform, leaning forward with the mic at his chest, and he drills every staccato syllable at light speed, climaxing with that famous eight bar stretch in the second verse...
"That I got what I got and I'm at where I'm at like an A in a circle with a pay little Erkel what they say when they see OG from the F to the F to the amazing verbals..."
Still hasn't taken a breath. The crowd is buzzing. Steadily louder with each word.
"...they're racing in circles like they're raising a gerbil while I race in a circle like I'm racing a horse or I'm raising a Porsche while they racing in place they race in a cage I race on a course, course!"
Ooooaaaaahhhh! The people roar, drowning out the next couple of lines. Nobody in hip-hop today connects bars as often and with as much elegance as Lupe Fiasco. He is the Best Rapper Alive.
When the song ends, he walks to the right side of the stage and peers into the crowd.
"Somebody gave me the middle finger over there," he says. "I would kind of like to know why."
Murmurs ripple through the crowd. People point out the culprit. Many are booing the guy.
"Come over, you can speak your piece," says Lupe. "Somebody get him a mic."
A round man in a light blue polo makes his way to the front of the crowd. He leans over the railing and says very quietly into a microphone, "I was... I was just... just joking around... you're the man, Lupe."
"What?" says Lupe.
"I was just... I was just messing around... you're the man, Lupe."
"Huh? What he say?"
The crowd is laughing now. Even people in the upper level seats can see the guy's face is flush red.
"I was just messing around. You're the man, Lupe."
"Oh, okay. You just joking. Alright cool," he says, sternly. "I thought he wanted to have a political debate with me or something.... No more middle fingers though. We're positive right now."
Lupe Fiasco is not abstractly political. He cites names, events, facts-- Ahmadinejad, Israeli occupation, predatory lending. He delves into the details of issues, dedicating whole songs to narrow topics-- child soldiers, American foreign policy, television culture. He's become the standard bearer for political hip-hop.
When he performs "Show Goes On" late into the night, someone from his crew paces around the stage holding up a Palestinian flag. At the end of his set he says, "Support 'Occupy Wall Street.' All day all week, occupy Wall Street!" and then, "Support your local homeless shelters."
He exits the stage, the lights turn on, and the crowd files out of the arena, where the world awaits them.
Set list and more photos on the next page.
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