Lupe Fiasco debuts new material, Lasers release date at LJVM

by Ryan Snyder

Lupe Fiasco turns a fan into a “Superstar.” (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Most hip-hop artists do it for the fame, money and egos, but it’s never exactly been clear what motivates Lupe Fiasco to create some of the most cerebral, socially conscious and underappreciated, yet club-rattling hip hop this decade. There was a bevy of dolled-up coeds hanging outside of the backstage green room waiting to get a peep of the superstar rapper at his Friday night performance for Wake Forest’s homecoming, but they might have been waiting a while. Being a devout Muslim in a notoriously excess-laden industry, Fiasco has long gone out of his way to avoid the party and groupie scene, and while he wears his faith only a little more than most, he treats hip hop like a religion, and the LJVM stage was his pulpit.

From that performance alone, it’s obvious what separates Fiasco most from his peers. There is an understated swagger to him that doesn’t come through in the form of trivial boasts, but instead in how he not only carries himself on the stage, but how he carries the stage itself. Like Jay-Z or even Kanye — two of the giants who gave Fiasco his first shot at the limelight — Fiasco can dominate a crowd all by himself. He doesn’t need an army of hype men and throwaway rappers to help sustain his show. It was just he and DJ Absolut providing beats and background vocals (though he does occa- sionally perform with a full band, a real treat to see). The same could have been said for his opening act, however, a rapper with little seasoning but a ton of promise and a suc- cinct, focused flow. Lil Marcus, a 10-year- old emcee from Houston, may not be ready to lead the Screwed Up Click’s next wave — he was only a few months old when DJ Screw sizzurped his way into the Great Purp — but his machine-gun flow over slowed down instrumentals was quintessential West Houston. His age showed when he inter- acted with the crowd in a rascally innocent, Dennis-the-Menace kind of way, but he was a man on the mic otherwise.

As important as it is for all rappers to maintain a rugged edge, there was kind of a precious moment when his mother had to drag him away from the stage steps as Fiasco made his way from backstage, serenading the crowd. In classic Lupe fashion, his hits weren’t the focal point of his set, though he has many. Opener “Lazers” gave dedicated fans the full version of the brief cut from the Enemy of the State mixtape and possible heterographic title track to his constantly delayed album Lasers. In fact, the entire opening stanza of the set was vintage Lupe, including Food & Liquor’s aggressive “The Instrumental.” Fiasco had a few surprises in store for the crowd, including the dedication of his skater anthem “Kick, Push” to the city, though arguably the most significant verses to come out of his mouth all evening weren’t the words to the debut of deliberative new song called “Till I Get There.” Atlantic Records had Tweeted only a few hours early that a release date for Lasers, his first album since 2007’s The Cool, had officially been set and Fiasco was more than ready to soak in the crowd’s anticipation at his announcement. Fiasco stood before the mic stand polishing his gold sunglasses, reveling in the tension with a little bit of a smug grin, baiting the crowd with short sentences and long pauses. “I know y’all have been waiting a long time for this, but there’s a release date for my album,” he said before taking a moment to inspect his sunglasses. “On March 8, 2011, things in hip hop will never, ever, ever be the same.” His announcement led into the hyperlyri- cal cut from the album “Shining Down,” but not before his self-proclaimed biggest fan passed along a true Fiasco rarity, a vinyl compilation from 2002 that marked his first appearance on record, a guest appearance on flash-in-the-pan R&B girl group Tha’ Rayne’s song “Kiss Me.” It was a song that Fiasco went on to say he had a burning hatred for, but later came to appreciate it for sentimental reasons. Like in 2002, Fiasco wasn’t afraid to take a few chances. He prefaced his per- formance of NERD’s remixed “Everyone Nose” with the caveat that he “just might alienate some of y’all,” but the scattered boos it drew just made his mea culpa “Go Go Gadget Flow” all the more impactful. His biggest gamble was drawing a 14-year- old fan out of the front row to share the spotlight on his biggest hit, but seeing that the kid clearly knew “Superstar” from front to back despite his quiet mic was a testament to Fiasco’s popularity.

For all the set’s intensity and Fiasco’s relentless mic skills, he let the crowd down gently on the encore. “Paris, Tokyo” was reserved and breezy, though the alternate, more built-up take on his 2006 Jill Scott collaboration “Daydreamin’” took the Grammy-winning studio version, slowed it up and dropped in a funky downbeat. In his 90-minute set, never did he take a track off.

Every minute of his set saw his feet just as much a part of the show as his words. But that’s Lupe’s MO: to be an unselfish per- former and one of the greatest emcees alive, without all the gloss.