Lupe Fiasco walks the walk and talks the talk again
Lupe Fiasco’s latest problems with Atlantic Records over release dates is not the first time the rapper and the label have clashed
There are some times when a new story reminds you of a great yarn sitting in the archives. This story about the proposed released of a new Lupe Fiasco album “Tetsuo & Youth” in January 2015, a release date which is attributed by the story to threats from a sub-division of the Anonymous massive to do the dog with Atlantic Records’ servers if they didn’t come up trumps, reminds me of a great interview with the rapper in 2011.
When he got on the phone, Fiasco was talking up “Lasers”, an album he’d delivered to his label two years previously, but which had been hanging around waiting for a release since then. Back then, it took fan power in the shape of Fiasco Friday, a fan-organised protest outside the New York offices of Atlantic Records in October 2010, to produce some mediation between the rapper and the label and lead to the release of the album.
Fiasco was a hugely engaging and entertaining interviewee, someone who knew exactly the targets he wanted to hit and how to go about doing it. In a time when so many artists bitch and moan on social media about their labels and the politics of the release schedule, Fiasco could see exactly where the problem was. He had a traditional kind of record deal, one where the label release and make money from the album. However, Atlantic wanted Fiasco to sign a 360 deal, one where the label get a chunk of money from all of the artist’s activities. Fiasco wasn’t interested and this is where the problems began. Unlike many of his peers, Fiasco was going to stick to his guns rather than look for an exit.
“I signed a traditional record deal with Atlantic just before they went into 360 land, right at the tail-end. Record labels now want to be like Disney. Someone like Disney is in complete control of their artists like the Jonas Brothers. They’ll have a TV show, a radio station, a tour and merchandise and the record label want that too.
“But it’s one thing to want it and it’s another to be like Disney where you have the infrastructure to do that. They own the radio stations and TV stations and the factory which makes the clothes. All the record label does is make records and they send everything else out to individual vendors.
“I told the label I’d sign a 360 deal if they brought the facilities and experts into the building. I’m not going to sign a deal to do TV shows if you don’t have an accomplished TV producer working for you. The A&R man can’t do TV shows just because he went to school. Just because you’re a master at moving records doesn’t mean you’re a master at everything else. They need to spend more time working out those deals instead of trying to cheat the system and get things on the cheap. Everything got parked. I wanted to come in at the ground floor with fair business practices and do things differently but then, it became this hoopla and everything stalled.”
You got the sense from him that the relationship with Atlantic Records had kind of ran its course by that stage, which makes the fact that he has a new album ready to go on the label all the more surprising. “One of the mistakes I made was getting too involved with the record business and Atlantic Records”, he said three years ago. “The revelation I had was that these are just people who are about money at the end of the day. The relationships are fine, but the relationships are maintained because they’re about making money. Once you stop making money, the relationship ends so it’s fake. They don’t give two shits about you, it was always the bottom line.”
He was also very forthcoming about the cost of putting a hip-hop album together. “It costs about $80,000 to $100,000 per track. When you work with certain producers, they charge a premium and some of them will charge up to $100,000. Some people will charge $50,000 or $60,000 for a hook. You can easily blow through half a million dollars in a few tracks.
“So when you see your tracks like “Beaming”, which was a $100,000 record get leaked, you’re like ‘oh shit’. That’s why we did the video real fast and got it on iTunes in an attempt to make some of the money back. When I talk about this, I’m not whining or complaining for the sake of nothing. That $80,000 gone. Woosh! And that’s before we work out the cost of the time involved.”
Fiasco was also ahead of the curve when it came to criticising Barack Obama’s tenure as US president. Remember this was early 2011 and there was still the glimmer of a post-election glow around the Obama White House. Fiasco, though, had no truck with this way of thinking.
“I’ve never been a fan of the American system because of the education I got from my mother, who used to pick cotton when she grew up in Mississippi, and my father, who was very political. Sure, it’s a milestone to have a black man in the White House, but look past that and the precedent has been set in Africa. There’s already been black presidents who’ve been corrupt so it doesn’t strike me that having a black man in office means he’s going to be the messiah.
“Obama came in and gave $700 billion to the bankers off the top as opposed to giving $700 billion to the poor. The reason we have a deficit is because of the military spending which is ridiculous but which we have to support dictators across the world to maintain America’s financial and economic interests. Instead of slashing the military budget to fight the deficit, Obama slashed after-school programmes, education budget and the pay for federal workers. They’re looking to cut the peoples’ legs off before they cut the military’s legs off.”
“There’s a certain level of hypocrisy when America goes into the world and it always falls back on militarisation rather than fair diplomacy to get its way. The economic policies of the United States and its affiliations with the World Bank and IMF mean it does take over countries. Maybe not overtly, but it does happen with policies on trade and aid. American foreign policy has notoriously been imperialist and racist.”
His final words on that occasion were fairly apt then and probably now again given the delays around the release of the new album. He can probably use this quote as his motto if needs be. “I suppose I am outspoken. But when I see things I don’t agree with, I have to speak up and express myself.”