Wasalu Muhammad Jaco (born February 16, 1982), better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, is an American rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur. He rose to fame in 2006 following the success of his debut album, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. He also performs as the frontman of rock band Japanese Cartoon under his real name. As an entrepreneur, Fiasco is the chief executive officer of 1st & 15th Entertainment.
Raised in Chicago, he developed an interest in Hip Hop after initially disliking the genre for its use of vulgarity and misogyny. After adopting the name Lupe Fiasco and recording songs in his father’s basement, 19-year-old Fiasco joined a group called Da Pak. The group disbanded shortly after its inception, and Fiasco soon met rapper Jay-Z who helped him sign a record deal with Atlantic Records. In September 2006, Fiasco released his debut album Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor on the label, which received three Grammy nominations. He released his second album, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, in December 2007. The lead single “Superstar” became his first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. After a two-year delay, Lasers was released in March 2011 to mixed reviews. However, it became his first album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200. His latest album, Tetsuo & Youth, was released in January 2015.
In addition to music, Fiasco has pursued other business ventures, including fashion. He runs two clothing lines, Righteous Kung-Fu and Trilly & Truly; he has designed sneakers for Reebok. He has been involved with charitable activities, including the Summit on the Summit expedition, and in 2010 he recorded a benefit single for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Fiasco is also noted for his anti-establishment views, which he has expressed in both interviews and his music.
Fiasco was born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco on February 16, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois. Of West African descent, he was one of nine children of Shirley, a gourmet chef, and Gregory, an engineer. His father, a member of the Black Panther Party, was a prolific African drummer, karate teacher, operating plant engineer, and owner of karate schools and army surplus stores. Fiasco was raised Muslim on the West Side of Chicago on Madison Terrace housing project. At the age of three, Fiasco began taking martial arts classes. His parents divorced when he was five, and he went on to live with his mother, but his father still remained an important part of his life. He described his father’s influence over the family by saying, “After school, my father would come and get us and take us out into the world—one day, we’re listening to N.W.A, the next day we’re listening to Ravi Shankar, the next day, he’s teaching us how to shoot an AK-47, the next day, we’re at karate class, the next day, we’re in Chinatown…”.
In sixth grade, he went to live with his father full-time in Harvey, Illinois. His father lived next door to a crack house and taught Fiasco to use guns to defend himself from drug dealers. Despite his unstable upbringing, Fiasco states that he was well-educated as a child, asserting that his parents exposed him to a diverse array of subjects and that reading was highly encouraged in his household. As a teenager, Fiasco participated in Academic Decathlon competitions. His mother described him by saying, “He was a great spirited child. Smart, a bit complex; he kind of was a loner; he didn’t hang with a lot of people…He always had the glasses. Always had a book bag over his shoulder and some type of a writing tablet.” Fiasco initially disliked hip hop music for its use of vulgarity, and preferred to listen to jazz; he idolized clarinet player Benny Goodman. His struggle to learn to play an instrument led him to create poetry instead, which led to his interest in the lyrical aspects of music.
He began rapping his poems in the eighth grade, and upon hearing Nas’ 1996 album, It Was Written, began to pursue Hip Hop. While attending Thornton Township High School, Fiasco met gang member Bishop G. The two became friends due to their shared interest in music. Fiasco’s father allowed him and Bishop to make mixtapes in his basement, and the two gained notoriety at the school for their music. However, they were kicked off stage during their first performance because their eclectic musical style was not embraced by the hip hop community. Early in his career, he went by stage names Little Lu and Lu tha Underdog. Growing up, Fiasco was given the nickname “Lu”, the last part of his first name, by his mother. “Lupe” is an extension of this nickname, which he borrowed from a friend from high school. “Fiasco” is a reference to The Firm song “Firm Fiasco”; the rapper “liked the way it looked on paper.” He also said of his name, “You know how rappers always have names like MC Terrorist—like they’re ‘terrorizing’ other rappers? I knew fiasco meant a great disaster or something like that, but I didn’t realize that the person named Fiasco would be the disaster, and that you should be calling other MCs fiascos—not yourself…it kind of humbled me in a sense. It taught me like, ‘Yo, stop rushing, or you’re going to have some fiascos.'”
Growing up, Fiasco was given the nickname “Lu”, the last part of his first name, by his mother. “Lupe” is an extension of this nickname, which he borrowed from a friend from high school. “Fiasco” is a reference to The Firm song “Firm Fiasco”; the rapper “liked the way it looked on paper.” He also said of his name, “You know how rappers always have names like MC Terrorist—like they’re ‘terrorizing’ other rappers? I knew fiasco meant a great disaster or something like that, but I didn’t realize that the person named Fiasco would be the disaster, and that you should be calling other MCs fiascos—not yourself…it kind of humbled me in a sense. It taught me like, ‘Yo, stop rushing, or you’re going to have some fiascos.'”
When Fiasco was 17, he began creating music as a solo artist in his father’s basement, even though his parents were not keen on having their son be a rapper. He scoured flea markets and secondhand stores, where he was able to find an old mixing board and a record player, stacks of vinyl records, and mic stands. At age 19, Fiasco joined a group called Da Pak, which was influenced by other California gangsta rappers such as Spice 1 and Ice Cube. Da Pak signed to Epic Records and released one single before splitting up. Fiasco later described the experience, saying “We had a song out about cocaine, guns, and women, and I would go to a record store and look at it and think, ‘What are you doing?’ I felt like a hypocrite. I was acting like this rapper who would never be judged, and I had to destroy that guy. Because what Lupe Fiasco says on this microphone is going to come back to Wasalu Jaco. When the music cuts off, you have to go home and live with what you say.”
After turning away from gangsta rap, he developed a greater appreciation of the lyricism of Jay-Z and Nas. His mother also gave him a record of the influential group The Watts Prophets, one of the first bands to use spoken words with music. Although he was without a group for the first time, Fiasco continued to record music. One of these first self-recorded tracks was “Could Have Been”, which described the career options he could have pursued had he not begun rapping. He viewed the song as a turning point in his career that marked a drastic change in the subject matter of his music. “Could Have Been” was released as a demo tape and discovered by MTV despite the fact that no video was created for the song.
Fiasco later signed a solo deal with Arista Records, but was dropped when president and CEO L.A. Reid was fired. During his short tenure at Arista, he met Jay-Z, who was the president of Def Jam Recordings at the time. Jay-Z referred to him as a “breath of fresh air”, saying that he reminded him of a younger version of himself. Jay-Z later helped him get a record deal at Atlantic Records. While Fiasco was working on his debut solo album, he released his mixtape series Fahrenheit 1/15 over the internet, which gained notoriety by word-of-mouth.
He remixed Kanye West’s song, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, renaming the new version as “Conflict Diamonds”. With this remix, Fiasco wished to raise awareness of the conflict diamond business. This caught West’s attention, and he asked Fiasco to perform on the song “Touch the Sky” for West’s album Late Registration. The song, which sampled Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”, became a hit in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number forty-two. After this success, Fiasco’s first single “Kick, Push” was released earlier than expected. The song was a love story about two people sharing a passion for skateboarding, a topic generally not discussed in Hip Hop. Fiasco explained, “[Skateboarding culture is] just as deep as Hip Hop. I’m not the greatest skateboarder, but I’m a damn good rapper, so I made a damn good skateboarding song.” The single, and its accompanying music video, helped Fiasco get attention in the Hip Hop community, and was later nominated for two 2007 Grammy Awards. During this time, he recorded guest performances on Tha’ Rayne’s “Kiss Me” and “Didn’t You Know” singles, and also on K Foxx’s 2004 “This Life”.
Jay-Z assisted him in the production of what would become his debut album Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. The title of the album is a reference to ‘Food and Liquor’ stores common in Chicago. He explains, “The store is where everything is at…Food to me represents growth and progression. You eat food and you get strength. You need it to live. Liquor is not a necessity; it is a want. It destroys you. It breaks you down. I can see why it’s prohibited in Islam…I’ve always felt like liquor represents the bad, the food represents the good, and everyone is made up of a little of both.” Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor was officially released on September 19, 2006. The album featured production from Jay-Z, Kanye West, Mike Shinoda, The Neptunes, Prolyfic, among others. The record spawned the singles “Kick, Push”, “I Gotcha” and “Daydreamin'” featuring Jill Scott. The critically lauded album was later nominated for three Grammy Awards including Best Rap Album. Fiasco won “Best Urban/Alternative Performance” for “Daydreamin'”. In the same year, he was voted by GQ magazine as the “Breakout Man of the Year.” He also received four BET Hip Hop Award nominations, and it made it to number eight on Billboard 200 and number two on Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. That same year he participated in the first Cypher at the BET Hip Hop Awards.
“It was a lot of tragedy coming into this album. In the midst of a lot of success, I was so busy I didn’t have time to properly mourn. Talking to yourself, having some therapy with yourself – it was the hardest record to write because of the emotions.” -Lupe Fiasco, on Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool
In 2007, Fiasco announced his second album, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, a concept album that expands on the story of the track of the same name on his first album. While recording this album, Fiasco’s father died of type II diabetes and his business partner, Charles “Chilly” Patton, was convicted of attempting to supply heroin to a drug ring and was eventually sentenced to 44 years in a correctional facility. These events greatly affected Fiasco and the subsequent themes discussed on the record.
The disc was released in December 2007 in United States while the first single and video from the album, “Superstar” featuring Matthew Santos was released the first week of November 2007. Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, a concept album that expanded upon recurring themes in Food & Liquor, is about “a hustler who dies and comes back to life, only to get robbed by two little kids with the same gun that killed him.” For the record, Fiasco decided not to work with well-known producers as he considered it to be “too expensive”, noting the commercial failure of his Pharrell collaboration, “I Gotcha”.
Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool was very well received by critics and was referred to as “one of the year’s best Hip Hop albums” by The New York Times. “Superstar”, a semi-autobiographical account of his rise to fame, was released as the first single from the album, and peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Baseball’s Hanley Ramírez, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman, Gerald Laird and Ryan Braun have used “Superstar” as their at-bat song.
The album’s second single was “Paris, Tokyo” – a song based around Fiasco’s experiences of touring the world between his first and second albums. Moreover, in 2007 it was revealed that Fiasco, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams had formed a group called Child Rebel Soldier. CRS initially released one single, entitled “US Placers” and featuring a Thom Yorke sample. In an interview with The Village Voice, Fiasco revealed that he was writing a novel about a window washer, aptly titled Reflections of a Window Washer. In 2008, Fiasco and his band 1500 or Nothin joined Kanye West’s Glow in the Dark Tour which also featured Rihanna and N.E.R.D. The tour stopped in several cities, including his hometown of Chicago. In 2008, MTV named Fiasco the 7th Hottest MC in the Game and announced that he was remixing The Cool with French electro house act Justice.
At a performance in New Zealand in February 2010, Fiasco performed new material from the then-titled We Are Lasers for the first time. He claimed that the album was complete and waiting for a release date from his label, Atlantic Records. However, Atlantic feared that the record lacked commercial singles, and presented Fiasco with songs the label wanted him to record. Fiasco declined, as he was told he would not have any ownership of the songs. He explained, “I don’t think the label cares about an album…People just want their number-one record.” For six months, the cause of the album’s delay remained unclear to the public. In response, Fiasco’s fans created an online petition demanding that Atlantic Records release Lasers. The petition garnered considerable attention on Hip Hop blog sites as well as over 16,000 signatures. Fiasco stated that the petition “brought [him] to tears”, and in response to the petition, Fiasco released a song titled “B.M.F-Building Minds Faster” to thank his fans.
While waiting for Lasers to be released, Fiasco completed another album, titled Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album. He was unsure if the Food and Liquor II would ever be released, though he released the song “Go To Sleep” from the record “out of desperation” to put out new music. He also pursued numerous side projects in the midst of the delay. In April 2010, Fiasco formed the Hip Hop collective All City Chess Club along with Pharrell, Asher Roth, B.o.B, The Cool Kids, Charles Hamilton, Blu, Diggy Simmons, Wale, J. Cole, & Dosage. The group has so far made one song, a remix of Fiasco’s “I’m Beamin”. Additionally, On July 16, 2010, Fiasco released his rock side-project Japanese Cartoon’s debut EP In The Jaws of the Lords of Death. Japanese Cartoon was influenced by a variety of musical genres, with Fiasco saying, “I’ve always been a fan of all music…Hip Hop is just something I actually know how to do but I always had aspirations to participate in other forms of music. Once I got to create some Hip Hop, it was like, ‘Okay, what am I going to do now?’ So my artistic side was like, ‘Yo, let’s do some rock music.'”
More than two and a half years after the album’s completion, Lasers was released on March 8, 2011. The first single from the record was “The Show Goes On”, which samples “Float On” by Modest Mouse. “The Show Goes On” debuted at number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lead single peaked at number 9 since then. The producers involved on the album include Alex Da Kidd, King David “The Future” and Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis, while featured artists include Skylar Grey, Trey Songz, and John Legend. Upon the album’s release, Lasers debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 204,000 copies. Despite the album’s commercial success, Lasers received mixed reviews from most music critics. Writing for AllMusic, editor Andy Kellman gave the record three out of five stars and criticized its “lumbering, overwrought choruses”, writing that “If there is one MC whose rhymes should not be dulled for the sake of chasing pop trends, it’s Lupe Fiasco”. Lasers, however, was nominated Best Rap Album, with “The Show Goes On” nominated for Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song at the 2012 Grammy Awards. Lupe Fiasco later involved himself at the Occupy Wall Street movement where he donated tents and released a poem in support of the protesters. He also released his “Friend of the People: I Fight Evil” mixtape on Thanksgiving Day.
Fiasco collaborated with Australian singer/songwriter Guy Sebastian on the single “Battle Scars”. The single was recorded in Sebastian’s Sydney studio when Fiasco was in Australia for Supafest, and is featured on Sebastian’s album Armageddon. It debuted at number one in Australia in its first week, becoming Fiasco’s first number one single. On 21 August it was announced “Battle Scars” would be included on Fiasco’s fourth album, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, and was released as the fourth single in the United States on 28 August 2012. It reached number 71 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart, number 23 on the Billboard Digital Song Chart and number one on the R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Song Chart. The song spent 20 nonconsecutive weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, and reached platinum certification.
Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 was released on September 25, 2012. The songs “Go to Sleep” and “B**** Bad” were also released as singles. The album received generally positive reviews from contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 70, which indicates “generally favorable reviews”, based on 18 reviews. It was also nominated for Best Rap Album at the 55th Grammy Awards. Originally, the album was set to be released as a double-disc album, but Atlantic Records did not allow this arrangement, so the album was divided into two. It was confirmed that a Part 2 would be released in Spring 2013. Lupe has said the album showcases more of his dexterity and lyrical substance. On January 17, 2013 he canceled the plan for the release of the second part of the original double disk.
On February 10, 2013, on the red carpet for the Grammy Awards he announced his fifth studio album would be titled Tetsuo & Youth. Since then, he has released songs that are not slated to be on Tetsuo & Youth. These songs are “Light Blue” and “Jonylah Forever.” Upon hearing her name in Lupe’s song Form Follows Function, Imogen Heap reached out to Lupe on Twitter to give a thank you which led to Fiasco asking her to appear on his next album making her a possible guest artist on Tetsuo and Youth. On August 4, 2013 Lupe Fiasco revealed a new song would be released on September 11, titled “Peace of Paper/Cup of Jayzus”.
On August 24, 2013, Fiasco revealed the first song from Tetsuo & Youth, “Crack”, featuring Chris Brown. Then on October 3, 2013, Fiasco announced the Tetsuo & Youth Preview tour to take place between November 2 and December 15, 2013. The tour featuring label-mate Stalley as a supporting act, and The Boy Illinois as an opening act. He also revealed the album Tetsuo & Youth would be released in early 2014, but was later postponed to 2015. On October 14, 2013, Fiasco released the first supposed song from the album, “Old School Love”, featuring singer Ed Sheeran. Then on October 21, 2013, Fiasco revealed that Big K.R.I.T. and Rick Ross would also be featured on the album.
On May 19, 2014, Fiasco released the first promotional single before the announcement of the album’s tracklist. “Mission” is a track to empower those facing cancer, revere cancer survivors, and remember those who have passed to due to cancer-related illnesses,” he explains. He has teamed up with Stand Up to Cancer as a celebrity ambassador. Together, they are planning collaborations tied to the track that will be unveiled the same year. On June 24, 2014, Fiasco released a second promotional single titled “Next to It” which features Ty Dolla Sign on the hook.
Fiasco, along with rappers Common, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, has been credited as a pioneer of the conscious Hip Hop movement, which focuses on social issues. Subjects touched upon on Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor include absent parents, terrorism, Islam and religion, war, and prostitution. Fiasco attributes his interest in social issues to his highly cultured upbringing, as he describes his mother as “very intellectual” and his father as a “Renaissance man”. He rejects the misogyny common in Hip Hop, which he discusses in the song “Hurt Me Soul”. Despite this, Fiasco is strongly opposed to censorship in music: “If we’re going to [censor things] that are offensive, then we are going to have to blind and deafen everyone. Come on, man. Let’s focus on education and literacy and poverty.”