The Anatomy of A Song: Lupe Fiasco’s Hurt Me Soul

6 months ago Chad 1

It comes to us all: a time when change is not merely desired, but required. The year 2006 remains infamous for the year Hip Hop’s pendulum tilted on the Southern arrow of its compass. From the perspective of some fans, it was equitable to a cardiac arrest prognosis: the end was near or at best, its life force would forever take on a new blood type. The vomit spewed by the likes of Unk, Jibbs, Chingy and Yung Joc were bowling up the charts. Ringtone bubble rap — an exoskeleton for the varying snap and crunk subgenres – ran just as rampant as the mobile phones themselves. T.I. won over the masses with the year’s only platinum rap certification and Nas donned an undertaker’s garb and called for a Hip Hop funeral.

 

A Change Gon’ Come

 

Amongst a persistently stale Hip Hop scene lies artists who want to “change the game” but aren’t embodying what it takes to be the change. Most end up trying to become their predecessors while others masquerade as the next big thing without understanding that the next big thing never needed to call his or herself that. Titles like those are bestowed upon them by the public… Malcolm and Che didn’t say they were revolutionaries, they were revolutionary in act.

In Hip Hop we have had artists like Tupac, Rakim, Biggie, Jay-Z and my personal God MC, Nasir Jones, who came in with something special that turned the game upside down. By being themselves they elevated the stakes to parts unknown and forever etched their name onto the stone tablets of Hip Hop. And then comes Wasulu Jaco, better known as Lupe Fiasco.

When I first heard Lupe Fiasco on Kanye West’s Touch the Sky, I liked his flow but I wasn’t sure that slightly shrill, somewhat squeaky voice would release sounds that would turn out to be legendary. I didn’t detect greatness at all until he dropped the Food and Liquor album in 2006. Scratch that. I didn’t detect true greatness until I listened track number 11 on said album, the immaculate, epic and ‘in my personal top 5 of all time hip hop songs’, Hurt Me Soul. And none of that is hyperbolic.

 

What Sort of Name is Lupe Fiasco?

 

Lupe

Lupe Fiasco is not the artist you think he is. Though he’s been touted as everything from hip-hop saviour to carpet bagging poseur, Fiasco is actually more of a dilettante. Which is not to say he’s untalented– he is, extraordinarily so. The Chicago MC sports one of the slipperiest flows in Hip Hop – he’s dexterous but never technical, sly but not arrogant. He rarely hangs on syllables too long and never wastes a word. Fiasco’s a self-proclaimed entrepreneur wading against a current he can’t seem to condone: Hip-hop circa 2006. His first album was the work of an MC in love with rap’s freedom of expression but at odds with its then, current landscape.

Lupe Fiasco isn’t your typical emcee. He grew up in Chi-town under a Muslim, black panther household. The Chicago native doesn’t look tough, doesn’t sport crazy jewellery and won’t be seen popping bottles at your favourite club. Some see him as a skater or a “backpacker” but, alas, Lupe is a straight up nerd. He wears glasses (not shades), skateboards and does everything opposite of what your favourite rapper does. Now don’t get the term “nerd” confused with the likes of Kanye West and Pharrell. It can be argued that Pharrell is too cool to be a real nerd and Kanye is a nerd trying to be a superstar. Lupe embraces his nerd and that’s what made and makes him different.

 

A Rhyme Animal

 

But beneath all the nerd dress lies an absolute rhyme animal – an animal that caught the attention of Jay-Z and pulled the then Def Jam president in to executive produce his debut album …and Lupe wasn’t even on his label.

On Food & Liquor, the MC finds himself battling the good and evil elements in everyday life. The self-described nerdy, skateboarding rapper pulls together an exceptional debut album packed with uniquely strong beats, deep messages, and Lupe’s trademark lyrical prowess.

What is astonishing about this album is that it is 80% narrative. What Lupe is able to do is use his abstract imagination and tell remarkable stories with  very vivid and descriptive language.

The bespectacled skateboard nerd flows like a younger, hungrier Common, Talib Kweli, or perhaps even a less angry Mos Def. Fiasco’s relentless positivism never overwhelms his casual rhymes, disarming with their obvious skill and impressive with their balance of righteousness (name-dropping Cornel West, Malcolm X, and Che Guevara) and not-so-subtle political fury (Lupe is just as pissed about the state of African-American affairs as The Roots).

For those who remember when Nas dropped Illmatic, the critics knelt and gave praise to his game-changing opus while the platinum plaques came much later. So while Lupe Fiasco became the quintessential next big thing, he also suffered the same unfortunate fate that many others before him had to deal with… having to wait for people to digest how special his gift truly was.  But how do you deny Mr. fiasco greatness when he reaches up high and snatches the sapphire in the crown with an epic, masterpiece of a song in “Hurt Me Soul.”

 

Hurt Me Soul: A Maserpiece

 

“Hurt Me Soul” takes the form of a personal reflection on Fiasco’s relationship with hip-hop. Track 11 on Food and Liquor, is ostentatiously conceived, brimming with lush strings and a single plinking piano. It Lupedoesn’t hurt that on top of Fiasco’s engaged, almost pleading flow, Needlz’s production is absolutely gorgeous, using a sample from The Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds’ “Stay With Me” to evoke soul in all senses of the word. Like the lyrics, the beat for “Hurt Me Soul” starts out small and manages to become something epic, contributing to a track that has stuck around long in the memory.

As an invisible alien with children who loves reggae/dancehall music and hip hop, Lupe triggers a nerve as he tries to explore his ambivalent relationship with a musical genre that is two parts social commentary, two parts misogynist, two parts violent, two parts uplifting, two parts fun, two parts whatever you want to make it. How can I love an openly misogynist art form? How can I turn my radio on blast, with delightful glee, when 50 Cent declares ‘somebody gotta die tonight?’ Lupe Fiasco goes deep confessional. The problem is he isn’t speaking to a crinoline starched priest behind a tinted window. He speaks to the world and it’s oh so refreshing to hear.

 

Hip Hop Quotable

 

Now I ain’t tryna be the greatest

I used to hate hip-hop… yup, because the women degraded

But Too $hort made me laugh, like a hypocrite I played it

A hypocrite I stated, though I only recited half

Omittin the word “bitch,” cursin I wouldn’t say it

Me and dog couldn’t relate, til a bitch I dated

Forgive my favorite word for hers and hers alike

But I learnt it from a song I heard and sorta liked….

Gangsta rap-based filmings became the buildin blocks

For children with leakin ceilings catchin drippins with pots

Coupled with compositions from Pac, Nas’ “It Was Written”

In the mix with my realities and feelings

Living conditions, religion, ignorant wisdom and artistic vision 

I began to jot, tap the world and listen, it drop

 

In the opening verse, Lupe first acknowledges his own hypocritical tendencies during his younger years, and even more so the over-bearing presence of hypocrisy in the modern rap scene. Afterward, he makes reference to the fact that contemporary rap music is being flooded with the glorification or subliminal promotion of misogyny, drug dealing, materialism and violence.

However, this kind of rap music can be metaphorically viewed as the world in general, for these vices still continue to exist universally, even in societies where rap is absent. Despite his evidently strong opposition for such distasteful music, Lupe contradicts himself by questioning whether or not hip-hop should be criticized for such things. In doing so, he explains how rap legends such as 2Pac, Nas, Too Short, and Jay-Z (who are frequent sources for such glorification) rap about these subjects as they are in reality “coming true”, despite the vulgarity of it all.

Like many reluctant fans, Fiasco takes umbrage at the misogyny that permeates much of rap music. Lyrically, Fiasco is vivid and nimble and appealingly contradictory. He opens with the accusatory:

“I used to hate hip-hop, yup, because of the women degraded”   but gets pulled in nonetheless by Too $hort’s humor:

“But Too $hort made me laugh / like a hypocrite I played it.” 

He eventually starts to call women bitches himself after being influenced by hip hop, which fills him with guilt:

“Forgive my favourite word for hers and hers alike, But I learned it from a song I heard and sorta liked.”

It isn’t just the specificity of “Hurt Me Soul” as an examination of Fiasco’s struggle, but also its Lupeacknowledgment that hip-hop’s misogyny is troubling in part because of the genre’s social realism. On the track, Fiasco decides to become an MC when he realizes hip-hop’s power to mirror reality as “children with leaking ceilings,” and “compositions from Pac” led him to “tap the world and listen.”

But the problem wasn’t just with the music: “These songs was coming true.” Reflecting reality unfortunately includes the misogyny and indifference of not only rappers, but the culture at large—a culture also crippled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Catholic Church sex scandal, and a million other tragedies that “hurt me soul.”

 

Hip Hop Quotable

 

I had a ghetto boy bop, a Jay-Z boycott

‘Cause he said that he never prayed to God, he prayed to Gotti

I’m thinkin godly, God guard me from the ungodly

But by my 30th watchin of “Streets is Watchin”

I was back to givin props again and that was botherin 

By this uncomfortable as a untouchable touchin you

The theme songs that niggas hustle to seem wrong but these songs was comin true

And it was all becoming cool

 

On “Hurt Me Soul,” Lupe reveals that he never appreciated hip hop because he felt it portrayed a lifestyle with sinful desires. Over the lush strings and eerie beat, we hear Lupe talk about his Jay-Z boycott and describe how the principles of prostitution are prevalent all around him.

He later questions Jay-Z (a noted supporter of Fiasco’s) and his:

“never prayed to God, I pray to Gotti” 

credo from “D’Evils”, only to become a convert after his 30th viewing of “Streets Is Watching” (Jay-Z’s short film on the glories of drug dealing), which has him “back to givin’ props again.” These are all essential psychological battles for any serious hip-hop fan. But this is a tough tightrope for any MC to walk but Lupe does so with the skill and timing of David Blaine.

Like J. Cole expertly does on ’03 Adolescence, it is a hypocrisy and confusion we all share in our daily lives. We care about others but nonetheless live by the ‘I’m going to get mine’ dogma. It is men caring about misogyny yet perpetuating it in our overt and implicit actions towards women. Lupe balances this duplicity in the verse with immense magnetism and dexterity.

An anti-swearing Fiasco didn’t condone Jay-Z’s lyrics at first, to the extent of a boycott of the artist. However, this boycott was later repealed after submitting to the lure of the his talent and the truth of the decadence he rapped about:

“The theme songs that niggas hustle to seem wrong 

but these songs was coming true, And it was all becoming cool”

 

Hip Hop Quotable

 

I found a condom on the ground that Johns would cum into and thought

What constitutes a prostitute is the pursuit of profit then they drop it

The homie in a suit pat her on the butt, then rock it

It seems I was seein the same scene adopted

Prevalent in different things with the witnesses indifferent to stop it

They said don’t knock it, mind ya business

His business isn’t mine and that nigga pimpin’ got it

 

This is a profoundly interesting piece of lyricism. Lupe sees the world and all our actions as prostitution. You go to work, and lay down so your boss can spank you. Whether you’re an engineer, a teacher or street cleaner. The only question it seems is, ‘how hard are you willing to be spanked?’

LupeThere are some symbolism and dual meanings here: the “homie in the suit” is the label/producer, the John is the rapper and the condom is the music.

Condom is the regurgitated garbage that gets spit out everyday by rappers that can’t create their own but instead follow the latest trend, yet somehow gets accepted by the masses – Just think of that artist you don’t like at all, and everyone else does.

Lupe realizes that the difference between a slutty woman and a prostitute is the pursuit of money, which is what these rappers are doing. If you’re going to rap, why not get paid doing it, even if you’re just, in the end, just a rap prostitute, but still, those prostitutes are successful, and who is Lupe to stop it, so Lupe does nothing, it’s none of his business, he’ll be who he is, and rap how he raps.

 

Hip Hop Quotable

 

So through the Grim Reaper sickle sharpening

Macintosh marketing

Oil field augering

Brazilian adolescent disarmament

Israeli occupation

Islamic martyrdom, precise

Yeah, laser guided targeting

Oil for food, water, and terrorist organization harborin

Sand camouflage army men

CCF sponsorin, world conquerin, telephone monitorin

Louis Vuitton modelin, pornographic actress honorin 

String theory ponderin, bullimic vomitin

Catholic priest fondlin, pre-emptive bombin and Osama and no bombin them

They breakin in my car again, deforestation and overloggin and 

Hennessy and Hypnotic swallowin, hydroponic coughin and

All the world’s ills, sittin on chrome 24-inch wheels, like that

 

As the track arrives at the last verse, Lupe melodically lists a lengthy catalogue of what he believes corrupts the world. Never has the singing of bad felt so good and uplifting. Consequently, in the three different hooks, Lupe speaks, as a representative for numerous anonymous people suffering from this corruption, still bearing the general theme that virtually everyone on earth is susceptible to misfortune. He mourns for the world as a result, hence the title “Hurt Me Soul.”

And that’s the beauty of this song. Everything he says can be understood and properly digested by anyone with a brain. You don’t have to be from the hood; you don’t have to be black, Asian, white or Hispanic to know and understand the inequities of the world.  You just have to be real and curious and I love that. There is hope for the common man and woman, the invisible alien being downtrodden by life or work; who Lupedon’t care about the glamorization and celebrity being shoved at us from the box, to say it how it is. But first we must understand the world for what it is.

For example, when he croons, “my master beats me,” he seeks to explain that the mentality of our people is that of a slave. It’s something that has transcended through black history, and although we’re no longer slaves, we continue to have that mentality and therefore it still is and we still pretty much are.

So when a whore gets cheated by a pimp, her master is beating her.

When you tiptoe around a manager at work like a deformed dwarf around a giant, are we being timid slaves to an unjust life?

I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t mean it so metaphorically, but its clear that our past experiences directly affects us today. And that really does ‘hurts me so.’