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 Don't question Common's stamina! ...

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 "I was around the street for a minute — that's my life in Chicago," Common says ...

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 "This is the coolest thing on earth," Lupe says

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The occasional spill aside, Lupe's rise to fame and the popularity of "Kick, Push" is helping to promote skate culture in the urban community. Nowadays you can catch kids who live in 'hoods in Queens, New York, or Oakland, California, jumping on skateboards.

  If anyone has kept Chicago on the musical map in the last 15 years, it's the man who puts the "R" in R&B. Here are some of his favorite hometown who's and where's.

  Favorite place: "My house, because I spend a lot of quality time with my friends and family when I'm there. The most peaceful place in Chicago is my house, because I can relax with my kids and enjoy my home studio. It was built several years ago — that's where all the hits happen!"
  Favorite place to eat: "Tavern on Rush because I love their crab legs and lobster — they are two of my favorite dishes. I first started going there about three years ago and have been hooked ever since. Every time I go it is memorable because the staff is so courteous and friendly and the atmosphere is very pleasant."
  Favorite Chicago memories: "When Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships during the 1990s, and shooting hoops and playing softball with Michael Jordan."
"Oh they love it, they love it," Lupe says about the rainbow coalition of skaters across the country he's inadvertently introduced to the sport — some specimens of which are right in front of him. "All these kids up in here, they listen to hip-hop. Tony Hawk is a big fan of DMX. It's crazy — it's like the relationship is there. It's always been there. These kids up in here, you listen to their iPods and it's probably full of Wu-Tang, Mobb [Deep], 50 Cent or whatever.

"This the coolest thing on earth," Lupe muses, his nonchalant demeanor contrasting with his enthusiastic statement. "You can come up here and obliviously skate for, like, eight or nine hours. You'll be sweaty and hot, but at the end of the day, it's freedom out here. I started skating over there," he notes, pointing to a corner of the park. "My first skateboard was a GT Coyote III. It's just one of my hobbies — it just so happened that 'Kick, Push' is the record that blew up, that's why everybody relates it."

Fiasco has become one of the most relatable figures in the underground largely because he has always been himself. He grew up in harsh conditions but never fronts in his music. In fact, he lets a lot of the other side of his upbringing — the gentler, culturally rich atmosphere his mother fostered at home — come out in his lyrics.

"Initially, I was entertaining this [environment]. I wasn't trying to change this because I didn't know how," he says of his earliest raps about his 'hood. "Once I learned I had some of the tools to change the perception of this ... I tell my peoples in their face, 'This ain't cool. This ain't how it's supposed to be. I want to change this now. I don't like coming over here and seeing this.' You go right over there," he points in another direction, "it's probably one of the biggest dope spots in the world right now."

A little later, he's standing in front of the Madison Street apartment building he used to live in. The block is lined with similar-looking buildings; guys are hanging on the corner as the Diplomats blast from a parked car. Lupe spent his first 12 years here, living with his mother. Almost on cue, a wino emerges and asks for money. Not much has changed. "Yeah, this is the notorious West Side," he says. "This is where it all happens. Many shootouts, prostitution. It was notorious for, like, drug dealing over there — the gangs."

But life inside Lupe's childhood home was worlds away from the gritty streets outside. "Even though there was all of this madness outside, in the house my mom had mad collections of National Geographic," he says. "She had mad, whole book collections. Mad African art. She had all types of culture in our apartment. It was that close. I used to look out my window and see prostitutes on the corner then turn around and see great pictures of Malcolm X in the crib. My mom kept the balance. She kept the intellectual [aspect] there, she kept the positivity there.

"My mother is like a superhero of this neighborhood," he continues. "She would let all the gangbangers, drug dealers, prostitutes — all the people with the problems would come to our house and eat and she would talk to them and make sure they were straight."

Fiasco's Chicago roots are also closely tied to life with his father, who owned a chain of karate schools. If life in Lupe's mom's house was a cultural escape from the corner, spending time with dad was a journey to the other side of life.

"My father would come pick me up and take me with him," he recalls. "That was part of my growing up. He would come get us to go to karate class. That's when we would see the other parts of the city and have the fun — not that we didn't have fun over here, but it was a different kind of lifestyle. I eventually moved with my father. When I turned 12, I moved to the South Side — way, way south in the suburbs. I would come back here every other week in the summer."

Back in his old 'hood, with many of his old friends surrounding him, showing love, Lupe reflects and says, "It's like I never left."

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Photo: MTV News

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