NEW YORK — First, Lupe Fiasco — along with Pharrell, of course — helped make skateboard culture hot in the 'hood with last year's deck anthem "Kick, Push."
Now, however, the Chicago rapper is hoping he can make other, not-as-hip ideas pop with his sophomore set, The Cool, tentatively due November 20 on Atlantic.
In town last week, Lupe recalled to MTV News seeing esteemed Princeton University professor Cornel West speak a few years ago. "He made a statement, he said, 'If you really want to affect change in the world, you gotta make those things that are cool, uncool.' He's saying that the cool things are what's destructive and what's got us down and depressed. And if you can make it hip to be square, you might really affect some actual social change in the world. So this is like my attempt, very blatant, over-attempt [at that], by naming the album, The Cool."
According to Lupe, the tone of The Cool will be much darker than the tracks on his debut, and for a number of reasons.
He said the album title actually stems from a like-named, Kanye West-produced track on his 2006 debut, Food & Liquor. The name also denotes a character in a narrative he created.
In the song, the Cool is "actually a half-rotten hustler who dug himself out of his own grave. So anyone who does that has to be dark." Lupe told Mixtape Monday that he plans to introduce several characters throughout his Cool project.
So far, the album is set to include the lead single, "Superstar," and "Intruder Alert," a song that Lupe said deals with rape and overcoming the emotional scarring from such a tragedy.
"It's a record about a girl who gets raped and shuts down," he said of the tune. "But she meets someone who opens her up, and at the end, she gives him a hug. So it's a powerful record."
But while he takes some creative license with that song, Lupe also suffered several personal losses that surface on the album. The losses occurred between his first and second albums and have weighed heavily on him, even if he hasn't had much time to deal with the pain.
"I lost my pops, I lost my auntie, I lost one of my good friends, Stack Bundles, I lost my partner, [Charles Patton], who got convicted [and is serving 44 years in prison on drug charges]," the rapper said. "So you lose those people, but you lose them on your way to a show. So you got this weird home that's crumbling, but then right there you have 50,000 people calling your name. You get caught. I still haven't really had time to get into it. It's like jet lag [in a way]. That's what's crazy. The reaction doesn't even fit into my schedule."
But the Windy City MC is proving to be resilient too. His album isn't all downers. Lupe said fans should still expect him to impress with his lyrics and flow — and he says he has a point to prove now, as well.
"I don't think people got it, honestly," he said of his debut. "I still don't think people get it. I think I'm still a little bit too complex, and I still think it goes over their head just a little bit, where it misses a great mass of people. And you got to bring it back down. I think I'm Reasonable Doubt right now; at first Jay-Z was like [he makes the hand motion for out there] and everybody was like, 'Huh?' But it was still ... some of the stuff was still relevant enough to everybody where everybody could relate to it, just because it was a good record, but the actual core was like, 'Yo, this kid is weird,' you know?
"You gonna have mad poppy beats," he added of his upcoming project. "Everyone is going to dance to them. But when you listen to the records, it's kind of ... you can enjoy it, but wondering, 'Should I really be dancing to this record?' "
The rapper is currently in Japan on a promo run, but he said he expects to film a video for "Superstar" as soon as he returns Stateside.