For [artist id="2017563"]Lupe Fiasco[/artist], the "poppy" beats he used to make The Cool were the sugar to the complex lyrics' medicine.
"You gonna have mad poppy beats," Lupe explained to MTV News in September 2007 of his then-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 [you're] wondering, 'Should I really be dancing to this record?' "
"With this album, I think he shocked everyone because even his core fanbase expected the same intricate rhyme patterns, [but] he took it further," XXL magazine's Bonsu Thompson told MTV News. "With concepts like 'Hip Hop Saved My Life,' even his commercial records like 'Paris, Tokyo,' they were beautiful records. He focused more on instrumentation and [showed] that he really had an ear for music, just as sharp as ever."
The rapper proved his artistic heft could keep pace with his global buzz as a style icon in the [artist id="1230523"]Kanye West[/artist] and [artist id="1242768"]Pharrell Williams[/artist] mold. With songs about sexual abuse ("Intruder Alert") and the paradigm of dreams versus reality ("Hip Hop Saved My Life"), Fiasco tapped into emotions surely shared by some of his followers, creating a soundtrack for those dealing with challenges. Even his single "Superstar," featuring [artist id="2473269"]Matthew Santos[/artist], had a deeper message buried between the rhymes, according to the rapper.
"['Superstar' is] a macabre record," Fiasco said. "I took elements and compared them to other elements. Like, you'll see news footage of an execution, and you'll see people standing outside a death chamber with signs [that say], 'Yeah, Kill Him!' And those are the kinds of things you see when you go to shows too. So it was putting those things together and then coming up with a weird story, like, 'What if getting into heaven were like getting into a club — a posh, super-hot club?' So it's kind of a dark record, but the bigness of the hook makes it this weird little thing."
[artist id="1235716"]Fall Out Boy[/artist]'s Patrick Stump produced Lupe's "Little Weapon," a take on gun violence and genocide. Fiasco has often spoken publicly about the violence in Darfur.
"I love how this one worked," Stump told MTV News in November 2007. "We had a few snags, but in general it was awesome, because I got to ask him about feel, like, 'What type of vibe do you want for this song?' And then I got to hear him take it to different places. I didn't have to steer too much, which is awesome. ... And I didn't sing on [the track], so this is a real test to see if I can make real music without my voice."
For Fiasco, who in the past couple of years has had to deal with his manager's imprisonment and his friend Stack Bundles' death, The Cool could be seen as his own personal statement of strength. He told MTV News that the concept for the album was taken in part from Princeton University professor Cornel West. The rapper said the two had a discussion, and it left Fiasco with the idea to use his album for a greater platform.
"He made a statement. He said, 'If you really want to effect change in the world, you gotta make those things that are cool uncool,' " Fiasco recalled. "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 effect some actual social change in the world. So this is, like, my attempt, a very blatant over-attempt [at that], by naming the album The Cool."
Will Lil Wayne grab all the gramophones? Is Katy Perry going to tell her girl rivals to kiss off? Can Coldplay march off with a win? MTV News is all over the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, so stay tuned for interviews, analysis and more before, during and after the big night, Sunday, February 8.