By Rob Markman
If you're a fan or even casual listener of Lupe Fiasco's music, it's clear that the Chicago rapper is well versed in politics, but don't misinterpret the lyrics on his new album Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1 as unpatriotic.
"Now I can't pledge allegiance to your flag/ 'Cause I can't find no reconciliation with your past," Lu spits on the album's first song, "Strange Fruition," a modern-day take on Billie Holiday's 1933 racially charged "Strange Fruit."
"I don't know if I should speak on that, to be honest," a reluctant Lupe said on Wednesday's (September 26) "RapFix Live."
Though he was a bit hesitant, Lupe went on to explain the song's lyrics, noting that his refusal to pledge allegiance to the nation's flag is partly due to his Muslim faith as well as his political views instilled in him by his progressive parents. "My moms and my pops told us when we were little kids, 'You don't say the pledge of allegiance'," the rapper began to explain. "More from a religious kind of thing, halfway. You pledge your allegiance to God and that's it. Being Muslim and things like that, you don't pledge allegiance to no flag."
On top of that, America has some changes to make before he would consider pledging his allegiance to the U.S. "My father was a Black Panther, my mama was super intellectual, left-wing, the whole kind of situation. So it's that layer on it too," he said. "Not yet, you don't pledge allegiance yet, we're still working on this place."
In his music, Fiasco has consistently questioned U.S. politics and shed light on socio-economic inequalities. He also once called President Barack Obama a terrorist and refuses to vote in the November 6 presidential election. But does this make him anti-American or unpatriotic? Lupe laughs off the notion.
"Give me a little benefit of the doubt before we start tacking stigmas and putting definitions on me," he said, defending that there is more to his person than what we hear in his music or see in his interviews.
Actually, Lupe sees himself as quite the opposite. For him, in order to truly love his country, you must take the good with the bad. "Let's just say that The Great American Rap Album, in its totality, both albums and all the music that's in it is me trying to define what America is. Trying to figure out what an American is," he contended. "If you truly are a part of something and even if you say you take the good with the bad, or the lesser of two evils, you still have to take into consideration the evils and you still have to take in the considerations of the bad."
The exceptional MC uses Food & Liquor II's first single, the Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth-sampling "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)" to illustrate his point. "America created Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth to make one of the illest hip-hop beats of all time; that's American culture," he said before setting his sights on the ills in impoverished American cities like Camden, New Jersey, and Pine Ridge, South Dakota, which he raps about in "Around My Way."
"America produced that, the beauty of that record. But America also produced Pine Ridge, South Dakota," he argues. "That's America, does that make you a bad person to recognize that and embody that?"
Through his music, Lupe Fiasco identifies what he sees as the country's problems. With his lyrics, hopes to bring an understanding that could aid in eradicating social injustice. "What is being an American? What is being patriotic? Do you sweep that under the rug or do you try and help your fellow American?" he said. "Do you help them by bringing that situation to the forefront and letting people see it?
"I know I get hit for it, but I'm gonna hit y'all back. Now you gotta tell me: What's America? Is it just New York, is it just Chicago? Is it just the beautiful things?" he asked.