Lupe Fiasco: What did they expect?

Paul Wells on the rapper’s removal from his pre-inaugural concert
**COMMERCIAL IMAGE** In this image released by Fuse on Wednesday, June 15, 2011, Lupe Fiasco appears and performs on the premiere episode of CeeLo Green’s own show, “CeeLo Green * Talking To Strangers,” airing June 22nd at 11pm ET on Fuse. (Casey Rodgers/AP Images for Fuse)
Casey Rodgers/AP

As you will have heard, rapper Lupe Fiasco got kicked off the stage last night at one of the endless rounds of tedious pre-inaugural events that have clustered around today’s second Obama inauguration like barnacles.

He was in the middle (or perhaps near the end, or maybe the beginning; we can only speculate) of an extended jam in which he was saying various disrespectful things about Barack Obama, when a bunch of really big guys came onto the stage and encouraged him to take it somewhere else.

When reading the statement from the organizers of the event, who protest that they “are staunch supporters of free speech, and free political speech,” it’s worth noting that Fiasco was the evening’s headliner and that his name was the largest design element in posters advertising the party. A lot of people attending it would not have known or cared that they were “honouring innovative visionaries;” they thought they were at a Lupe Fiasco concert. Which helps explain why it’s really hard to hear anyone “vocally dissatisfied” in the video of the “bizarrely repetitive, jarring performance.” 

Note to angel investors wondering where to put your innovation money in the greater D.C. area: I hear Startup Rockon is made up of people who were surprised to learn that hip-hop can be bizarrely repetitive and jarring. So, you know, caveat emptor.

Also, their story seems to have changed. The first thing they said on Twitter about the — disturbance? Entirely characteristic Lupe Fiasco performance? Pick your own term — was that they were “disappointed that an artist took opportunity to use an event celebrating innovation/startups to make a political statement.” It took an hour and nine minutes for them to decide he was “NOT kicked off stage for an anti-Obama rant.”

I have no rebuttal to the second and apparently final critique that Startup Rockon — not sure I got the capitalization right there, perhaps it’s StartUp RocKOn or StArTuProckoN — levelled against their star. If they had hoped for some of that soothing non-repetitive rap, we can only sympathize with their disappointment. But if somehow their first explanation was accurate, and they were “disappointed that an artist…[made] a political statement” then it is time to find the people responsible and send work crews to extract their heads from their butts. Because Lupe Fiasco’s last couple of years have largely been devoted to making unflattering political statements about Barack Obama.

I should note that I speak here, not from an intimate knowledge of current hip-hop trends — I’m 20 years past any expertise I ever had in the field — but with the benefit of six minutes’ Googling, which apparently makes me overqualified to work for the concert-promotion wing of startuproCkON and its many affiliates.

Anyway, it turns out that in 2011 Fiasco released a bizarrely repetitive and jarring tune called “Words I Never Said,” feat. Skylar Grey. It’s a really good song, and I recommend a reading of its lyrics, whose blend of 9/11 trutherism (“9/11 building 7 did they really pull it”), media criticism (Dude is dating so and so blabbering bout such and such/ And that ain’t Jersey Shore, homie that’s the news/ And these the same people that supposed to be telling us the truth”) and sometimes surprising political statements (Jihad is not a holy war, wheres that in the worship?/ Murdering is not Islam!/ And you are not observant/ And you are not a Muslim”) is part of a rich tradition of paranoid American political expression in popular culture going back many presidents. I think Charlie Mingus would have gotten a kick out of “Words I Never Said.” I sure did.

When the big guys came onstage last night to escort Fiasco off, he was not improvising some new diatribe, he was performing the lyrics of Words I Never Said, as written: “Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist/ Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit/ That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either.” There’s a headliner for your next inaugural party. 

So then Fiasco gave an interview about the song in which he called Obama “the biggest terrorist,” and then Bill O’Reilly had him on to fill several minutes on his moribund show, and so on, and so on, and so on.

I should note that, as with “Words I Never Said,” there is much worth pondering in Fiasco’s interview diatribes. “I’m talking about ordering a drone attack,” he said in the last interview I just linked. “Ordering drone attacks that go and kill mothers, innocent bystanders, children. Militants, too, but the collateral damage. You’re responsible for that, too… “Drug dealers can say the same thing. ‘I didn’t mean to kill all the people in the restaurant. I was just trying to get that one dude who killed my cousin. Just so happened that that little girl was there.’ Same thing.”

That’s not far from the jarring and repetitive analyses that have begun to pop up in demure journals like The New Yorker. Maybe an inauguration-eve party wasn’t the right venue for Lupe Fiasco, but from a standing start I have wound up much more interested in what he’ll do next than I am in the strained and pathetic promotion attempts of StartUpRockoN.