Essay: Lupe Fiasco - "Why I Like Lil B"
I have a problem. It's something that I noticed a while ago and I think its something that has to do with my introduction to a wide array of musical genres as a child. My problem is is that it's really really hard for me to dislike music. I have such an appreciation for it in all its forms that I sometimes find myself listening to a schizophrenic range of sounds in the whip or on the iPod. You really have to go out of your way for me to just completely despise what someone creates musically. Now in the midst of this self-awareness I have discovered there is a certain context within music that I gravitate to more than others and that context is something that I have defined for myself as "Liberation Rock". It can be described as music that is subversive, revolutionary, political, challenges the status quo, mostly positive and even militaristic. A few examples of this would be "Know Your Rights" by The Clash, "Politik Kills" by Manu Chao, "Gentleman" by Fela Kuti, "Do It Like A G-O" by The Geto Boys, "Confrontation" by Damian Marley, "Rush Of Blood To The Head" by Coldplay, "Everyman For Himself" by Billy Blue, "In One Ear" by Cage The Elephant, "The Catalyst" by Linkin Park, "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday and the list goes on. I guess up against my political and social upbringing songs and artists like these strike a chord with me. Now this affinity for "Liberation Rock" doesn't negate or take away from songs and artists that don't necessarily fall under that personal category for me. Dependent on the environment, I have the uncanny ability to sit and universally enjoy whatever is coming through the speakers at almost any given time. But songs that express the qualities of my very own genre of "Liberation Rock" definitely get more burn in the system by far. And as it happens through their music I develop an interest in the artist him or herself. Sometimes the journey into the world of the artist outside of the music they create can be fruitless and even disheartening. Quite literally your hero's musically can be real ****s or morons in almost every other facet. But in all honesty that is a rare occasion. And even sometimes it's the inverse and the personality and mentality of the artist outweighs the music they create and the person becomes more of an interest than his or her art. In regards to Lil B I must admit I'm somewhere in the middle of those extremes.
Before we get any deeper let me put my inherent biases on the table. First, I blindly and unconsciously love anything that comes out of the Bay Area of Northern California. It's part honest respect for the cultural products that emerge out of that region and part happiness and empathy that in the midst of the social turmoil and raw violence and despair that has plagued that area for decades that artists reppin' the Bay are capable to create and express themselves at all. I have the same appreciation for artists that carve out a name for themselves in Detroit and New Orleans. Second, my faith is in the youth. So I find myself constantly observing and trying to empower and support the youth in any way that I can. No matter what they create. Through the youth expressing themselves you have a golden opportunity to communicate and gain a new perspective on the ever changing world around us. It's a beautiful thing.
So Lil B is from The Bay and he's a youth hahaha we can stop right here! He already good in my book. But what gets Lil B admission into my coveted genre of "Liberation Rock" is his absolute lack of fear when it comes to challenging the status quo. Whether it be in hip-hop, which is very elitist and caste and class oriented, or just society in general, which is very elitist and class centric. His albeit "rocky" road musically has been honestly at times unbearable to walk on. Some of Lil B's past works have been underwhelming to say the least and at moments I would seriously consider heading out for smoother pavement. But every now and again an absolute jewel would come to the surface and I'd find myself unable to fathom leaving this kids side for any reason. The vulgar lyrics, happy go lucky cooking dances and sometimes pointless stream of conscious style rambling started to give way to hints of a deadly serious revolutionary mentality lurking underneath. Now I'm not talking Dead Prez or Immortal Technique level stuff here but something just as powerful and meaningful. What I was witnessing was a man in the process of profound self-realization and self-awareness. And seeing that this road has led to the promised land in the form of "I'm Gay (I'm Happy)" has been for me just as fulfilling as the new understandings that I'm sure Lil Bars has come upon if the content of his new album is anything to go by.
First let me make something abundantly clear, the title "I'm Gay (I'm Happy)" I think is absolute genius. Those two words together side by side in almost any format in the society we live in can be a cultural and social death sentence. And in many places in the world (even here in the good ole' US of A) they can mean an ACTUAL death sentence. I'm talking a shanked in the shower, beat with a bat, beheaded on Friday kinda death. The best and rarest of braveries is bravery in the face of death. Let's be honest Lil B's album probably won't even be commercially released in certain countries because of the title alone. I just wish he did a song called "James Baldwin" and I would've loved to see you twitter-lectuals and goon rules street professors argue against one of the foremost, prominent black intellectual radicals the world has ever known who just so happened to be an overt homosexual but repped the ghettos of Harlem harder than Nicky Barnes and Rich Porter combined and took the struggles and achievements of the black and impoverished experience and intellectually and dazzlingly rubbed it all in the pasty face of the oppressive power structures of the time and this time as well! I wish a nigga would!!! Don't matter if your gay, that's between you and your religion. All I care about is if your down for the cause. Which a LOT of hetero's ain't. Go figure. Now the doper thing about the title is that it exposed the raw power of words and reinforces the concept that "perception is king" in a very simple and even remedial use of homonym (no pun intended but you gotta chalk that up as a mean double entendre!) The word "gay" referring to homosexuality in the minds of the "guilty" ,as well call them here, sent shockwaves throughout our hip-hop community. Making Lil B the target of attack and ridicule. But Lil B's ultimate intention and preference for the word "gay" was its "one who is happy" definition. So basically my lil homey was being attacked for being happy. The poetic justice in that is awe inspiring. If that don't speak to the conditions that exist in this world and this society I don't know what does. Hate on somebody simply because they are happy or have found happiness. How many of us are innocent of that injustice? Not many. Including me at times. Now whether Lil B did that on purpose or not is really not an issue because the reality of someone (that would be me by the way) interpreting and analyzing his album title that deeply gives merit to his action regardless of his initial intent. I mean it is HIS album title.
I won't carry on much longer but I did want to get to the content. Now normally reviewers delve deeply or comparatively lightly when talking about an album. They mention favorite songs or less than favorites for that matter, maybe even breaking them down and bringing finer points of production or lyrical execution to light. Well I'm not going to mess about with any of that. At the end of the day it's all opinion and one man's trash is another man's treasure. If you like it you like it if you don't you don't. The reason I give this album entrance into my "Liberation Rock" library hangs on the power and impact of just one single, solitary line uttered by Lil B in the midst of the entire work that is "I'm Gay". And that line is:
"The Hood Is A Lie!"
The modern processes of life experienced that would culminate in a 21 year old African American male who more than likely is a direct descendant of slaves, raised in a consumerist and corrupt society dominated by inequality, fear, system-trust and self-doubt, coming from a region of the country that is notoriously violent and self-destructive (to this day I still can't believe The Tenderloin exists in these modern times), that more than likely has buried friends and seen raw poverty in the land of plenty, that has received a subpar education and has been profiled and downgraded even before the day of his birth on this soil, teased with excess and a little bit of the "good life" for the price of ones morals, freedom and even life itself, in the face of all that for him to say with confidence and surety that:
"The Hood Is A Lie!"
speaks louder to me than the best, most well-timed, Just Blaze produced and Hype Williams directed punchline any rapper can think of! You can't buy that type of provocative, chilling social commentary. You have to live that. Furthermore it commands respect, and not that phony ass "48 Laws Of Power" "saw it on Gangland" respect either. I mean that Malcolm Martin Luther Junior respect. And if the youths are making these types of statements in these times and in the midst of all that is against them I have no choice but to be Gay (Happy) too!!!
So there you have it. I like Lil B.
Sincerely and with a gangsta ass "I-Wish-A-Nigga-Would" attitude,
Wasalu "Lupe Fiasco" Jaco
P.S. His album cover is better than yours too!