Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lupe isn't a Fiasco

“I think I’m Malcom X, Martin Luther/ Add a King, Add a Jr.” –Lupe Fiasco Building Minds Faster (B.M.F.)

Recently, Lupe Fiasco has been catapulted to national media attention, not (just) for his music but his political commentary. Two weeks ago on an internet interview with CBS Fiasco said, “To me the biggest terrorist is Obama in the United States of America. I'm trying to fight the terrorism that's causing the other forms of terrorism. You know the root cause of terrorists is the stuff the U.S. government allows to happen. The foreign policies that we have in place in different countries that inspire people to become terrorists." While this set off a firestorm of angry comments and media attention about Lupe’s uncritical eye and virulent condemnation of the continuing trope of Barack Obama as a terrorist, most of these comments miss the mark. Lupe Fiasco, as his name signals, routinely finds himself in controversial positions that are both contradictory and illuminating at the same time. Lupe’s comments about Obama and politics, in a way, channel Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther King Jr’s political commentary.

In November of 1963, Malcolm X commented on President John F. Kennedy’s assassination by suggesting the violence that took Kennedy’s life were “chickens coming home to roost.” At this time, Kennedy was thought of as a friendly president to Black folks and ultimately this became a wedge comment that alienated him from many Black Americans who identified as politically progressives but found his comments irresponsible given the contentious political climate.Less well known, but equally allegorical Fiasco’s remarks eerily reflect Martin Luther King’s speech in 1967 at Riverside Church in Harlem where he said, “They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government.” While Lupe is no Martin Luther King, both were concerned with the government’s role in supporting violence locally and internationally. At the time of King’s comments the United States was enmeshed in a war that he found unconscionable and history would reveal was unnecessary.

In many ways Lupe has been outspoken about Obama’s military advocacy and in 2008 found himself in a flap with another Chicago rapper turned political candidate RhymeFest. Fiasco is no stranger to politically complex views, which he laments are often “dumbed down” into sound bites. Later in the CBS interview, Fiasco states that he does not vote and that his own beliefs about what a vote endorses keep him from the ballot box. Not surprisingly many have responded “If you don’t vote you can’t complain.” To Lupe’s credit he follows in a long line of Black commentators and activists who chose not to vote but offer critical commentary. For many, including Fiasco, voting in a two party system connotes support for a system that they find too limiting and non-representative. In “Words I Never Said”, Fiasco outs himself as a non-voter, “Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say sh*t/That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either.” His decision not to cast a ballot doesn’t curtail his speaking or even wearing his politics on his chest. Fiasco, as an avowed Muslim, has been known to rock “Free Gaza” shirts on stage just as easily as he does designer fashions. For Lupe, the continued instability of the Middle East is directly linked to United States involvement which makes Obama culpable given he is Commander-in-Chief of the US Military.

While we may not all share Lupe’s critical stance on Obama or American politics (and most of us don't read the wikileaks wires, though we should) there is a line of logic and historical precedence for his comments. In listening to the knee-jerk responses to Fiasco’s words the significance of his hit single “Words I Never Said” rings out. The song is a critique of the curtailing of rights, particularly free speech, in an era of perceived freedom and liberty. If we don’t listen and take Lupe’s words seriously, it’s almost as if we’ve made his point even louder.

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