I’m just leaving the studio. I had an overnighter in the studio, trying to finish the album. The deadlines are coming. I have about 60% of the album finished and I have to be done by October 15. I’m trying to be on it on it but I have a little writer’s block.
Are you happy with what you have for The Cool so far?
Oh, yeah. I’m real happy. I’m real happy with what I have on the music side and on the visual side. The visual side that’s going to tell the other side of the story is ridiculous. I got a kid who used to work for Jim Hensen and on a bunch of comic books and with different people and he kind of took up doing the artwork for the project. We just got back some of the visuals and the pictures and stuff and it’s ridiculous. It’s so exciting. That kind of set me back. The visuals actually set me back to go and rethink certain records. The last records I recorded, I had to make them more vivid and more crazy.
You’ve always used a lot of vivid imagery and details in your rhymes. How important is that to you?
I think that’s one of my strong-points. I think it comes from years of just watching MCs and being able to rearticulate a scene and words. I think that’s one of my strong-points as an MC. I try to actually paint a picture for you mentally to get it. For me, I think some of my stuff is so complex, so over the head, so deep or so weird that you have to have a visual to go with it. I can’t shoot a video with every record, so I have to put the visual into the record so people are like, ‘I kind of get that.’ It helps with the process.
What are you doing differently on The Cool that you didn’t do on your debut album Food and Liquor?
I kind of stuck to that same formula. It’s a little bit more lyrically dense of a record when compared to Food and Liquor. With Food and Liquor, it was the samples that got us in trouble where I couldn’t really get busy. The samples couldn’t make it on the record. I went hard on four or five records where people were saying I blacked out. This album has that balance where it’s super-duper lyrical and it still has easy records. Look at “Superstar.” The verses are somewhat deep but the hook is mad commercial and mad sing-alongy. I kept the subject matter and the lyrics real dense and heavy, but I made the hooks and the tracks really, really light and really, really commercial.
What inspired you to write “Dumb It Down”?
”Dumb It Down” was actually one of the first records I wrote for this. I stopped writing for awhile and when I came back, this was one of the first records that I wrote. I was shaking the cobwebs off. At first it was called “Space Travelin’” and I was just zoning out on that. I turned the record in and one of my kind-of A&R dudes was like, ‘Yo, man, why don’t you put another hook on it? I like the record but I don’t like the hook on it.’ So we went back to “Dumb It Down.” The verses are intense. The verses are truly intense. I don’t care if you don’t get it or if they don’t get it. The purpose of the record was just to be that lyrical street record to put out with no real intentions to try and change anybody over. It was really just like, ‘Lupe can rhyme.’
Looking at the concept of dumbing it down, is it necessary to dumb music down today?
Yeah and no. Sometimes they be dead on, like, ‘Kids are not going to get this.’ It’s going over people’s heads and they were like, ‘They’re not going to get this.’ A song might be too dense for the masses. I’m not saying that the masses are dumb or anything like that, but it just takes too much time. The world runs quick and runs fast and people have shorter attention spans and the radio is not going to do the song justice. They’re not going to play the record four or five times in a row and they’re not going to give people the chance to get into the song. Once the album comes out people can get down with it. On some levels, I don’t think they do, but on some levels, I think they do. What gets me is that you would be surprised about who comes out of the woodwork, like the white music executive who tells me he loves a street record. I’m like, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect you to get it. This is for the streets and you’re so not in the streets.’
You worked with Matthew Santos on “Superstar” and you’ve worked with him a lot in the past. What can you tell us about him?
We just signed him to 1st and 15th. We were negotiating and going back and forth and we finally got him on the team. He’s always been around and I always liked his voice. I was like, ‘That kid deserves a chance based on his talent.’ When we did “Superstar,” I had sung it from scratch just to play it for somebody else to sing on it. Then Matthew came in and jumped on it. It was still a situation where the song was a demo. I was going to try to get Bono on it but Matthew’s version just stuck. Matthew was so good that we were like, ‘We can’t change this.’ He’s a 1st and 15th artist so he’ll be rocking, maybe next year.
There’s already been some talk of “The Coolest,” which is supposed to relate to “The Cool” off Food and Liquor. What can you tell us about that song?
It’s almost like the intro record to the album. “The Coolest” is like the prequel to “The Cool” that was on Food and Liquor. It talks about this guy who comes back to life and walks out of the graveyard. “The Coolest” is to tell his story before he gets killed. It tells his of rise to fame as a hustler. It’s ill. It incorporates the same characters. There’s four or five records that’s really like a comic book with different characters and different chapters. I’ll take one record and focus on a character and then take another record and focus on another character. I’ll take another record and focus on the relationship of a character. There’s a record where The Cool actually dies when he gets set up and they actually kill him. It kind of has this cinematic, comic book feel to it, but it’s only on five records out of 15. There’s only those five records that are related to the story I’m trying to tell on The Cool. “The Coolest” is going to throw you right back into the story. It kind of picks up from before. It’s a little complicated and a little complex, but it gives the real fans something to do when they’re riding around and bumping the album. They’ll like the song because it’s dope but it will give them another element to listen to, like, ‘Oh, snap, I get it.’ It’s like “To Be Continued,” like a Law and Order episode or something like that.
Are fans ready for The Cool right now?
I really just want to get it out so I can rest. I feel like if I don’t do it now, it will never get done. The personal issues that’s been going on from my partner getting locked up to my pops passing away, it’s been the thing that’s kept me busy and it’s been my therapy a little bit. It’s not like if I didn’t have hip-hop I would be balled up in a corner crying. We want to get it out. We always planned to not make the wait between Food and Liquor and my second album long. When they were just starting to get Food and Liquor, we wanted to hit them with The Cool. “Superstar” just got added up at Hot 97. I think people are really drawn to it and it feels like we got the right record where it won’t be like, ‘Oh, here comes Lupe again.’ It seems like it’s a fresh, new thing as opposed to me just coming with the same old stuff.
Food and Liquor leaked early and you went through a lot of trouble with that. Are you being more secure with the songs for The Cool?
Yeah, but you can’t control that. I always knew that I could control it up to a point. The record company won’t even get the album until the lawyers call me. I give them just enough to understand the project and be able to present the project. That’s it. When it’s time for people to fully get the album or to preview the album, then we do that but we do it more closer to the album’s release date. And we’re really micro-managing on that part and really being anal about the whole situation because we know what happened before and we know what’s capable with the record coming out early. We’re losing a lot of sales to illegal downloads. It leaked and it was on fire, but it took two and a half months to get the album out. It’s not like somebody who leaks the album a week or two weeks before to get the buzz up. We lost whatever momentum we had. We’re trying to get it as close as possible to when everybody needs to have the album in their hands.
Do the sales of Common, Kanye and 50 Cent let you know that you can sell a lot of records today with The Cool?
Yeah. Yeah. The amount of legal downloads that we had on Food and Liquor let me know that we had the potential to sell a lot of records. The album got downloaded a million times and “Kick Push” got downloaded 9 million times. If you take half of that or a quarter of that to what I can sell now, I’ll be gold or platinum. I know that we’re capable of selling more records now. We have bigger first, second and third looks on this album and we’re capitalizing on a lot of people who were unsure the first time. We got the Grammy nominations and awards and I think more people are jumping on the boat who missed it the first time. They don’t want to miss it this time. And there are all the fans coming back again, like, ‘We’re rocking with Lupe.’ I think we’re going to have a great year.
“American Terrorist” was a very powerful song on Food and Liquor. Do you have other powerful songs like that on The Cool?
Yeah. This album is real dark. It touches on a lot of things. I think “American Terrorist” is a dark record. A lot of the album is dark. It talks about a lot of different things and a lot of different places and a lot of current events, stuff that’s recurring that happened a long time ago and stuff that’s happening now and more recently. It’s putting stuff like that on display the way it is and I think we’re going to have that impact on a few records that “American Terrorist” had. I did this one song with Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. I think when people get a whiff of that record, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, snap.’ I think that song is going to strike a nerve.
You’ve said in the past that you’re only making three albums. Is The Cool No. 2 of 3?
Yeah. I think this is No. 2 of 3. I got one more obligation with Atlantic after three, but even if I do something that’s going to count as an album, I think the first three will be the ones that I put the most thought into and the most into it.
There was talk of you being in a group with Kanye West and Pharrell. Is that still going to happen?
It’s in the air. It’s just like scheduling issues. We only recorded the one record, “Us Placers.” We’re really sitting back and waiting for the time when we can do more records and see if the records even sound good. We’re waiting to see if we can do five or six good records which could go on the album or whatever. If it turns out that the records are kind of whatever. I think for the sake of what it is that we might not do it.
What’s going on with Gemini today?
We can’t use his name Gemini no more. It’s GemStones. Somebody already had his name so he had to change it. He’s good. The album is sitting. We’re just waiting until the time is right to do it. We got a video shot to “We On.” We’re basically working backwards. Him coming out when I am, he would be catching the short end of the stick. His album is sitting and he’s ready. The album is crazy.
Did the name change throw a monkey wrench in the setup?
No. I kind of knew from the door that he would have to change his name eventually. So we just kind of ran with it and waited for somebody to raise the flag on it. We knew we were going to have to do it. That’s why we had to re-brand him with his nickname and call him “GemStones.” Gemini is too common of a name and there’s a Jemini out. We knew it was just a matter of time before somebody came with that.
What else is coming up for FNF?
We have Sarah Green. She’s coming. We’re starting to roll her out. She did an ill joint out in Japan that’s just starting to leak over here. She’ll probably be on a single on The Cool. We have GemStones and we recently signed Matthew Santos. He’s coming soon. He showed the world what he’s capable of on “Superstar.” We’re going to have a good situation with two or three projects coming next year. We also have Shayla G coming. I’m very happy right now.
How’s your clothing line Trilly & Truly coming?
That’s coming. We’re working. I should have a main line out in ’08 but right now I have a lot of collaborations. I’m doing some stuff with Swagger out in Japan. I’m also collaborating with Maharishi, Dr. Romanelli and Greedy Genius. Basically I’m just in the collab arena and I just started to get my samples together for the Trilly & Truly line.
Speaking of Japan, you’ve been spending a lot of time over there recently. What is it about Japan that keeps you going back?
I just got back from over there. I was in Tokyo. It’s just the fashion, the mood and the vibe of the city. It’s a real cool city. I have a lot of homies over there that do Japanese hip-hop and fashion. It’s just the feeling. And I’ve liked martial arts since I was 3. I’ve always been into Japanese culture. I always liked it. When I go over there, I’m like, ‘I’m here. I’m home.’
How does your religion help you when you travel overseas?
We’re in the middle of the month of Ramadan, so I’m fasting right now. It kind of keeps you humble. It keeps you focused and it keeps you away from what you’re not supposed to be around.
What are your goals for The Cool?
Now it’s to sell records. The first record was to say, “Hello. I’m Lupe Fiasco. I can rhyme. Check it out.” On this one it’s really to sell records and to make the right records, the more relatable records. But I’m not sacrificing who I am and getting out of pocket just to make records. Look at “Superstar.” I wrote the hook and all of that. Let me stick to my guns as an MC with my lyrics and what have you, but let me make sure these records are big and that people can rock with them. That’s my executive intellect working on this situation. Not everyone may get my rhymes and that’s cool, but let me make sure that everybody gets the hook and the beat. Everybody’s going to get those.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Much love to HHG. Much love to my fans. Be on the lookout for The Cool coming soon.