Lupe Fiasco thinks his fifth studio album, Tetsuo & Youth (Jan. 20), represents the end of an era. In addition to being his last album for Atlantic Records, concluding one of the most contentious artist-label relationships in recent history, the album augurs other changes. In a candid interview conducted before his Australian tour, the 32-year-old Chicago rapper (real name: Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) discussed his new album, his “irrelevancy” and recent Twitter wars with Kid Cudi.
Is this album a good entry point to your music for new fans?
Not really. It’s an interesting album because it’s a transition. I’m much more mature in my representation in public, in the sense of I’m not as relevant as I was before. It’s kind of that natural irrelevancy that occurs with all artists. I think I had my peak and now I am coming down in relevancy. It’s not a sad thing for me.
I don’t want to be relevant today. I don’t want to be the go-to guy for the club song or to speak on all the dumb shit that’s going around. I’m happy being that somewhat sophisticated, overly deep weird guy making powerful music — but just two or three degrees away from the center of attention. There is a new generation speaking to a new generation, so you have a Kendrick Lamar and a J. Cole and the other people who are the new Lupes. I don’t have the same lingo. I don’t sip lean or smoke weed. I can’t compete with a Wiz Khalifa for the attention of a 12 year old.
The album cover is a painting of yours.
I paint a lot — probably too much. I paint more than I write raps. It’s the same creative thing for me. I started painting two years ago, and I gave myself 10 years to really get good. I’ll sit and paint for 11 hours and get lost in it, the technique of it, trying to execute it clean, colors and palettes, etc. Van Gogh said he wasn’t happy unless he was painting, and I’m staring to realize that’s becoming true for me. If I’m not in a creative mode and I’m dealing with the outside world, I’m not really happy.
Is that why you recently announced you were going to quit Twitter when the album drops?
(Laughs.) You’re witnessing the last kicks of a dying horse.
But you recently got into Twitter spats with Kid Cudi and Azealia Banks. The latter criticized you for defending Iggy Azalea. Why do you engage people?
You realize, “Oh, this is a game. Let’s play this controversy-sells game. Let me just engage this fan and have people watch this conversation,” which is what happened. My tweet was literally, “Iggy Azalea has her place in hip-hop,” which is so open-ended. Half the people are coming at her throat, the other half are supporting, and I’m more in the middle — it’s like, I don’t even care.
You’ve often argued that rap promotes violence. What’s your take on Bobby Shmurda being charged in December with conspiracy to commit murder?
What does it say about America that simultaneously you have the junior Ryder Cup team of America, the golf team, on TV doing the Shmoney Dance, and then you have Eric Garner on the other side? And when you listen to the lyrics [of “Hot Boy”] it’s like, “I shot n—as.” It’s not an act if you look at the accusations [against Shmurda]. People were dancing to and celebrating a certain reality.