Lupe Fiasco's album The Cool Saved My Life
While looking back on my life as I always do on this very special day (in my opinion), it came to me that many people who know me know will say that I have a pretty even tempered personality. It always comes as a shock to me because for the longest time, I was anything but.
For those who don’t know, I spent my first 12 years on the west side of Gary, Indiana. In those years, I learned a lot of things I carry to this day, good and bad, but probably the most distinguishing trait of mine for the longest time was anger. Long story short, my underlying anger issues and quick temper were probably the biggest roadblocks to my success.
It got me suspended from school, and into meaningless beefs with folks with less than half my mental capacity and capability. My constant seething in that negative feeling kept me from optimizing my abilities early and often, and was something I was desperate to be rid of.
I don’t want to dismiss the constant effort I put in over the years, nor my good friends who helped me along the way to say that December 18th, 2007 was the definitive day my anger problems ended. But the day Lupe Fiasco dropped The Cool put the first major crack in the idea that my anger was this incurable sickness I had to simply plan around. It was something I could rationalize, and then defeat, and this album provided a lot of the foundation for that.
That first listen was so crazy, I still remember the feel of the busted up leather chair at my mom’s crib I was sitting in. I remember the three girls I had a crush on but would never tell because I was a spineless lame. But most of all, I remember feeling not so helpless and not so alone for the first time since getting kicked off the football team and track team that previous spring. (I did end up continuing that track career the next three years)
The first two tracks start heavy with Lu’s sister spitting some spoken word about the state of affairs and general “white people are nuts” (ended terribly with the WHAT ABOUT BLACK ON BLACK CRIME ENDING that sort of defines this album). Second track is the tribute to his incarcerated friend Chilly, which I respected but didn't really get into because of lack of, at the time, friends in prison.
Third track was my theme music through most of high school. Go Go Gadget Flow always will hold a special place in my heart. Fourth track is the infamous “The Coolest” which gave the first hammering blow to my extremely short sighted thinking about the allure of “the streets” and all that came with it. It’s almost painful drudging up memories of a time when I was so dumb that I needed a rap song to tell me that trying to be some sort of street punk was not the wave for a 5’6” teenager that was 100lbs soaking wet with his backpack on. But I’m always glad I listened.
When Superstar cuts on, I’m always like...
Always. I sing Matthew’s hook like it’s a classic oldie’s jam. I dreamed of getting on stage and performing that third verse, spitting it in perfect rhythm like the Stan I was.
Paris, Tokyo was a ballad that spurred my first desires to travel. As well as stoked the flames of me trying to find someone worth keeping a picture of in my pass-purt. It still remains a little bit as a reminder that I’ve only achieved both of these things halfway. But only because that story ain’t been finished.
Can’t lie, Hi-Definition was a song I liked the very first time I heard it. But I have never liked listening to it since. It’s…not good. It just isn’t.
Gold Watch…Man! The song just described...me. Like, man! If there wasn’t something Lupe named that I could directly identify with as something I loved, it was something I was just not breaded up enough to buy. I still remember memorizing the whole song (I had the album committed to memory to the point I could rap the entire song from just hearing the opening snap), and fake showing off to my friends with it and feeling like...
The actual song, Hip-Hop Saved My Life had a story I realized that I could not personally relate to. I was nothing like the infamous creator of ‘Stack That Cheese’, but he reminded me of so much of my family that I could not help but use the song as a lesson to learn from and a source of inspiration. Because, if you come from anywhere like where I’m from, Hip-Hop probably had a huge impact on you, and may have saved your life before.
I will say in no ironic fashion that I did not understand Intruder Alert in its entirety at first listen. It was sorrowful, something you listened to remember to turn inwards. But until I got older and saw what rape culture, toxic masculinity, and unchecked xenophobic racism can do to us, I didn’t get it. But it did provide a framework for that later information to take a root in. It was something I’m glad I tried to get.
And now we come to Streets On Fire; I remember, sometimes not quite as fondly, the first stages to my experience in ‘wokeness’. This song probably embodies it since it has so much imagery that will fuel paranoia fever dreams, from the idea that neon signs are mind control to the chorus’s clever spinning of how we pass off blame for serious issues to the seamless integration of Lupe’s own symbolic angel known as The Streets. I remember first coming to the realization that the ‘disease’ being mentioned was an allegory for HIV and going...
The next track always gives me chills. A combination of watching too much gory anime at the time and an overactive imagination gave me a too-surreal-for-my-liking image of the things Lupe describes in Little Weapon. That along with the sounds of the war drums starting off the track and continuing on through all the descriptions of indoctrinated child soldiers (and juxtaposed against violent video games in the third verse by Bishop G); it was just a little too much at the time.
It then moves to a more lighthearted track, and probably one of my favorite Lupe cuts ever, Gotta Eat. It is an effort in creativity that I will forever respect, despite how unabashedly corny it is. Channeling some of his inner-Jeezy, Lupe takes us on an adventure in the day of the life of a ‘cheeseburger’ hustler, using every parallel with food and the hood. I laughed at all the metaphors, like the Saturday morning cartoon watching geek that I was. And am. I mean, I still use it as a pun and will always react like...
Now, Dumb It Down was a track I had heard many times before this dropped. It was probably the song on my MySpace page for...almost forever. It was a perfect storm song for me, combining both highly visual lyrics with a myriad of nerd references and that false sense of arrogance that you are either the only one or one of few who ‘get it’ and everybody else is in for a rude awakening. That last line at the end always made me look at the rap game and go...
Hello, Goodbye is a song that really has a strange fit. It is an Anime Music Video song placed towards the end of a rap album, and I loved it. I still write my best fight scenes from all of my fiction to this song. It just captures that feeling of wanting to be in a dystopian universe surrounded by enemies trained to be you but not quite you. It’s a weird feeling to describe but it’s definitely like what I imagine everybody worth a damn in Bleach feels.
One of the almost unspoken parts of this entire thing is how the album’s main symbols are referenced and the story about them is loosely told in the songs of the album. The Die is a track that is basically the sequel to The Coolest but the prequel to the track from F&L that named this album. It’s also probably the main song that I didn’t draw some super deep meaning out of. The song right after, Put You On Game, contrasts this beautifully by being laden with all types of allegories for my growing brain to absorb while also being vague in its place. Is it about ‘The Game’ recruiting a new cronie to take on the spot held by The Cool or is it the prequel to The Coolest? I stopped asking a long time ago, mostly because that’s part of the mystery.
Man, I promise that Fighters probably got me out of depressive episodes before I even knew that they were episodes. The entire first verse was just a poignant affirmation for me, since it described how I felt so perfectly. It was words that I always needed to hear, in the perfect way to have them delivered to me. Sometimes I still cut it on to remember that it’s okay to be afraid, and even better to face those fears. That stepping out and proclaiming what you know to be true is always something needed to be done in the now, and not later.
Go, Baby is a track so corny, so incredibly un-cool, the irony of it being on this album made it all the better to me. My first listen, I mentally mapped out an entire music video that included some pretty girl cheering me on during my track meets. It was ridiculous, over-the-top, and all parts just teeming with cliches. And later on, though it was a brief time, the time I had a ‘sure-fire, superstar, sure-shot, firecracker, extravaganza, fantastic, supersize with extra cheese’ in my corner rooting for me is probably one of the biggest reasons I held on to try and fix the mess I made of my life.