Lupe Fiasco: What did they expect?

Paul Wells on the rapper’s removal from his pre-inaugural concert

by Paul Wells

Casey Rodgers/AP

As you will have heard, rapper Lupe Fiasco got kicked off the stage last night at one of the endless rounds of tedious pre-inaugural events that have clustered around today’s second Obama inauguration like barnacles.

He was in the middle (or perhaps near the end, or maybe the beginning; we can only speculate) of an extended jam in which he was saying various disrespectful things about Barack Obama, when a bunch of really big guys came onto the stage and encouraged him to take it somewhere else.

When reading the statement from the organizers of the event, who protest that they “are staunch supporters of free speech, and free political speech,” it’s worth noting that Fiasco was the evening’s headliner and that his name was the largest design element in posters advertising the party. A lot of people attending it would not have known or cared that they were “honouring innovative visionaries;” they thought they were at a Lupe Fiasco concert. Which helps explain why it’s really hard to hear anyone “vocally dissatisfied” in the video of the “bizarrely repetitive, jarring performance.” 

Note to angel investors wondering where to put your innovation money in the greater D.C. area: I hear Startup Rockon is made up of people who were surprised to learn that hip-hop can be bizarrely repetitive and jarring. So, you know, caveat emptor.

Also, their story seems to have changed. The first thing they said on Twitter about the — disturbance? Entirely characteristic Lupe Fiasco performance? Pick your own term — was that they were “disappointed that an artist took opportunity to use an event celebrating innovation/startups to make a political statement.” It took an hour and nine minutes for them to decide he was “NOT kicked off stage for an anti-Obama rant.”

I have no rebuttal to the second and apparently final critique that Startup Rockon — not sure I got the capitalization right there, perhaps it’s StartUp RocKOn or StArTuProckoN — levelled against their star. If they had hoped for some of that soothing non-repetitive rap, we can only sympathize with their disappointment. But if somehow their first explanation was accurate, and they were “disappointed that an artist…[made] a political statement” then it is time to find the people responsible and send work crews to extract their heads from their butts. Because Lupe Fiasco’s last couple of years have largely been devoted to making unflattering political statements about Barack Obama.

I should note that I speak here, not from an intimate knowledge of current hip-hop trends — I’m 20 years past any expertise I ever had in the field — but with the benefit of six minutes’ Googling, which apparently makes me overqualified to work for the concert-promotion wing of startuproCkON and its many affiliates.

Anyway, it turns out that in 2011 Fiasco released a bizarrely repetitive and jarring tune called “Words I Never Said,” feat. Skylar Grey. It’s a really good song, and I recommend a reading of its lyrics, whose blend of 9/11 trutherism (“9/11 building 7 did they really pull it”), media criticism (Dude is dating so and so blabbering bout such and such/ And that ain’t Jersey Shore, homie that’s the news/ And these the same people that supposed to be telling us the truth”) and sometimes surprising political statements (Jihad is not a holy war, wheres that in the worship?/ Murdering is not Islam!/ And you are not observant/ And you are not a Muslim”) is part of a rich tradition of paranoid American political expression in popular culture going back many presidents. I think Charlie Mingus would have gotten a kick out of “Words I Never Said.” I sure did.

When the big guys came onstage last night to escort Fiasco off, he was not improvising some new diatribe, he was performing the lyrics of Words I Never Said, as written: “Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist/ Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit/ That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either.” There’s a headliner for your next inaugural party. 

So then Fiasco gave an interview about the song in which he called Obama “the biggest terrorist,” and then Bill O’Reilly had him on to fill several minutes on his moribund show, and so on, and so on, and so on.

I should note that, as with “Words I Never Said,” there is much worth pondering in Fiasco’s interview diatribes. “I’m talking about ordering a drone attack,” he said in the last interview I just linked. “Ordering drone attacks that go and kill mothers, innocent bystanders, children. Militants, too, but the collateral damage. You’re responsible for that, too… ”Drug dealers can say the same thing. ‘I didn’t mean to kill all the people in the restaurant. I was just trying to get that one dude who killed my cousin. Just so happened that that little girl was there.’ Same thing.”

That’s not far from the jarring and repetitive analyses that have begun to pop up in demure journals like The New Yorker. Maybe an inauguration-eve party wasn’t the right venue for Lupe Fiasco, but from a standing start I have wound up much more interested in what he’ll do next than I am in the strained and pathetic promotion attempts of StartUpRockoN.




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Lupe Fiasco: What did they expect?

  1. Hi Paul. Great work, looking forward to the book :)

  2. Here, someone saying something on your post. Happy?

    • We know

  3. Free speech is not harashment or political rakeing with no gain,i guess it is, if you want to make an ass out of yourself,like he did,anything for fame an fortune.

  4. I am sure the kids loved it.

  5. This is something that has always bothered me about some fellow liberals or the left in general. We sure know how to point the finger at Bush/Cheney but where is the real outrage over some of Obama’s stuff? Granted no nobody outside of the truly deluded wanted R&R to get into the white House but is that a reason enough for this kind of complacency over BO…i think not!
    I’ve held the opinion for some time now that certain aspects of Obama creep me out even more than Bush if possible.

    • And of course if Bush had pursued the drone strike program like Obama has, liberals (including those in Canada) would have been screaming about what an international war criminal he is. But when Obama does it, we hear nary a peep. Funny that.

      • Maybe. Then again, if you had told said liberals in that context “Hey, it could be worse. The drone strikes may be bad, but Bush could have sent tens of thousands of American soldiers to invade and occupy Iraq instead” they would have accused you of using a ridiculously implausible hypothetical to justify the drone attacks.

        It’s all a matter of perspective.

        • That’s just a smokescreen to excuse and justify rank hypocrisy. The bottom line is that Obama gets a free pass from liberals on certain things that would have gotten Bush crucified by those same liberals. Because Obama is considered one of their team. That’s one of the worst things about partisanship (although there are many): the way that it induces head-smacking hypocrisy from those who practise it.

          • I can see why you’d think that, but I still think that context, and the RELATIVE nature of actions taken by the President need to be taken in to consideration when evaluating said actions.

            The collateral damage of drone strikes in Pakistan taken in isolation look significantly different than they would if you’re comparing them to a hypothetical Romney attempt to invade Pakistan.

            Also, there are certainly liberals SCREAMING about the drone war, they’re just not numerous enough to get traction given the number of liberals who aren’t attacking it on the assumption (well grounded, I think) that a Republican administration would either be prosecuting the drone war pretty much the same and doing other things that liberals wouldn’t like on TOP of that, or that the Republicans wouldn’t be using drones so much, but in favour of other actions that would cause even MORE collateral damage than the drone war has.

            There are, no doubt, many liberal hypocrites on this file, but some of those whom you’d label “hypocrites” I’d label “realists”.

          • I hear what you’re saying to some extent, but I think you’re inappropriately mixing concepts together and muddying the waters a bit. First off, you bring up Iraq, full-blown ground invasions of other countries and the like. The implication is “well, drone strikes aren’t as evil as THAT” so presumably Obama should be cut slack or given a free pass. Bollocks. That’s not what the finger-wagging “international law” crowd typically holds to be an acceptable position on these matters. A violation of international law and the rules of war is a violation, period.
            And then you mention that a Republican administration would be doing the same thing, i.e., prosecuting a drone war. I agree. But what, that’s supposed to be some sort of defence? Huh? I thought Obama was supposed to be a good guy, and Republicans the bad guys. That’s the enlightened liberal party line, isn’t it?
            If ultimately liberals’ and “progressives’” defence of their collective, astounding mutness on this issue is “Yes, Obama is in clear violation of international law and the rules of war, but a Republican administration would be worse”, well, that’s pretty frickin’ lame, coming from a bunch of people who were unrelenting, hyperbolic and shrill in their condemnation of the Bush administration for, er, violating international law and the rules of armed conflict.

          • Fair points.

            I should say that I’m coming from a point of view that the drone war, while regrettable, is necessary, and one of the better of a list of bad options. So, I’m reasonably confident that I, personally, WOULDN’T come down hard on a Republican administration for doing the same as Obama, as I think that this is how one needs to prosecute a war against terrorist organizations (as opposed to the wholesale invasion of countries for example). So, I’m clearly not the type of liberal commenter who frustrates you. ;-)

          • LKO, thanks for the clarification. I personally think that part of the problem is that a lot of the relevant international law, and especially the rules of armed conflict, was created in a World War 2 type environment, where you had nation-states going at it. There’s a fair argument that those rules need to be revisited and tweaked, in light of entities like Al Quaeda, which obviously are not nation-states. A real conundrum under these sorts of rules comes up in a situation like the one you have in Northwest Pakistan, where a group of militants (not aligned with a particular nation state) is essentially waging war across an international border next door. There’s some similarity to what the Viet Cong and affiliated groups were doing in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, using Cambodia as a base and sneaking into Vietnam to carry out military operations.

          • Setting aside hypocrisy and so on, are you generally in favour of the drone strikes?

          • Like a lot of people, I’ve got mixed feelings about them. Pakistan is an absolute mess. Their ISI is one of the most evil, screwed up, corrupt, dishonest and sinister organizations on the planet. And they are supporting these homicical nutbars in the nether regions of the country, who are turning around and killing innocent people and ensuring that Afghanistan remains utterly screwed up, dysfunctional, unsafe and ungovernable. So I really despise the ISI and those people they are supporting. That part of me favours the strikes.
            But I totally understand the international law arguments and why such a policy is problematic.

          • Basically agree, with these provisos…
            - beyond/related to the international law aspect, there is the “hearts and minds” argument…I suppose a certain number of Pakistanis/Afghanis actually support the drone strikes, but I would wager that many more use them to support their dislike/distrust of the “West”. Of course, if ceasing drone strikes were to have any net benefit from this POV, those gains would take years to come to fruition.
            - also, it’s not the case that the use of drones is the only option. Without them the ‘battle’ shifts closer to US soil, which does admittedly have some risks.

            Curious why you portray the ISI as such a malevolent group. Clearly I’ve not paid as much attention as it seems that you have, but I’d always thought that at least some of their behaviour was basically enabling the “real” terrorists, but you seem to portray their behaviour as much more calculating. Has the ISI leadership essentially been “infiltrated” by terrorist leaders over the years?

          • Yes.

          • No intention or new info? (If you’ve got the time, thanks.)

          • Oh oh, confusion on my part…

            I thought your yes was about Obama/Gitmo, it was to ISI leaders…gotcha, and thanks.

      • I don’t find it funny at all.

    • It’s all a matter of perspective though, isn’t it? Sure, Obama’s been sending a lot of drones out to kill a lot of terrorists, and innocent people suffer. Bush, on the other hand, sent tens of thousands of troops to invade and occupy entire nations.

      • I f you mean the drones are a lesser evil…i suppose. But i can’t say i like the way the Obama administration has gone about it. I guess there’s an argument for simply putting a bullet through Assad’s thick head too. But that’s realpoitics for you. The consequences that flow from a few hundred dead collaterally damaged Pakistanis is minimal compared to what might happen if the killing of say Assad went south. Highlights the pointlessness of hoping for justice to be the rule rather than the exception in a world run by people.

        • The lesser evil argument is indeed the one I was making. In Pakistan, for example, there are two alternatives to taking out terrorists with drones, both of which have collateral damages of their own to consider. One, you leave people in Pakistan alone, in which case you have to consider the collateral damage done by the terrorists currently being killed by drones as they are able to plan and execute their own attacks without fear of reprisal while in Pakistan. Two, you send in troops to kill those guys more “surgically”, and accept the potential collateral damage of one of those missions going wrong (such as, say, a war with Pakistan). (Three, you invade Pakistan, but we all agree I presume that that’s even more far fetched than invading Iraq in response to a terrorist attack planned in Afghanistan).

          On the Assad question, while I haven’t given it much thought, and you’re right that it could easily go south with dire consequences, I wouldn’t so cavalierly dismiss the possibility that a bullet to Assad’s head results in the rapid collapse of his regime and saves a lot of lives.

          It’s all shades of grey of course. I just try not to judge Obama’s drone actions solely on the damage that they can be seen to cause, but on that damage relative to the damage of alternative actions, or inaction. Every time there’s a terrible drone strike it’s worth thinking, I think “That was awful, but President McCain probably would have started the bombing runs on Iran by now”.

          • I don’t particularly buy the argument that those guys in NW Pakistan want to terrorize anyone but their own neighbours. [ admittedly Obama has likely better intel then i do on what sort of threat they represent to the stability of a Nuclear armed Pakistan]if so, all bets are off; we have to take them down one way or another and an invasion is stark raving mad.
            Did you read the New york news]?] link? My difficulty is as Wells insinuates [or maybe just the article did] that Obama doesn’t have the programme systematized. I don’t like the idea of one man, be it Bush/Cheney[ get it?] or Obama just waking up and ordering death on an almost random arbitrary basis. The programme, if it is justified should be legally and morally fireproof. I will not give him a pass cuz he appears to be more of a democrat than W.

          • And then, of course, there’s Obama and Gitmo . . . I’m interested to hear LKO’s take on that one. A broken election promise. But let me guess, Obama gets a free pass because he at least promised to close it? Dishonestly promising to close Gitmo is better than honestly saying you won’t close it? Somehow, someway, Obama must be the good guy . . .

          • To me it’s more of an indication that a president isn’t akin to a god? He may say he can moves mountains before he gets into office. My principle bone of contention with W was the deliberate attempt to spin torture, and all the bizarre lies about Iraq…but he certainly wasn’t the only one…lots of democrats signed on to that as well. Which is partially why we will never see either W or Cheney up before a judge and jury. At least Obama has put an end to that and apparently to renditions…although i an skeptical of that too.

          • I’m going to guess that you are not surprised by Obama’s reversal wrt Gitmo? Would you say that he never had any intention, or that on becoming prez he gained access to info that changed his mind?

            I was modestly surprised by that flip-flop, for similar reasons to above post: “hearts and minds”/international law arguments. And in this case the alternative (move them to US jails) had only a modest risk.

            I’m not normally a fan of the slippery slope arguments, but in these cases I do tend to believe that there are significant long term consequences to US credibility that come from those actions. And I think that I’m not completely ignorant of the risks that the US would face by closing Gitmo and stopping the drone strikes.

          • No free pass on the GITMO promise from me! That said, I’m not sure that I ever expected him to keep that promise, so I can’t say I’m terribly “disappointed”, but the President’s feet should definitely be kept to the fire for breaking it.

            My issue with GITMO was always more its scale than it’s existence. I think there’s an argument to be made that there are some terrorists that you have to treat differently, and keep locked away somewhere akin to GITMO. My issue was always more that they threw way too many people in there, most of whom didn’t need to be treated in such an exceptional manner, imho.

          • Good point.

          • Modestly surprised by your ‘there is a need’ argument…

            If it’s true that some folks need to be kept locked up essentially forever (and I’m not judging whether there are or there are not folks that qualify), why can’t this be done on US soil, applying US laws? Possibly some new laws would need to be passed? If so, then do that, make it legitimate, make it credible, make it ‘honourable’.

          • I don’t particularly buy the argument that those guys in NW Pakistan want to terrorize anyone but their own neighbours.

            In terms of people FROM Pakistan, I agree. My worry is around the people who have moved in to Pakistan to use it as a safe haven.

  6. I think the Dixie Chicks could have warned Lupe Fiasco that free expression for artists doesn’t exist in the US unless you are expressing “the right message”.

  7. It’s for sure StArTuProckoN.

  8. This isn’t a free speech issue. If you invite me over to your house and I start insulting your husband/wife/kids/whatever, it’s perfectly within your rights to ask me to leave. That’s not curtailing my freedom of speech – I’m still free to wander the streets saying pretty much whatever I want (aside from liable stuff, I guess). Freedom of speech does not equal being able to say whatever you want, wherever you want.

    What Paul’s saying is that the organizers should have known about his opinions before the show and not booked him to begin with, not that there’s a problem with them asking him to leave. They just look like morons for not doing their research beforehand.

    • Very well put. For some reason I’m reminded of that dark comedy film “The Last Supper”, in which a bunch of stereotypical progressive liberals invite polar opposite obnoxious far-right conservatives to dinner. Homicidal mayhem ensues.

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