Red Bull Music has been creating a global series of music workshops and festivals since 1998, has brought their well-known festival to not one, but two cities for 2019: Atlanta and Chicago.
The Chicago series is currently underway and assembling 40+ artists over two weeks at venues all over the city. The series is focusing on Chicago artists and celebrating their stories and influence. One of Kanye Wests’ proteges, Lupe Fiasco, headlined the experience. What was the actual charge that got me on a plane to attend? He would be performing his entire debut album Food & Liquor.
Food & Liquor has always been one of my favorite albums with Lupe’s introspective lyrics and charge individuals to change the world. Our struggles as Black people unfortunately, still reign supreme and even 13 years later, the album is still relevant and seems to be talking to issues of today. Throughout the years, Fiasco has proven he’s just like his stage name, making headlines for his musical activism. In 2013, he was rushed off the stage for anti-Obama lyrics during an unofficial inaugural event; the Chicago native has always been vocal about his political thoughts.
There was symbolism heralding the album throughout the entire show and if you weren’t a Lupe Fiasco fan, you might miss them. Record Producer Twilite Tone opened for Fiasco. Tone is a well known Chicago DJ and Record Producer, who has most famously worked with artists like Kanye West, Common, and the Gorillaz.
Fiasco enters the stage wearing a custom 15 Bulls jersey (possibly a shout out to 1st and 15th Entertainment who released his first album in conjunction with Atlantic Records), camouflage pants, Air Jordan 6s Infareds, and a red bandana. His 12 person band and back-up singers was beautifully displayed on the set. However, before the show even began, he started it just like he did on his album, with the iconic Intro, written and performed by his sister, Ayesha Jaco.
The lights are dimmed and the only focus you see is on Ayesha, who is dressed in all black, with a single microphone in front of her. She begins to recite the 3 minute intro, powerfully, reminding me of it’s poetic melody, allowing me to easily whisper along, though I haven’t listened in awhile. It makes me wonder why, as the lines, “Prisons packed, bubbling over in brown sugar” make me think of all the Black lives unnecessarily incarceration and sadly, how relevant this album is today. However, when I listen to the lines, “The well is running dry, the days of Malcom and Martin have ended / Our hope has descended and off to the side,” I feel hopeful. Hopeful, because though we still have many of the same struggles, we have started new movements, like Black Lives Matter and there is a social revolution, helping to further highlight all the inequalities. During the concert, I can’t help but wonder, if her outfit, was a silent solidarity or shout out to Black Lives Matter.
I’ve always loved that the intro to this memorable album started with a Black woman, his sister no less, and that in the intro, you know it’s dedicated to his grandmother, “Peace! And much love to you.” Black women have always been at the forefront of the movement and later during his set, Fiasco states, “It’s more powerful, more meaningful, to come up with things to change the world.” Later he reflects on the album and honestly says to the crowd, “This rap shit is mainly just pointing you in the right direction. You have to want to be motivated to dive into these problems that the world is facing.”
I think of women like Patrisse Cullors, Michelle Obama and more who are making changes in their respective fields. Fiasco warns, “This album is mainly motivation, it isn’t a blue print.” When his initial album came out, people were referencing him as the “savior of hip-hop”. It seems he’s still not comfortable with this term. His words did make me think of all the activists and inspiration that have spawned from “regular people” off the internet that now are referenced as “Influencers.” Movements have been formed with people vocalizing their thoughts and others joining. However, Fiasco isn’t here for solely social media activism, it takes more than a click. He emphatically tells the crowd, “The soul will continue to hurt if it doesn’t start to activate or militate to fulfill a goal.” The crowd claps and I wonder how many seeds of hope and action have been planted between Kick, Push and Hurt Me Soul to listeners who are both new and longtime fans.
It’s great to see, years later, that Fiasco has remained an activist at his core. He himself knows this, playfully freestyling at the end of the set, “I’m a mix of Obama and Castro, that’s why they call me Lupe Fiasco.”