It’s September 19, 2006 at around 1:40PM CDT and my eyes are bulging from my head while my jaw is on my chest as I listen to two of the greatest Emcees ever rap on the same song. To understand how I got here, though, I have to go back a bit further in time. It’s June 15, 2006, the day before I am set to move from my home, Dayton, OH, to Birmingham, AL. I am spending the day and night at my brother’s new apartment he is sharing with two of our best friends. A few of us are in the living room just talking when Joe, one of my brother’s roommates, tells me I have to hear this song. He turns the record on and the familiar loop of The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets” begins playing. “Man, I heard this before” I said nonchalantly to Joe, who grinned and responded “No you haven’t.” Before I know it, I am being bombarded with bars by Lupe the Jedi. From the moment he rapped “Check me in my $50 59Fifty/buyin diamonds is just no longer in me/So, no more chains, flooded watches on the right hand/I work like a Mexican, spend like a white man/” I was a fan. That sequence of bars isn’t that special compared to what Lupe normally does, but it felt like hiphop. I had Joe run it back at least 3 times before my brother complained and he switched songs.
I had heard of Lupe before when another annoying friend kept telling us how “Kick, Push” was going to save hiphop, but I didn’t give the song a chance because of the messenger. Now? I didn’t have a choice, I was a fan. Joe played a couple more Lupe freestyles that I had him burn to a CD for me. Long before I’d ever heard the Fahrenheit mixtape series, this was my first exposure to Lupe. I did some research once we arrived in Birmingham and waited with anticipation for Food & Liquor to drop. I remember that day vividly, it was exactly 1 week to my birthday, I was working 9-6 and took my lunch break at 1. I managed to clock out a few minutes early so I could speed up to Best Buy and buy the album (I should’ve bought 2 and a vinyl). I walked to the register grinning and excited to finally hear this album, but nothing could prepare me for the moment I popped the CD in my CD player.
I remember the crinkling of the plastic from the CD packaging I’d hastily thrown into my passenger seat coming to a stop as Ayesha Jaco began her introductory poem. I turned the volume up slightly and began driving back to work. When I pulled up, “Just Might Be Ok” was finishing up and I opened up the CD booklet and began reading all of the credits as the horns from “Kick, Push” began playing through my speakers. By the time Hov’s verse began on “Pressure” my mind was completely blown. This was hiphop, this was everything I’d ever wanted to do with my own music, but didn’t have the talent or imagination to pull off. It wasn’t one song or any one lyric, it was the feel. The same feeling I got listening to the “Ignorant Shit Freestyle,” I got listening to this album…it felt like hiphop.
I remember one of the first descriptors of Lupe I’d read online was “What would happen if you mixed the best of Jay-Z and Nas” and he was that, but so much more. He was hood, he was a nerd, he was lyrical, he could write a catchy hook, he was backpack, he was…himself. I’ve always been an “elitist” when it came to hiphop, I’ve always favored skill over charisma and production. Lupe dropped at a time when songs like “Laffy Taffy” and the “Snap rap” sub-genre were ruling the airwaves. He was a breath of fresh air in a game that had forgotten about lyricism and began focusing on things like sales and “hotness” to measure rappers. For me, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor was more than an album, it was a reminder to always be myself regardless of what the world was doing. The world is going to love you or hate you either way, you might as well give them the real you. As an 18 going on 19 year old who was still struggling to find my place in the world, it was just what I’d needed to hear. As an aspiring Emcee, it was a call to step my game up both lyrically and conceptually.
I finally got to see Lupe in concert back in May, 2 days before I moved from Birmingham to Charlotte. I remember feeling the same goosebumps during his performance of “Daydreamin'” as my first time hearing it on that late summer afternoon sitting in my ’94 Grand Am. There it was, that feeling of hiphop again. I also played the entirety of FnL to start off my journey from Bham to CLT. Amazing how an album can mark the beginning and ending of 2 different chapters of my life. I know Lupe will probably never read this or ever know who I am but from the bottom of my heart, I say “Thank You,” for inspiring me in a couple of different areas of my life. I am looking forward to these final three albums as you finish off your career. In my mind, you are the greatest lyricist to ever live and my favorite rapper of all time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put the copy of Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor I bought 10 years ago in my CD player and reminisce. Maybe I’ll catch that feeling again.