"I went back and took the little boy from 'He Say She Say,' off the first album, and now he's The Cool. The three main characters, The Cool, The Streets and The Game, they're all walking, talking characters. ... (The concept is) only on five records, and some of it is done kind of abstractly. The artwork ties everything in." --Lupe Fiasco
Too ambitious or too cool?
LUPE FIASCO occupies some of the most treacherous territory in hip-hop, straddling the divide between underground and mainstream with a swagger that inspires as many fans as it mystifies.
'MySpace Presents: the Release'
With Lupe Fiasco, Matthew Santos, DJ Oxy Cottontail and local openers Emirc and JWizdom
Place: Pipeline Cafe
Time: 9:30 p.m. Dec. 27
Tickets: $40; 18 and over
His debut album, "Food and Liquor," introduced the Chicago native as a lyrical powerhouse and racked up three Grammy Award nominations in 2006 and another in 2007. Fans anointed him the next great rap savior, an antidote to music that permeates radio station playlists nationwide.
But Fiasco messed up the lyrics to A Tribe Called Quest's "Electronic Relaxation" during a VH1 tribute in October, creating a rift with some who thought he was showing disrespect to a group that paved the way for younger artists like him.
He's also embraced corporate sponsorship with the release of "The Cool," which arrived in stores Tuesday. The album's official lead single, "Superstar," was recently featured in a NFL television commercial, and social networking giant MySpace.com signed up to present next week's concert at Pipeline Cafe.
"It's like, you don't make any money unless you sell tons and tons of records ... and I'm not selling tons and tons of records," Fiasco told New York's Village Voice last week. "I'm making more money off my shows or off sponsorship or whatever."
While he's realized the need to stay on top of the business side of the industry, Fiasco continues to push his creative boundaries with each new album. This time around, he incorporates the same style Jay-Z did on "American Gangster," fashioning "The Cool" as a concept album that features characters Fiasco introduced on his debut.
"I went back and took the little boy from 'He Say She Say,' off the first album, and now he's The Cool," said Fiasco. "The three main characters, The Cool, The Streets and The Game, they're all walking, talking characters. ... (The concept is) only on five records, and some of it is done kind of abstractly.
"The artwork ties everything in, and if you want, you can go backwards into (my) albums and the mixtapes, and figure out the characters and the story."
Will it work? Online reviews are mixed so far, with Entertainment Weekly giving it a grade of A- and Idolator.com describing the effort as "too ambitious for his own good."
Fiasco will hit the road in January in support of the album, with 18 shows planned so far at venues across the country. Even if "The Cool" doesn't sell that well, he plans to keep touring for his fans.
"I don't really care (about sales), to be quite honest," Fiasco said. "I just did it for my fans.
"I'm just happy to see the longevity of the situation, to see that records from the first album are still getting nominated for Grammys now. To me, this album is much better than 'Food and Liquor,' so I'm like, 'Damn, I wonder what the response is going to be to this album.'"