I’m struggling to put my thoughts together but I wanted to quickly try regardless.

I’ve been listening to rapper Lupe Fiasco’s new album DROGAS Waves since its release last week. It’s his first release as an independent artist, Lu having fulfilled his contractual obligations to Atlantic Records. A label with whom he had a rocky relationship, to put it nicely.

On the ascent back in 2006, Lupe seemed like a sure thing. He had the co-sign of Jay-Z; hookups with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Contacts in the streets and love for those that inhabited it, yet a clear desire to remain above the fray. He was arguably one of the first true internet rappers and a poster boy for the burgeoning street fashion scene. An unabashed nerd with a love for skateboarding and anime. Oh and he could rap circles inside the circles he rapped ’round his peers. He ticked marketing boxes that were usually mutually exclusive to one another. His entire debut album leaked online, then pushed back and reworked and arguably made all the stronger for it.

But then came the storm. A best friend and partner locked up for 44 years. The label issues. The man was shelved for turning down a ‘360 deal’, where labels make a cut on all an artist’s merch and touring revenue – something which became commonplace in the industry in the years following. Single meddling, sabotaged projects and silence followed. Public petitions forced one album’s release and threats from Anonymous had another quietly discharged to little fanfare.

On other public fronts, Lupe was also not doing very well. A contrarian at heart with a distrust of establishments, he rubbed many the wrong way when he called out Obama (a fellow Chicagoan) for neoliberal warmongering. Twitter did not help. Its 140-character limit reduced him to little more than soundbites and his dry humour came through poorly in text form. His prickly nature and eagerness to argue his truths had him biting on trolls and turning off many casuals.

He turned to his painting for solace. The label received compromised album submissions, which Lupe struggled to put his all into.

But no more. The man is free. Free from his contractual obligations. Free to make the music he wants or to walk off into the sunset. Free to paint all day or finally write that novel about a window-washer’s philosophical musings.

So what did we get from all this? A conceptual album of sorts – Lupe Fiasco right in his wheelhouse and doing what Lupe fucking Fiasco does best. A supernatural rap tale about drowned African slaves that doubles as a story of Lu’s own emancipation. It’s a lot to unpack in the best way.

Summon the forest
Talking to trees like how could you be in the chorus
With something so horrid?
You became boards for the floors and the doors of the warships
Anthropomorphic, the forest returned with a match
Made from itself and said, “Burn us with that”
Then left again and came back with an axe
“We can serve you as furnish or furnace us black”

Slaves rebuke the seas and trees and stars for assisting slavers in the transatlantic trade. Some walk back to their homeland under the waters. Others roam the seas and destroy slaveships to free their brethren.

As I said at the start of this piece, I didn’t have a coherent train of thought before I plunged in. To be honest I was hoping this piece would go into Lupe’s other forays into the comicbook/supernatural (The Cool, Tetsuo & Youth) but instead it’s been more of a historical contextualisation from a day 1 fan. I suppose that can’t be helped. Vibe Magazine released a fantastic article in much the same vein and in true Lupe fashion he bit their heads off for it lol.

Whatever. Twelve years on, I’m glad for his place in music. I’m glad for the music. I’m glad for his resurrection and I’m glad he’s free.

With the exception of Resurrection, which was for a charity campaign, the songs embedded above are all from his ‘bad’ albums.