Lupe Fiasco’s "Hip Hop Saved My Life"
It’s one of the more accessible tracks on a sometimes dense conceptual album, with a feel-good chorus that counteracts against alot of the recent “hip-hop is dead” type sentiments, and even directly goes against Lupe’s image of not caring about hip-hop. It feels affirmative, positive, inspirational, and yeah, it works on that level.
On another level though, it interacts eerily with the themes of the album’s central story — seduction and ambition, the trappings of success, tragic downfalls and death. Basically, it’s the story of a emcee who wants a life like “the sights on TV.” So he sits down and writes a song over a “whack ass beat” just because everyone else tells him that it sounds hot. He has writer’s block, but he hears his baby crying in the other room and thinks of the Cadillac he wants and this pushes him towards success. “Stack that cheese,” he writes for a chorus. End first verse.
The second and third verses are what I love. So far, Lupe’s been using a consistent, metronome flow, each line ending with a stressed, stretched word. But midway through the second verse, after he says “Got a daddy servin‘ life and a brother on the Row”, he takes a breath, picks up speed and spits out:
“Best homie in the grave, tatted up while in the cage
Minute maid, got his momma workin‘ like a slave
Down baby momma, who he really had to honor
‘Cause she was his biggest fan, even let him use her Honda to
Drive up to Dallas went to open up for amateurs
Let him keep a debit card, so he could put gas in it
Told her when he get on he gon‘ take her to the galleria
And buy everything, but the mannequins, ya dig?”
He does this again on the third and final verse to even greater effect. Again, midway through the verse, this time after he says “[He] put on another beat, and got back to the mission of,’ he spits out in rapid succession:
“Get his momma out the hood, put her somewhere in the woods
Keep his lady lookin‘ good, have her rollin‘ like she should
Show his homies there’s a way, other than that flippin‘ yay
Bail his homie outta jail, put a lawyer on his case
Throw a concert for the school, show the shoulders that it’s cool
Throw some candy on the Caddy, chuck the deuce and act a fool
Man it feels good when it happens like that
Two days from going back to sellin‘ crack
The way Lupe takes a breath and spits out the end of these verses adds a sense of urgency that I love. They’re in list form, almost like to-do lists; all the things that weigh on the mind of the song’s subject. These are his dream-like ambitions and his real-life concerns, and now that “Stack That Cheese” has blown up, they are swirling and suffocating him, just as Lupe’s flow is swirling and suffocating us.
When the chorus says “Hip Hop just saved me”, it’s now a dark, ironic statement, because hip-hop may just have ruined this emcee’s life. When fit into the album’s concept, which revolves around a hustler who gets seduced by “The Streets” and murdered by “The Game”, it’s not such a feel-good track after all.
For Lupe, hip-hop ain’t saving anything.