[Five Deadly Everythings]

Lupe Fiasco’s "Hip Hop Saved My Life"

Posted in break it down, hip-hop, music, rap by Jef on January 12, 2008

“The Cool” is definitely my favourite album right now, and “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” is currently my favourite track.

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 flippinyay
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.

Lyrics to “Hip-Hop Saved My Life”
Listen to “Hip-Hop Saved My Life”


4 Responses

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  1. noops said, on January 13, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Man, I wrote this long ass comment and then it didn’t post.

    Anyway I like this post.

    First of all, this is in the top 5 of songs on this record for sure. So listenable. We need to break this down, track-by-track one day.

    I like all of the layers to this song: the fictional emcee, The Cool, Lupe himself. And I like how you took it beyond the obvious aspirational message and looked into the irony of what he’s actually saying. But I don’t know if I’m sold on him not being saved by hip-hop.

    Maybe you have a better sense of who he is from his demeanor and stuff, but from interviews I get the feeling he says a lot of shit just for the hell of saying it. So to me, it’s significant that he titled this track by this name. I see it is a semi-conscious nod to the naysayers and Okayplayer haters.

    Aside: I’ve had a blind crush on Matthew Santos and I just recently saw him, and he’s not as hot as his singing implies. Disappointing. But the timbre of his voice is fucking crazy at times, it’s like Feist… she sounds exactly like a clarinet sometimes.

  2. Scene said, on January 13, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    haha yunno one of the questions i asked him actually was if he says left-field things for the sake of being left-field. he gave a 5 minute answer that was basically “naw.”

    but you don’t think he (the character) wasn’t saved by hip-hop? even after “two days from being back to sellin’ crack”?

    and as for feist sounding like a clarinet…i like that comparison very very much.

  3. noops said, on January 16, 2008 at 12:00 am

    i think i wrote it incorrectly.

    i see how the character and the concept were “saved” by hiphop but i don’t think lupe was.

    you need to send me the interview. word. for. word.

  4. Houstonresider said, on January 29, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    He dedicates this song to Slim Thug. Listen to it “homeboys from northside so he rocks them braids….the galleria…went to dallas…best thing from H-town.” Plus in the beggining he says this is for the homie with “The Drank.”

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