My favorite album? I thought a lot about this question. Not because I didn’t know my answer but because I wasn’t satisfied with it. When asked that question, my answer has always been The Cool by Lupe Fiasco.
I touched on this album a bit in my Drogas Wave review but I wanted to approach it from a different angle here. The reason I’m dissatisfied with that answer is because that album isn’t the best album I’ve listened to. Do not misunderstand, The Cool stands up to any if not all of the albums releasing currently and has managed to stay in my most played list through the test of time. In this article, I want to get at the heart of why The Cool will always be my favorite album even though it’s not technically the best I’ve listened to. More specifically, I’m going to be talking about arguably one of the most important aspects of any song. Context.
When The Cool dropped I was a nerdy high schooler who never really fit in with anyone specific crowd. I was smart but too athletic to be a nerd and too theatrical to ever be a jock. I am also black, the only black kid in any of my AP and Honors classes, so It was easy to feel alienated. I was craving someone I could identify with, someone both intellectually stimulating and fucking hard, someone who wasn’t bound to labels that never stuck on me.
Lupe Fiasco was my savior and The Cool was my Bible. He perfectly articulated the struggles of the black community with such lyrical versatility that was unparalleled at the time. He showed me the light by baptizing me in the dark underbelly of a culture that I felt ostracized from. Though I felt abandoned he took me in and raised me as his own in this album.
I wanted nothing more than to be cool in high school like everyone else and he showed me just how much cool is really worth. Not to mention how much it costs to maintain.
This album took on a life of its own for me and without the context, it would have ranked high but not as high as something like Good Kid Mad City by Kendrick Lamar.
Superstar is one of my all time favorite songs. It was the first song I ever memorized and my most watched music video. But let’s start from the beginning. The album starts off with 47 seconds of straight uncensored knowledge prefacing the premise of this album; exposing our complicit societal addiction to the spectacle or popularity or coolness especially in black culture.
The eerie part about that track is that it has almost doubled in relevance, especially with the orange in office. The next track is a shoutout to Charles Patton, the co-founder of Lupe’s record label, who was sentenced to 44 years of in jail for drug-related charges. Every time I listen to that 1-minute interlude I cry and until this article I never knew who Chilly was.
Following that is one of my least favorite tracks, Go Go Gadget Flow, with bars that still knockout above 75% of rappers today. The reason I don’t like that track is only that it pales in comparison to the next one. Not only does The Coolest conceptually mimic the album’s premise perfectly, but it also has some of my favorite lyrics. This song is about Michael Young, a fictional character that Lupe created in He Says She Says, killed off in The Die, and then resurrected in this song, doomed to walk the earth searching for a purpose. This album is on an entirely different plane of existence.