Whatever it was that N.E.R.D. was in search of: Lupe Fiasco found with his 2007 release The Cool. What is Cool? Cool is a living contradiction. Lupe doesn’t avoid the nature of Cool – he clutches to it like an insomniac to the other side of the pillow. This album lives The Cool through and through.
“They thought it was cool to burn crosses on your front lawn as they hung you from trees in your backyard. They thought it was cool to leave you thirsty and stranded, Katrina! He thought it was cool to carry a gun in his classroom and open fire, Virginia Tech, Columbine – Stop the violence! They thought it was cool to tear down the projects and put up million dollar condos, Gentrification. They think it’s cool to stand on the block hiding product in their socks to make quick dime bag dollars. They think it’s cool to ride down on you in blue and white unmarked cars busting you upside your head. Freeze… ‘Cause the problem is we think it’s cool too. Check your ingredients before you overdose, on The Cool…”
Cool is atmospheric. Literally, the beats breathe slightly-above-sub-zero basslines. A slight chant, minimal piano, and percussion ride along like a strut on “The Coolest.” Lupe serenades a distant lover in “Paris, Tokyo” as he lyrically waltzes over Eumir Deodato’s “San Juan Sunset” sample. Hard bass, synthed strings, and staccato snares fuel the tech-driven “Go-Go Gadget Flow.” The beats keep the pace of the album: solid, strong, steady, smooth, with cold snaps thrown in to keep the chill from getting too lukewarm. There are those tracks that tend to swelter and simmer, but that’s when Lupe highlights the heat of the hype versus the hush of The Cool.
Cool is stylish – and stylistic. Lyrically, Lupe slaughters the disc, line by swift line, smoother than a one-gloved criminal. Before and beneath the semantics is the sentiment; how Lupe delivers his flow is as significant to the music as what he delivers with his flow. Hip-Hop is cool, Rap is hot; Lupe Fiasco spits rhymes, where most rappers hock loogies, he errs on the side of fluidity, where others go for fire. His words flow effortlessly like vapors above, where the frostbitten white brick beats sit below. Whether he comes across as deliberate and low as an earring to the ground in “Dumb It Down,” or cuts through the thick and hazy Southern banjo-backed beat like a fresh breeze from a front porch fan on “Gotta Eat,” Lupe’s vocals stay cool – as fine and mellow as the Lady who sung Blue.
Lupe Fiasco is a wordsmith unlike any other. His ability to connect abstract thoughts and themes that plague politicians, performers, and college professors alike – youth violence, hip-hop materialism, and the glamor of a street hustle over the homework hustle that keeps urban youth on the corners and out of classrooms – with straightforward lyrics that are insightful, illustrative, and intellectually stimulating is uncanny.
Cool is the clothes you wear, the ones that were Made in China, but make Americans who they are – namely the “Fall of Rome jeans.” In “Gold Watch” Lupe invites you to “peruse the essential of cool. A brief study of the things so instrumental to you. That make me feel flier than lobbies at Bellevues,” the obsession with the threads that catapult you beyond crazy. Every consumer wants The Cool.
Cool is carefree naivete. In “Little Weapon” Lupe blurs the lines of childhood and adulthood, and the innocence and iniquity of domestic Americana, “Little Terry got a gun, he got from the store. He bought it with the money he got from his chores. He robbed candy shop told her lay down on the floor. Put the cookies in his bag took the pennies out the drawer.” He tells a story about “Little Kalil who got his gat from the rebels to kill the infidels and the American devils; who prays five times a day and plays heavy metal” – the real international effects of the American ideal. The beat – reminiscent of a little drummer boy steadily striding along a colonial battlefield meets a little bboy’s boombox setting the soundtrack for a Brooklyn block – rides below Lupe’s signature slowed-but-never-stopped-and-go flow. Every kid wants The Cool.
Cool is staying calm on the corner even when the streets is on fire. The burden of the “reckless urban youth” falls on the country, who in turn lets the blame fall on the “welfare queen” urban female – the socio-politically bastardized Brenda. “Some say the first case came from a maternity ward. Whores say the nuns, nuns say the whores. And everybody is sure,” that the offspring of Eve must be the source. Like Common said, “It’s hard for a pimp, but extra hard for these hos,” Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn, unless it’s the weight of the world she adorns. “The scientists said it only infects the mind. The little boy said it only infects the girls. The Preacher man said it’s gonna kill off the soul. A bum said it’s gonna kill the whole wide world.” From the gutter to the glamour Lupe laments lyrically for his “femme fatale my darling fraudulent angel. Once caught her changing her batteries in her halo. Receipt for her wings and everything that she paid for, and the address to the factory where they made those,” on behalf of Pop in a way Warhol never could. Every superstar wants The Cool.
Cool is the crowd behind the celebrity, the pit in which the star stood before they hit the stage. The star is just another anybody, until someone decides they’re a somebody – they’re cool until someone says they’re hot. They’re born to blossom, bloomed to perish, “wanna believe my own hype but it’s too untrue. The world brought me to my knees, what have you brung you?” That name recognition: they love it, and they love it, and they love it until they get it; then they loathe it, and they hate it, because it broke them, when they made it: “The audience ain’t fazed. And they ain’t gonna clap and they ain’t gonna praise; They want everything back that they’ve paid. ’cause they’ve been waitin’ since ten to see the lights get dim.” Every crowdpleaser wants The Cool.
Cool is the Uncool. The world you create, the dream made reality, “All in together the weather is better than ever. I hope it never ends I hope it lasts forever. But when it does, we can all pretend that it’s better than it’s ever been. Lie to ourselves like the sky to rebel.” That self-made dream can so easily become your most malevolent nightmare when based on the outside perception of The Cool for which everyone claws, clamors and climbs to attain, “He just sits and waits for them to kick in the door. He once was a hero they don’t love him no more. His gift for not fighting another man’s war. And if they can get their hands on the mask that he wore.” Every creator wants The Cool.
Cool is a contradiction. It is human nature and the fundamental fact that we are born free, but everywhere are in chains. “On his face, they can put somebody else in his place and restore the state; the illusion that it’s safe – the faith, that being a slave is great.” Everyone wants The Cool.
At the core of The Cool is adamant ambiguity: “Hello darkness, hello sunshine, hello not at all, hello all the time. Hello no where, hello oblivion, hello goodbye:” unforgettable.