Rappers Don’t Fall Off": Lupe Fiasco on Aging in Hip-Hop, Drill Music, and the Audience

KingsOfKings

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There is a video on MIT’s website of Lupe Fiasco, the Chicago rapper famous for self-consciously multilayered songwriting and motifs that span multiple albums across many years, explaining the premise of Code Cypher, a one-day “programming competition for language and rhythm” that he cohosted as a visiting artist at the school in the fall 2021. “A cypher has multiple meanings,” says Lupe, now 40, bits of gray hair poking out from under a backward baseball cap. “Decoding something, encoding something, sending secret messages—hiding messages within other messages.” Computer science majors in surgical masks rap about pandemic loneliness; electrical engineers show off data sets that allegedly predict chord progression.





This school year, Lupe is returning to MIT as part of its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors and Scholars Program, which will see him teach a course on rap that he says will trace the relationship between the form and scientific disciplines like astrophysics and evolutionary biology. Speaking to The Ringer by phone, however, he describes the more familiar kind of study that he practices in his career as an artist. “A lot of my style is pieces and parts of everybody else’s,” he says, recounting his teenaged years poring over the work of rappers like Jay-Z, MJG, Aesop Rock, and 2Pac. “Now I need to study Lil Uzi Vert. Now, I need to study Durk—and it never stops. For me, professionally, I’m always learning, building up my skill set. That doesn’t necessarily mean that when I do a project, that I’m going to make a project that covers all of those styles. I want to reduce all of that stuff, all that training data, into something that is novelly mine.”



Lupe’s eighth album, DRILL MUSIC IN ZION, was recorded in three days last year and released in June to little fanfare and somewhat tepid reviews—a shame, considering it’s his strongest LP since 2007’s The Cool. DRILL MUSIC is a taut analysis of the material lives of artists and the value of mall-kiosk diamonds, produced entirely by Lupe’s longtime collaborator Soundtrakk and shot through with jazz flourishes; the contemporary study Lupe details is evident in songs like “AUTOBOTO,” with its rolling flow and foregrounded phonetics, while the pocket on “NAOMI” is one that he could have burrowed into back in 2005. Many of the record’s most arresting moments, though, are on the page, and concern the tension between subject and audience. This plays out on “MS. MURAL,” which ends with a painter’s studio burning to the ground, and on album closer “ON FAUX NEM,” where Lupe raps:





From the window of a plane, I’ve seen the window of a cell

The plane started to fly, the rain started to fell

That’s LaGuardia and Rikers, a airport next to a jail

I took a picture, looked like my window was crying

’Cause it was sad that all they saw every day was somebody flying

And they was trapped… this shyt is wack

But it was crack—hung it on my wall like a plaque

Yet for all his talk of crypticism, Lupe is remarkably blunt about one of the album’s ostensible topics: drill music, the brash, gothic style that emerged from Chicago in the early 2010s and has more recently been adopted by young rappers in London and New York. “It’s kind of an extension of trap music, just way more violent,” Lupe says of drill. “Sometimes aesthetics isn’t just the form and shape—it’s the content. I think what excites people is the violence, and that the violence is actually tethered to real-life violence. It’s not just for the sake of posturing.



I don’t think there’s anything too novel about the shape of it,” he continues, “this BPM, this kick drum, this style of rapping at this pace, or this slang. All of that has been done before in other places. I think it’s more so the fact that [the content is] real that excites people. It doesn’t excite me. I think the shyt is terrible, in that sense. But looking at it from an artistic standpoint, structurally, it’s no different than trap music.” Many drill artists—they are, almost invariably, young Black men—have been victims of gun violence, the survival and perpetration of which is a frequent topic of their songs. When asked whether this makes audiences complicit in said violence, Lupe is similarly unequivocal. “Absolutely,” he says. “Why wouldn’t it?”

His assessment of drill’s aesthetic qualities is unreasonably dismissive—it is, for example, rooted in Chicago’s dance music in a way that the trap codified in Atlanta could never be—but his moral unease leads him into fascinatingly knotty space. “How does that transpire?” he asks later on “FAUX NEM,” on the topic of his peers’ nominally true-to-life writing. “To be so damned by God, you want your friends to be goddamned liars?”


You said to the Financial Times: “We’re not basketball players, who have a limit to their bodies and taper off. Rappers only get more skilled as we get older, because we have more experiences to draw from .” But there is of course a perception that many rappers fall off as they get older; I’m sure you and I could cite people who we felt that way about as fans.

That quote—or, not necessarily the quote, but the concept—actually came from Cassidy. I was just aping what he said. We had a conversation on IG Live one time and he mentioned that our skill sets, our craft isn’t based on anything physical. It’s not like we need knees to rap, need ACLs to rap. The things that come under pressure and get damaged in the career of a basketball player—we don’t have those. Our muscle is our cognition. Neuroplasticity lasts throughout your entire life. Even if you get to be 90 years old, your brain is still creating new pathways—maybe not at the speed or at the intensity it did when you were a child. I mean, the majority of your neuronal growth happens when you’re a baby, in terms of speed. Do you hear any babies rapping?

I have a 5-month-old, I’m trying to put her on Spice 1 but it’s not working.

Right [laughs]. That idea that rappers fall off isn’t from the rapper, it’s from the audience. The audience falls off. Rappers just get better and better and better and better. Melle Mel is just as good—he’s probably better now, 40 years later, than he was when he first started. You said rappers fall off—no, rappers don’t fall off. They don’t get worse at rapping. What happens is the audience changes, they lose interest. The dopamine, that wash of neurotransmitters that you got that first time you heard it, it tapers over time. Does weed fall off? Nah, the weed is just as strong as it was when you smoked it the first time, in terms of its biochemical properties. But your brain has become used to it, and requires higher and higher and higher and higher dosages to achieve that same effect that you had when you hit it the first time.


I look at it as, what’s changing in the audience? My skill set is getting better and better, but I’m selling less and less records. So what else is happening? There’s new beats, there’s new forms of music. Rappers don’t necessarily make the beats, so we’re not necessarily in tune with controlling how the music goes, how the music is changing. We’re interfacing with new producers, new sounds, new technology. Literally new synthesizers that have a whole bank of new sounds, and that feel and sound better at different tempos that we weren’t used to rapping over in 1985. You get a rapper from 1985 who honed their skill set in 1985 terms and expect him or her to rap over trap beats with the same intensity—no, it’s still a learning curve.

I do think there are some rappers and producers who aren’t interested in being relevant or novel in every field or style of the time. Even at the A&R level—you have record execs who retire because they were more interested and had more of a grasp on the technicalities and mechanics of the music business in the ’80s than in the ’90s. A&Rs in the ’90s might have quit in the 2000s because it was just a different type of music, a different feel, with different expectations. That don’t mean that they’re terrible A&Rs—that don’t mean that they lost their edge. I think it’s all contextual. The best of us, the ones who are able to navigate—somebody like Drake, for example, he just copies and pastes to a certain degree, right? “This is a new style? OK, I’m taking that whole style and I’ma put Drake on it.” And he’s interested in that. He wants that type of relevance, and he maintains it. It’s “Everybody’s not interested in doing that” versus “Everybody’s not capable of it.”



Alot more at the link below 👇

 

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There is a video on MIT’s website of Lupe Fiasco, the Chicago rapper famous for self-consciously multilayered songwriting and motifs that span multiple albums across many years, explaining the premise of Code Cypher, a one-day “programming competition for language and rhythm” that he cohosted as a visiting artist at the school in the fall 2021. “A cypher has multiple meanings,” says Lupe, now 40, bits of gray hair poking out from under a backward baseball cap. “Decoding something, encoding something, sending secret messages—hiding messages within other messages.” Computer science majors in surgical masks rap about pandemic loneliness; electrical engineers show off data sets that allegedly predict chord progression.





This school year, Lupe is returning to MIT as part of its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors and Scholars Program, which will see him teach a course on rap that he says will trace the relationship between the form and scientific disciplines like astrophysics and evolutionary biology. Speaking to The Ringer by phone, however, he describes the more familiar kind of study that he practices in his career as an artist. “A lot of my style is pieces and parts of everybody else’s,” he says, recounting his teenaged years poring over the work of rappers like Jay-Z, MJG, Aesop Rock, and 2Pac. “Now I need to study Lil Uzi Vert. Now, I need to study Durk—and it never stops. For me, professionally, I’m always learning, building up my skill set. That doesn’t necessarily mean that when I do a project, that I’m going to make a project that covers all of those styles. I want to reduce all of that stuff, all that training data, into something that is novelly mine.”



Lupe’s eighth album, DRILL MUSIC IN ZION, was recorded in three days last year and released in June to little fanfare and somewhat tepid reviews—a shame, considering it’s his strongest LP since 2007’s The Cool. DRILL MUSIC is a taut analysis of the material lives of artists and the value of mall-kiosk diamonds, produced entirely by Lupe’s longtime collaborator Soundtrakk and shot through with jazz flourishes; the contemporary study Lupe details is evident in songs like “AUTOBOTO,” with its rolling flow and foregrounded phonetics, while the pocket on “NAOMI” is one that he could have burrowed into back in 2005. Many of the record’s most arresting moments, though, are on the page, and concern the tension between subject and audience. This plays out on “MS. MURAL,” which ends with a painter’s studio burning to the ground, and on album closer “ON FAUX NEM,” where Lupe raps:





From the window of a plane, I’ve seen the window of a cell

The plane started to fly, the rain started to fell

That’s LaGuardia and Rikers, a airport next to a jail

I took a picture, looked like my window was crying

’Cause it was sad that all they saw every day was somebody flying

And they was trapped… this shyt is wack

But it was crack—hung it on my wall like a plaque

Yet for all his talk of crypticism, Lupe is remarkably blunt about one of the album’s ostensible topics: drill music, the brash, gothic style that emerged from Chicago in the early 2010s and has more recently been adopted by young rappers in London and New York. “It’s kind of an extension of trap music, just way more violent,” Lupe says of drill. “Sometimes aesthetics isn’t just the form and shape—it’s the content. I think what excites people is the violence, and that the violence is actually tethered to real-life violence. It’s not just for the sake of posturing.



I don’t think there’s anything too novel about the shape of it,” he continues, “this BPM, this kick drum, this style of rapping at this pace, or this slang. All of that has been done before in other places. I think it’s more so the fact that [the content is] real that excites people. It doesn’t excite me. I think the shyt is terrible, in that sense. But looking at it from an artistic standpoint, structurally, it’s no different than trap music.” Many drill artists—they are, almost invariably, young Black men—have been victims of gun violence, the survival and perpetration of which is a frequent topic of their songs. When asked whether this makes audiences complicit in said violence, Lupe is similarly unequivocal. “Absolutely,” he says. “Why wouldn’t it?”

His assessment of drill’s aesthetic qualities is unreasonably dismissive—it is, for example, rooted in Chicago’s dance music in a way that the trap codified in Atlanta could never be—but his moral unease leads him into fascinatingly knotty space. “How does that transpire?” he asks later on “FAUX NEM,” on the topic of his peers’ nominally true-to-life writing. “To be so damned by God, you want your friends to be goddamned liars?”


You said to the Financial Times: “We’re not basketball players, who have a limit to their bodies and taper off. Rappers only get more skilled as we get older, because we have more experiences to draw from .” But there is of course a perception that many rappers fall off as they get older; I’m sure you and I could cite people who we felt that way about as fans.

That quote—or, not necessarily the quote, but the concept—actually came from Cassidy. I was just aping what he said. We had a conversation on IG Live one time and he mentioned that our skill sets, our craft isn’t based on anything physical. It’s not like we need knees to rap, need ACLs to rap. The things that come under pressure and get damaged in the career of a basketball player—we don’t have those. Our muscle is our cognition. Neuroplasticity lasts throughout your entire life. Even if you get to be 90 years old, your brain is still creating new pathways—maybe not at the speed or at the intensity it did when you were a child. I mean, the majority of your neuronal growth happens when you’re a baby, in terms of speed. Do you hear any babies rapping?

I have a 5-month-old, I’m trying to put her on Spice 1 but it’s not working.

Right [laughs]. That idea that rappers fall off isn’t from the rapper, it’s from the audience. The audience falls off. Rappers just get better and better and better and better. Melle Mel is just as good—he’s probably better now, 40 years later, than he was when he first started. You said rappers fall off—no, rappers don’t fall off. They don’t get worse at rapping. What happens is the audience changes, they lose interest. The dopamine, that wash of neurotransmitters that you got that first time you heard it, it tapers over time. Does weed fall off? Nah, the weed is just as strong as it was when you smoked it the first time, in terms of its biochemical properties. But your brain has become used to it, and requires higher and higher and higher and higher dosages to achieve that same effect that you had when you hit it the first time.


I look at it as, what’s changing in the audience? My skill set is getting better and better, but I’m selling less and less records. So what else is happening? There’s new beats, there’s new forms of music. Rappers don’t necessarily make the beats, so we’re not necessarily in tune with controlling how the music goes, how the music is changing. We’re interfacing with new producers, new sounds, new technology. Literally new synthesizers that have a whole bank of new sounds, and that feel and sound better at different tempos that we weren’t used to rapping over in 1985. You get a rapper from 1985 who honed their skill set in 1985 terms and expect him or her to rap over trap beats with the same intensity—no, it’s still a learning curve.

I do think there are some rappers and producers who aren’t interested in being relevant or novel in every field or style of the time. Even at the A&R level—you have record execs who retire because they were more interested and had more of a grasp on the technicalities and mechanics of the music business in the ’80s than in the ’90s. A&Rs in the ’90s might have quit in the 2000s because it was just a different type of music, a different feel, with different expectations. That don’t mean that they’re terrible A&Rs—that don’t mean that they lost their edge. I think it’s all contextual. The best of us, the ones who are able to navigate—somebody like Drake, for example, he just copies and pastes to a certain degree, right? “This is a new style? OK, I’m taking that whole style and I’ma put Drake on it.” And he’s interested in that. He wants that type of relevance, and he maintains it. It’s “Everybody’s not interested in doing that” versus “Everybody’s not capable of it.”



Alot more at the link below 👇

Good read, and he's right, he explained that whole falling off/aging thing better than anyone I've seen. "Falling off" in hip hop just means the fans moved on from you en masse, nothing else...you may have climbed higher music wise/skills wise as opposed to falling off...but they're just tired of you for whatever multitude of reasons.



Does anybody else prefer print over video interviews and shyt?? Everything being on video was cool for years...now I don't even click nigs videos and podcasts and shyt no more, actually developed an aversion. I don't want to waste an hour or two of my day listening to these guys talk and talk and ramble and shoot the shyt, what's the point? Make The Source great again.
 
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Deltron

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Right [laughs]. That idea that rappers fall off isn’t from the rapper, it’s from the audience. The audience falls off. Rappers just get better and better and better and better. Melle Mel is just as good—he’s probably better now, 40 years later, than he was when he first started. You said rappers fall off—no, rappers don’t fall off. They don’t get worse at rapping. What happens is the audience changes, they lose interest. The dopamine, that wash of neurotransmitters that you got that first time you heard it, it tapers over time. Does weed fall off? Nah, the weed is just as strong as it was when you smoked it the first time, in terms of its biochemical properties. But your brain has become used to it, and requires higher and higher and higher and higher dosages to achieve that same effect that you had when you hit it the first time.

i get what he's saying...but at the same time some rappers do fall off.

Eminem is a prime example.

Are his lyrics better than they were in his prime? Debatable.

Flow is far worse, so are beats.

So in aspects Em definitely got worse at rapping.
 

KingsOfKings

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i get what he's saying...but at the same time some rappers do fall off.

Eminem is a prime example.

Are his lyrics better than they were in his prime? Debatable.

Flow is far worse, so are beats.

So in aspects Em definitely got worse at rapping.
And I agree with all of this. Em is hella unbearable to listen to nowadays.
 

KingsOfKings

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Falling off" in hip hop just means the fans moved on from you en masse, nothing else...you may have climbed higher music wise/skills wise as opposed to falling off...but they're just tired of you for whatever multitude of reasons.
💎
 

mundL

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i get what he's saying...but at the same time some rappers do fall off.

Eminem is a prime example.

Are his lyrics better than they were in his prime? Debatable.

Flow is far worse, so are beats.

So in aspects Em definitely got worse at rapping.
his beats were never good but the beats he picks today are more in line with what the new rappers rap over

the flow is different but thats subjective like saying his lyrics are better or worse
 

Deltron

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his beats were never good but the beats he picks today are more in line with what the new rappers rap over

the flow is different but thats subjective like saying his lyrics are better or worse
He had decent beats, even the ones he made during the that era.


Flow is infinitely worse. fukk that robot shyt
 

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i get what he's saying...but at the same time some rappers do fall off.

Eminem is a prime example.

Are his lyrics better than they were in his prime? Debatable.

Flow is far worse, so are beats.

So in aspects Em definitely got worse at rapping.




Even considering what Lupe said about cognition and what drug addiction/OD can do to negatively affect it, his isue is lack of direction, not ability to rap (Mentions having tinnitus in the same interview.)

As for his beats, he's never had much musicality as a rapper. What he did have in his prime was people that knew how to direct his sound toward his strenths. You get rid of the Bass Brothers, put Dr. Dre on Neptune for how many years and he starts picking his own beats from the revolving door of 'hot' producers.

But he can still do this:



You could make an argument that he has gotten better at actually rhyming/putting raps together. It's just not being focued into anything cohesive most of the time,
 
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