November 11, 2009
Lupe Fiasco Gets Political
The hip-hop heavyweight is on a college tour, though audiences should expect to hear more weighty rhetoric than witty rhymes.
Laying his rap talents aside for an evening, critically-acclaimed hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco gave George Washington University students a lesson in history this week. But unlike what’s taught in closed-door college classrooms, this lesson belonged to anyone who would listen.
Facing a darkened auditorium of over 100 students, Fiasco, drenched in a spotlight, began the evening by reading a now exalted speech Muhammad Ali once made in protest of the Vietnam War.
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.
Nearly 40 years later—with America still mired in Iraq, the Obama Administration contemplating sending 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, and nearly 50 million people lacking access to health care –Ali’s message remained emotionally relevant.
Making the rounds to eight universities, Fiasco is seeking to promote the new film The People Speak, a documentary featuring actors like Matt Damon, Danny Glover, and Viggo Mortensen performing some of American history’s most important, yet little-known, speeches and writings. Inspired by historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, the film highlights underexposed works from non-traditional American heroes, from Ali to abolitionist John Brown to Shay’s Rebellion participant Plough Jogger. A History Channel special of the same name will air Dec. 13.
After Fiasco’s recitation, he responded to questions, during which he described how his life was guided by his father’s involvement in the Black Panther Party and his mother’s intellectual encouragement. A product of activism himself, Fiasco believes participating in the Speak film fits well with his persona.
“This is what I stand for personally and professionally,” he said. “These are the types of projects and things I’m just drawn to naturally.” He added that doing the tour has opened his eyes to a mother country he’d never known: “Before, I had one view of America—the regular textbook history of America, which is based on imperialism and capitalism and injustice … [the people’s history] was never put to the forefront.”
While acknowledging how far Americans have come, Fiasco says he hopes The People Speak will encourage young people to continue to struggle.
“The biggest budget [in the United States] is the death budget, not the life budget,” Fiasco noted, referring to U.S. defense spending.
Asked what young people should protest now, Fiasco replied, “Everything. There’s so much injustice out there. There’s commercial injustice, industrial injustice, corporate injustice, political injustice, social injustice, religious injustice.” Later, flouting the stereotype that all rap musicians are homophobes, Fiasco equated the struggle for civil rights to that of gay rights. “They’re going against the same machinery, the same abuses, and the same kind of prejudices,” he said.
Speak’s producer, Chris Moore, who sat beside Fiasco throughout the event, said his dream for the film is wide accessibility. “Our hope is to get it out there as far as we can, and we’ve been benefited by the fact that we actually have a serious marketing distribution machine working with us in the A&E television networks.”
The tour’s next stop is at Northwestern University on Nov. 11.