Hey y’all, Sama’an here… you might be familiar with the very thorough annotated transcripts of each episode over on thenostalgiamixtape.com. Those annotations are brought to you by our sponsor, Triforce Digital Marketing. Since hiring Triforce to build our website, they’ve been with us every step of the way, helping us become WordPress wizards. If you want to start a website, listen close to the end of this episode because we’re gonna share a coupon code for their web hosting services. Big thanks to our sponsor, Triforce Digital Marketing. Now, you ready to get nostalgic?
Lupe Fiasco: What up, this is Lupe Fiasco, I am a rapper. And what’s some good news, man? Good news is that if you’re listening to this you’re still aliiiive, so get out there and get to livin’. Know what I’m sayin’? But first listen to this podcast, The Nostalgia Mixtape, ya feel me?! Tuned in.
Sama’an Ashrawi: [laughs]
Sama’an: Hey y’all, welcome to another episode of The Nostalgia Mixtape, on this episode we have a guest who has been part of my career since it was just a few months old, and has managed to stick around the entire time. You all probably know him as Lupe Fiasco, and when Lupe and I met up to record this episode, it was after one of his concerts, his team was on a tight schedule and had to get on the road soon, but he still made time for me and that meant a lot. We taped his story in a dressing room at the House of Blues in Houston; the place where I surprised my dad with tickets to see BB King; the place where I did my second interview ever, with rappers Slim Thug and Z-Ro, and it’s the same place where I once heard DMX tell the story of how he and Scarface stayed up til the wee hours of the morning in a hotel room reading each other bible verses. Scarface is Muslim now, so, go figure.
Lupe Fiasco with Sama’an Ashrawi (2011)
Lupe Fiasco with Sama’an Ashrawi (2018)
But me and Lupe, we go back to when I was 20 years old. It was the summer before my junior year of college and I had just been handed the reins to my college TV station’s hip hop TV show. Houston rap hero Trae tha Truth was throwing a charity concert, so I decided to drive to Houston and cover it. Lupe was billed to be one of the performers and because I had made quick friends with Trae’s publicist, Nancy Byron, I got an all-access press pass. This concert you could kinda say was my first big “get.”
It was humid and I was sweaty as hell — and I have the pictures to prove it — when I was introduced to another rapper, named TroubleSum, backstage. She invited me, my sister (who was acting as my photographer at the time, and my co-worker, Tabitha, to Bun B’s album listening party that night, and, when I met her there, at a high-security compound, she introduced me to one of Bun’s managers, who went by the name of Bone. Bone assured me Bun would do an interview after we were done listening to the album, and, true to his word, we did. Bun is a demigod in the South, so I thought it would take me years to ever even meet him, but there I was, standing right next to him, only a few months after I had started my journey. And Lupe was there to witness it. And that’s the story of how I met Bun B and Lupe Fiasco for the first time on the same day.
But my first interview with Lupe wouldn’t happen until the following year, and that’s a story I’ll tell y’all at the end of this episode, so, stay tuned and enjoy this quick trip down memory lane with Lupe Fiasco.
Chapter 1: The Unreliability of Memory
Sama’an:So, first of all, tell us how old you were, where this takes place, give us the setting first, let’s set the scene for this story.
Lupe: I dunno, man, we was just talkin’ about this, how inconsistent your memories are.
Lupe: You start fillin’ in blanks with… you start makin’ up stuff that didn’t even exist, so you start mix-matchin’ your memories, right? But this is late, so this is like a later thing. Music was such a huge part of our karate school experience. So, we would come in and my father would be playing all these different kind of songs; he would be playing contemporary stuff, and then he would play stuff that was just like genuine to the martial arts experience, in the sense that he would have songs that we would do demonstrations to. So we would do karate and kata demonstrations to like specific type of songs. Anyway, there was always a soundtrack to our training, and one of the soundtracks that’s actually a literal soundtrack– was it? Here we go again with the inconsistent memories — but the song is from a soundtrack about the martial arts. The movie is The Last Dragon. So, The Last Dragon soundtrack… I remember we were drivin’ to Vegas and I remember I forgot about The Last Dragon soundtrack and then I was like… the music from my childhood is all the music that my father played. It was one of those moments where I was like, I wanna… I don’t know if it’s like: do I wanna relive my childhood? Or I just had a longing for that sound. I don’t know if I pulled it off of Limewire or I pulled it off of somethin’ because it definitely wasn’t Apple Music.
Sama’an: [laughs] This was pre-Apple Music.
Lupe: This was… I forgot where I pulled this from. I was like, “Wow, they got the Last Dragon soundtrack? Oh my god, I need that. Lemme get that.” And it was during this road trip to Vegas and I sat back and just played the whole Last Dragon soundtrack. It was weird because I knew all of the songs joints for some reason, just through osmosis, right? Just being constantly barraged by the music. It wasn’t too much of an event for me. I think everybody has things in their life that they feel are just these “events” and you know, it’s normalized. The craziness that is their life. For me, the most interesting moments, the most activating moments, are the moments that are… these small, simple moments which kind of bring back up memories of the past, activities of the past, and actions and thoughts and that thing. The Last Dragon soundtrack still to this day is something that I kind of keep rockin’, ever since that road trip to Vegas. Now I just find myself playing… It’s such a part of my life now that I find myself playing it every time that I’m driving in the car, every time that I’m running, every time that I’m doing something, the soundtrack to my life is The Last Dragon soundtrack. Now, does that qualify as an instance of, you know, triggered memory? Or potentially run you back through a specific period of time and isolate it? Naw, I think. Because music for me it becomes a soundtrack to my life. If it’s something that can stick to me and frame my activities and bring me back and give me a certain level of balance… Because you can kinda get lost, right? Out here with songs and joints that ain’t really tied into your upbringing. You try to force them onto yourself, and it has to be something cool, or it has to be something that your friends listened to, or something like that, right? But it’s not authentically you. So when you go back and rediscover the music that is authentically you — And this is decades later, right? I remember watching The Last Dragon when I was like probably four or five years old, right? So you think decades later, here’s this song that you get a longing for and then you find it in some obscure format, some obscure place, and then you find it sticking to you through time. — it’s super interesting. So even up to this day, when I need to get motivated, or … go back to a moment of peace and tranquility… it’s such an integral part of my youth. That’s where I found my peace and my tranquility in my youth: it’s The Last Dragon soundtrack.
Lupe: It’s not no rap song, it’s not no rock n roll song…
Sama’an: Nah that’s fine.
Lupe: It’s not even what I actively listen to which is classical music. It’s just funny that it’s [laughs] the theme song to The Last Dragon.
Lupe: And that’s so strange because it’s a Motown album! It’s a Motown soundtrack, the movie was made by Berry Gordy.
Sama’an: I didn’t know that.
Lupe: The songs on there… it’s like Willie Hutch, The Temptations, right? But this is like in the 80s.
Lupe: It feels strange that that is the preeminent music, probably the most listened to music on my iPhone, iTunes count or whatever it is, that potentially could be the most listened to is this black Kung Fu movie soundtrack. But it’s so real to me, you feel me? So close to what I do, where I been from, martial arts and all that. It has all these memories of my father, all these memories of doing the martial arts, it speaks to me philosophically. I actually, genuinely listen to the lyrics which may come across as corny, right? Because they talmbout Bruce Leroy and Shonuff and “The Glow” and all this stuff, but it’s like… it’s real to me! So I find myself like, “Yeah, I’ma get The Glow!” Even to this day, thirty-six years old, talmbout somethin’ from when I was five years old. Kids runnin’ around talmbout “Wakanda Forever” and all that, but I’m still runnin’ around talmbout “Look at The Glow!”
Chapter 2: Lil’ Nappy-Headed Karate Kid
Sama’an:What age range would you have been when you were doing those demonstrations?
Lupe: We was doing karate demonstrations since I was a baby, man.
Lupe: Since I was old enough to walk we was doing some form of martial arts demonstration. Breakin’ boards, breakin’ bricks, gettin’ stuff cut off of us– we was probably too young for that, though, but…
Lupe: Doing parades… My martial arts roots go way, way, way, wayyyyy back.
Sama’an:If you kind of think about when your dad would put on The Last Dragon soundtrack… Who is that kid? Who is that young Lu who’s listening to it? If you had to describe him, since I never got to meet him.
Lupe: Well, that was the thing, I mean… I don’t think my father used to play… to be clear… I don’t think my father used to play The Last Dragon soundtrack, right? What he definitely played was the soundtrack for Rocky.
Sama’an: Okay [laughs]
Lupe: He would play “War” by Vince Dicola. It was that [makes horn noises with his mouth]
Lupe: It’s funny because I’d never even seen the movie, right? But he would play the soundtrack. I remember he always used to say, “I hate that movie, why they waste all this good music on that terrible movie?” But Rocky wasn’t that bad, I think it was Rocky III or something like that. It wasn’t that bad. But anyway, he was a fighter, boxer, judo champ, so he knew what fighting was like. But I don’t remember him playing The Last Dragon soundtrack specifically, I just remember we used to watch the movie all the time.
Sama’an: Aahhh okay.
Lupe: The music is embedded in the film. You can’t separate the music from the film. The film is driven by the music. So I’ve seen that in every format, from Beta Max to VHS to DVD to whatever, I’ve seen The Last Dragon so many times it don’t make no sense.
Lupe: [My father] playing it, him introducing us to it, I remember — we was just talkin’ about this earlier — when I was a kid I used to be scared of… At the beginning of Last Dragon I think it’s…. Tri-Star Films?
Sama’an: Oh, the horse?
Lupe: The horse!
Lupe: I remember that because I thought the horse was gon’ jump out the screen. I would go hide behind the couch because I thought the horse was gon’ jump out the screen. I was like, “Waahh the horse gon’ jump out the screen!”
Lupe: I was a… during that period of time, I mean… I don’t even know. I don’t think I had a perception of myself to even describe myself. I was just a lil’ nappy headed, karate kid runnin’ around in a karate uniform doin’ whatever my daddy had us doin’ or my mama had us doin’. I remember I always used to kiss my mama when she used to leave and go to work. I remember I liked my mama, right? I don’t think I was a mama’s boy, but I mean… my daddy used to whoop us, so that was kinda funky, but he was still Karate Man. Father was Karate Man, we was the Karate Kids, and I was the youngest boy, so I was the baby boy. Rag tag, runnin’ around, playin’ in the neighborhood, you know, just experiencing… no real self-direction, no self-identity. Yeah.
Sama’an: Trying to figure out who you were…
Lupe: Not really. I wasn’t even trying to figure out who I was. When you look back, at such a young age, you ain’t really thinking about what you wanna be or who you are. You just existing and absorbing information until you make a decision on what you wanna be. So even thinking about it now, I can’t even really define what I was or who I was. Other than that I was a lil karate kid. Father was a military dude, so we was… those are the memories I have: military and karate. Normal life was just like… just normal kid stuff.
Sama’an:Was there a musician or an actor or a politician or a leader who meant the world to you at that time?
Lupe: Naw! Because I was so young, the world was extremely small to me. Big things was huge. Our house was huge. I went back and looked at it years later– our house was like normal size.
Sama’an: But when you can fit under the couch….
Lupe: Yeah, when you can fit under the couch, slide under the bed, and hide behind all type of stuff… it was like… Oh, this is insane… But I really didn’t have no iconic figure like that, whether to be despised or as to be applauding of, right? I didn’t really have those kind of figures in my life at that moment, it was still just my mom and my dad. There was no need for it, wasn’t no need to have nothin’ like that in my life. I probably didn’t start gettin’ that until much, much later. When somebody ask you, “Who do you wanna be like?” As an activity in school. I was like, “I dunno…” Naw. Feel me?
Sama’an: I definitely feel you.
Sama’an:Is there… [laughs] a lesson from your mom or your father that you carry with you?
Lupe: Uuumm… yeah my father always said, “Die well.” So, I hold that dear. Where it comes from and all of the philosophy and martial training that would present that type of statement to be made: “Die well.” You know, “live your best life,” as they now, it’s kind of a cliche, but… So when you die, you can have a meaningful death, you know? You can die with some, if not dignity, you can die with some level of acknowledgement… recognition [that] your life in the world has been of value to the world and to the people. That’s how my father met his end was in the same capacity; there’s so many people that can pay tribute to my father for the direction in their lives. He died well. My mama, she just teach me: be intellectual, think through things, and critique things, etc. Be a critical thinker. That’s less of a mantra or phrase to live by, and more of a process or a total mentality to have.
Lupe: But I’m such a mirror image of competing with my father and my mom, you know, trying to be multi-talented and multi-faceted so you always up to something, always building something. Then kinda having that entrepreneurial spirit, building things from scratch. Always constantly figuring out where you can invest your time and efforts to build things up.
Sama’an: As you know, I’m very close with both of my parents, and I feel like that’s one of the things that I identified with in you when we first started hanging out. I felt like there was so much respect and appreciation for your own parents.
Lupe: Mhm. Most definitely.
Sama’an: And it’s really cool that you’ve literally met my whole family.
Lupe: Yeah, I have!
Lupe: I think about your aunt, right? Like your famous aunt.
Sama’an: Oh yeah, Hanan? [laughs]
Lupe: I seen her on TV I think.
Sama’an:Do you remember that one video with her and Don Lemon?
Lupe: So yeah, I’ve seen the whole Ashrawi family.
Chapter 3: The Chicago – Palestine Dojo
Sama’an:Last thing I wanna ask you about just because you were singing it earlier: which Sonic theme song were you singing?
Lupe: See, I dunno which… So Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon, right? There were two versions of the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon. There was the original version and then there was the later version, the later version was a little more… kiddie, kind of family-drawn. The first version was insane. And I remember when I was a shorty, my homeboy’s name was Attah [Editor’s note: spell check?] and for some reason he had like… you don’t know it at the time, but looking back on it you could see, he was kinda like an introvert, mama’s boy, lil’ family boy kind of thing, right? He was one of the kids who had the Nintendo… I say that lightly. Now it’s not a thing, but back then when you ain’t got a Nintendo, the person who has a Nintendo IS the man.
Lupe: I remember he had a Nintendo and the whole thing. And I REMEMBER him introducing me to the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon. I couldn’t… I was like… The song was so dope and for some reason he knew the song. I don’t remember if he had ‘em all on video tape. It was some straaaange way that I got introduced to Sonic the Hedgehog. I remember he had the tapes, or we came over and watched the cartoons together or something like that, and he knew the song! And I was like, “Man, this is a really good song!”
Lupe: I don’t know if it was to be like him or whatever but I was like, “I remember this song!” This is when you’re lil kids and then you fast forward and it’s like… fast forward up to about maybe two years ago? Maybe three years ago? And I remember Charles Hamilton [Editor’s Note: !] that’s his joint is Sonic, right? He think he Sonic the Hedgehog.
Lupe: That’s his lick, right? Sonic. I remember like… I don’t know if he posted up something about the intro to the cartoon or something like that because he pulled visual cues from Sonic and posted up stuff. I was like, “Yeah, I remember the cartoon, I remember the SONG.” Like, “Aww, I remember this song.” Because I remember watching the thing so many times just to learn the song. I wouldn’t even watch the cartoon. Cartoon was cool but it was the intro which was dope. I watched it on Charles Hamilton twitter or something like that and it triggered it, I was like, “Oh yeah!” So I went on YouTube to find it.
Lupe: Sho nuff it was there, the original theme song to Sonic the Hedgehog. I probably sat and watched that thing like 15 times in a row. Just sat on YouTube… [sings the Sonic theme]
Sama’an: I know you said that at the masjid you went to growing up that there were a lot of Palestinians, but were your parents up on it too? Or was that something you discovered on your own?
Lupe: My mom took her shahada and converted and then my father took his shahada and converted, and I think they kind of had the same intermediary, and she was looking for a husband and he was looking for a wife, and then they got introduced at the mosque, and then they got married like two weeks after they met! And then everyone in that marriage was Muslim.
Sama’an: Wow. Okay, okay. Good to know. As a family, even before you were born, they kind of like became aware of Palestine just through the masjid.
Lupe: Yeah! So the dude that married them was… his named was Muhammad Salah. He was uh…
Lupe: Not the soccer player. He was a teacher at this school in Chicago– Bridgeview, Illinois, outside of Chicago which has a big population of Palestinians. So I mean, my father would teach at the mosque, teach the kids, teach the school, and do all that stuff, so that was like his main man, and he was all about the struggle of Palestine and stuff like that. So we got introduced to his whole family and then we opened up the karate program after school out there and teach out there. We was just a part of the community, and you just kind of get educated towards what’s going on. But you’re actually seeing people come back from Palestine… I remember dude came back shot through the mouth, all type of crazy stuff.
Lupe: We always just had a natural connection because of that, right? Like, the dude who married my mother and father was, you know, part of the Palestinian struggle.
Sama’an: Wow, that’s crazy. Thanks for tellin’ that story. I never knew that part!
Sama’an: Hey, man, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Lupe: Sam, I appreciate it, man.
Sama’an: I appreciate you!
Lupe: Thank you for having me.
Sama’an: Salaam u alaykom.
Lupe: Wa alaykom salaam.
[hands hit the mic mid-dap]
Sama’an: [laughs] My bad.
Lupe: It’s all good. I hope I added value to the podcast.
Sama’an: Yeah, you did. Everyone’s story has been really unique so far, and so was yours. Never had a soundtrack yet.
Lupe: Swag. The Last Dragon, produced by Berry Gordy.
Sama’an: OH, and wait, do you agree that Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z is black?
Lupe: He’s definitely green.
Sama’an: [laughs] It’s just, you know, people are talking about it. I kind of believe it.
Lupe: We’ll have to see.
Sama’an: Okay. Alright, we’ll let him speak for himself.
Sama’an: Thank you, man, I appreciate you. Or I should say “shukran.”
Lupe: Shukraaaan. Shukran.
Sama’an: So, look, there’s been a lot of talk about discount codes happening in this episode. And this is the part where we’re gonna tell you what it is. So, thanks to our good friends, Triforce Digital Marketing, just head on over to their triforcewebhosting.com page, click on the “Hosting” tab, choose an option, add it to your cart, and, when you get there, type in the discount code, “Nostalgia,” and when you punch that in, something cool might happen! Might get a little discount. And that’s all thanks to our sponsor, Triforce Digital Marketing.
So! In case you were wondering… My first interview with Lupe was in 2011, shortly after he released his album, LASERS, featuring two songs with shoutouts to the Palestinian territory of Gaza. He’d mentioned both Palestine and the Israeli occupation on his two previous albums, but this was the first time that these references felt urgent. When I heard those two songs, “Words I Never Said,” and “The Show Goes On,” I knew I had to ask Lupe about them because….. Who else was going to? Trae and his publicist Nancy once again looked out for me, inviting me to a hotel around the corner from that same House of Blues. That night was his Trae and Friends concert, and Lupe was to be one of the surprise guests. When I showed up to the hotel, Trae asked me if I wanted to interview anyone, and I said I’d love to interview Lupe. He grabbed Lupe’s shoulder and asked if he minded doing an interview with me, and Lupe obliged. It was one of the few times I’d ever been truly nervous in an interview, and I think you can see that when you go back and look at the footage. But, nevertheless, I persisted. And so I have the cool distinction of being the first person to interview Lupe about referencing Palestine in his lyrics.
I’m sure a lot of my Palestinian friends can relate to this feeling of so desperately wanting to be seen and acknowledged. Comedian Aron Kader put it best when he said, “If talking about Palestine is taboo, imagine how it feels being Palestinian.” When Lupe said those things in his songs, we felt acknowledged, we felt seen, and that was such a great feeling. I’ll never forget when he performed at the BET Awards later that year, he did “Words I Never Said,” and he had a Palestinian sash hanging from his microphone stand. It was one of the best feelings I can remember of my early 20s. Just like, “Oh! Here’s someone who gets what we’re going through. Who feels it. Deeply.”
For a long time after my interview with Lupe came out, I’d meet young Palestinians and they would recognize me from it. It was kind of a moment of awakening for me where I realized, “This could be one of my things.” And since then it’s been a mission of mine to have those conversations with artists I admire. It all started with Lupe.
So, anyway, that was a long-winded way of saying I hope you enjoyed Lupe Fiasco’s stream of conscious introspection on karate, lessons from his parents, the unreliability of memory, and how The Last Dragon will always remind him of his father. That’s something I definitely relate to, I know that for the rest of my life, there are certain things that will always remind me of my parents, and that’s kind of a sweet thing. So it’s really nice that Lupe has something, whether it’s karate, or The Last Dragon, or whatever, that will always bring him back to that connection between him and his parents. Yeah. So that was another episode of The Nostalgia Mixtape, and I wanna thank you so much for tuning in. I’m your host, Sama’an Ashrawi, and this podcast is produced as always, by the magnificent Jason Crow. Catch ya next time.