#TBT: Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool turns 7

12.18.07: I resided in what Kevin Garnett affectionately calls “The ‘Sota”. Sophomore year of college at the University of Minnesota, about halfway through getting my architecture degree and about three months after the genesis of gowherehiphop.com.

Headphones on with the Discman (yup, Discman) playing Food & Liquor, I hopped the Minneapolis 16 bus into downtown to the new, two-story Target. There was a copy of Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, I presume, waiting for me there. It would be the first of many copies I would buy because the Circuit City exclusive version featured a bonus track with my favorite new R&B singer at the time, Trey Songz, and there were no Circuit City stores in Minnesota. I had to wait a week til I was back in the Chi to cop my preferred version. I also had to write a note to remind myself because there was no voice memo technology on my phone, because it was a Razr and Razrs couldn’t do that. (Anyone else feeling their age right now?)

I justified spending my limited college spending money on multiple albums by giving them away as Christmas gifts to friends in need of new music. I imagined then that I was the cool dad who used a Christmas gift to spread knowledge, except my dad’s was always a book that I would never read.

Speaking of which, the bus dropped me off just a couple blocks past the two-story Borders, where I found what was seemingly the lone copy of Food & Liquor 15 months prior. Borders is gone. Long gone and in the process of turning into the future practice facility for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The location long immortalized for me as described in that link above because Borders was the last of 17 inferior places where I tried to cop Food & Liquor.

It was fitting that I had Food & Liquor bumpin’ as I walked past the Borders and into the Target a few more blocks ahead for my first listen of The Cool. Purposefully fitting, I should say, because I’m nostalgic like that. You might have already noticed.

OK, fast forward to buying the album.

You ever have that feeling when… the moment before you press play, you take a deep breath, ready to immerse yourself in the music? For me, that anticipation is rare nowadays. But back then, I vividly remember that meditative breath before pressing play on the Discman, before leaving Target and into the Minneapolis cold. (Looking back, maybe the December weather up in the ‘Sota had 50% to do with that deep breath. Ha!)

If you’re interested in more memories from the Discman, proceed below for some personal track by track anecdotes that reflect upon what Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool meant to me. I know you have an album like this that means this for you too, and maybe it’s The Cool as well, but either way I hope this is a reminder to revisit that classic album on more days than just its anniversary.

(Press play and follow along! Scroll below for the full circle conclusion.)

Track by Track Anecdotes:

01. Baba Says Cool For Thought

They thought it was cool to burn crosses on your front lawn as they hung you from trees in your backyard.

This is how The Cool begins. With that opening line, I was across the street from Target, looked around at fellow pedestrians, smirked and thought, “I’m definitely the only one listening to this, to this message, right now.” The spoken word, like that of the intro to Food & Liquor, continues…

He thought it was cool to carry a gun in his classroom and open fire, Virginia Tech, Columbine, stop the violence.

This line hit home to me because we weren’t far removed from the Virginia Tech school shooting and I remember being terrified that week because I was on a big campus just the same in Minnesota. Mood, transformed.

02. Free Chilly f/ Sarah Green & Gemstones

It’s only natural to feel chills on a song called “Free Chilly”, right? Chilly is of course, Chilly Patton, Lupe’s mentor and FNF business partner who was sentenced to 44 years in prison during the recording of the album.

The beat comes in and immediately creates this monumental feel that Gemstones matches with a powerful delivery that felt unmatched compared to his previous singing on Food & Liquor. Then Sarah Green comes in and you get the chills. All elements combine to create a true family feeling and before you know it, the song begins to fade out. I honest to God remember looking straight up past some of the cool mid-size skyscrapers of Minneapolis at the perfectly clear night sky, feeling like I could levitate in my own world.

TL;DR: This album’s off to a good start.

And it didn’t take long for “Free Chilly” to win the “Food & Liquor Outro” Award for beat I most wanted to hear Lupe rap on.

03. Go Go Gadget Flow

Any thug tears starting to form are instantly washed away at the sound of one of the hardest beats on the album, of 2007, of any album beyond. It goes without saying that “Go Go Gadget Flow” reigns today as one of the best Chicago anthems of all-time. We felt it when the House of Blues floor was literally shaking under the unison of fans jumping up and down to this song live in November, 2013. My college roommate in 2007 also understood when I played this song on repeat one night throughout our apartment. His deadpan response, literally an hour and a half later: “So, you’re a big fan of this song, huh?”

Yes. I was wishing I was in Chicago.

04. The Coolest

The first of the handful of tracks that made The Cool a semi-concept album. If memory serves me correct, “The Coolest” was one of the few previews of the album to drop before December 18th. I digested this one on end, and this was before the days of RapGenius where you can look up the explanations. This was during the days of the Lupe Boards where users like myself contributed the lyrics and our opinions on the meanings.

The Cool is by far the most carefully I’ve thought about an album’s lyrics. On my Facebook profile, I should have listed “Deciphering metaphors, allusions, and hidden meanings on Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool” as one of my “Favorite Hobbies”. It was that serious (and that fun.)

05. Superstar f/ Matthew Santos

The most-known song off The Cool, and my 2nd favorite closing song for a live concert behind Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”. Lu and Matthew Santos created more magic after “American Terrorist” that crested to Lupe’s first top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2008. Those week-by-week chart updates were actually a conversation starter for me back then.

06. Paris, Tokyo

Such a smooth song and a lot of listeners’ #1 favorite track if they had to pick one. It’s not my favorite singular track from the album, but don’t get me wrong. I love it.

Plus, it inspired a future honeymoon plan that I know future Mrs. Tibs would be down for (because she’s also a Lupe fan). “Let’s go to sleep in Paris, wake up in Tokyo.”

07. Hi-Definition f/ Snoop Dogg & Pooh Bear

Though it’s not in the discussion for my favorite track off the album, my iTunes play counts reflect it’s in the top 3. I remember thinking it was a huge deal that Snoop Dogg was a feature for The Cool. Like, wow! Look at Lupe, takin’ a step up with a big-name feature like Snoop Dogg. Snoop’s a living legend, but his abundance of features that followed in the years to come sort of dilute this one over time, don’t you think?

That said, it was Pooh Bear and the production by Alshux that elevated “Hi-Definition” to repeat status. First time we’d hear Pooh Bear since “We On”, and since that song was my first ever post on Gowhere, I was thrilled he made it back for The Cool.

08. Gold Watch

Another raw, rap track from Lu that chiefly contributed to the usage of “peruse” in my present-day vocabulary. In fact, you may notice I use it a lot on the site: “Peruse the tracklist below.”

09. Hip-Hop Saved My Life f/ Nikki Jean

Tied for #1 on my favorite tracks of The Cool.

When I think of why I love storytelling hip hop tracks (my favorite type of hip hop), I think of this and Eminem’s third-person to first-person switch in “Lose Yourself” (the second nod to this song in a Lupe column… must be a good one.)

I visualized Lu’s tale just like how the video brought it to life. And I can’t help but feel sympathy and salutes for anyone who could more closely relate to the song than I. From my view, since it’s that touching to me, it’s really touching to anyone.

“Hip Hop Saved My Life” was also mine, and much of the world’s introduction to Nikki Jean. The fandom is now 7 years strong. I’m vibing with Champagne Water and Lu & Nikki once again on their new song “Madonna”. Even more to come on Tetsuo & Youth!

Also: I was once challenged by a close friend on a long road trip to rap the second verse. He noticed me vibing out to it when it came on and I couldn’t back down. Sitting in the back seat though was a co-worker acquaintance of mine, so my introverted self rapped the second verse in soft, chill mode. Looking back, I wish I let it loose from the chest. You guys should do the same. Just rap one of your favorite verses at a party next time. Guarantee it can’t go wrong if you pull it off with zero reservations.

10. Intruder Alert f/ Sarah Green

Love the message, but truthfully, the repetition of “Intru-der” kinda killed replayability for me. Hey, no album’s perfect right? Still, I can’t imagine the album without this song and I know for many of Lu’s female fans, this is their favorite. For me, it was a bridge I ended up skipping across to my other #1 song on the album…

11. Streets On Fire f/ Matthew Santos

That’s right. This and “Hip Hop Saved My Life” are my two favorites from The Cool and would easily make my “If you were stuck on a deserted island with only 1 CD to make a mix” CD.

Couple of crazy *light bulb* moments for this one: I remember listening to this track a couple years later during an Anthrax scare (or something similar) and suddenly, it felt like the second verse could apply to that too. What other song can you name that you can apply a new meaning to… years after it led your iTunes Play Counts list? This really happened for me.

Also, given that tidbit, I’ll admit that I can rap this 2nd verse a capella. Seriously, try me! I can’t freestyle, so this is the best attempt at rapping I can do if anyone ever puts me on the spot after finding out I run a hip hop website. Probably one of the Top 10 things I’m most proud of too. *Kanye shrug*

12. Little Weapon f/ Nikki Jean & Bishop G

Bishop G’s verse is sooooo cold. This whole song really. But wow, I wanted a Bishop G album after this. A very solid, go-to song while playing a video game too.

13. Gotta Eat

The beat is admittedly hit or miss. Its repetition sometimes inspires a skip if I’m not in the mood, but this is Lupe’s metaphors on 100 emoji.

I also thought it was super cool to drop the next album’s title at the end of this song. Of course, L.U.P.End never came to fruition, but who does that? Super cool.

14. Dumb It Down f/ Gemstones & Graham Burris

If “Gotta Eat” was Lupe’s metaphors on a 100 emoji, then “Dumb It Down” is Lupe’s metaphors on a non-existent 1000 emoji. One of Lupe’s cult classics and the OG “Bitch Bad” & “Next To It”.

15. Hello/Goodbye (Uncool) f/ UNKLE

Hello darkness, hello sunshine, hello not at all, hello all the time…

One of Lupe’s most badass records to date and best fast-paced verses as well. The perfect track to listen to when its dark and rainy outside. No doubt this was in my headphones during the Minnesota winter and also on repeat during my late-night work hours drawing alone in the architecture studio. I’ll never forget the soundtrack to those hours. Simply motivating.

16. The Die f/ Gemstones

Lupe and Gemstones need to come together again for an EP of like 6 tracks where they just go back and forth bullet-time like on “The Die” and “We On”. A go-to track to simply appreciate because of how they each end their raps and continue the mini-concept album part of the album.

I normally skip the skit at the end, but listening to it again today, I still imagine the Tommy Boy scene where Chris Farley has to pee on the side of the road and then David Spade inches forward. High comedy. (And not AT ALL what happens in Lupe’s skit, ha!)

17. Put You On Game

I’ve grown to appreciate this one over time. It concludes the concept album part of The Cool and always gets played when I immerse myself into the characters. But for me, it’s a little slow-moving to be on repeat status like many of the tracks noted above.

That said, it was fellow Cool enthusiast and Chicago rapper S-Preme who once got upset at me that I didn’t like “Put You On Game” as one of my favorites from the album. He appreciated the track from a technical standpoint too and his passionate backing definitely helped inspire more listens well after Minnesota.

18. Fighters f/ Matthew Santos

The Matthew Santos features go 3 for 3. This one is such an eerie record that always transformed the mood and struck the right chord. Another 2nd-tier favorite.

The shoutout to lupethefiasco.blogspot.com (whattup Keena!) also lowkey motivated me to build up gowherehiphop.com for the in-album shoutout from Lupe. I always imagined we would make it on L.U.P.End but alas…

19. Go Baby f/ Gemstones

I love the abrupt mood change by bringing “Go Baby” in after “Fighters”. I’m still waiting for the cheerful, lovey song to have a personal meaning for me with that special someone, but I thought it was amazing to see it act as that special song in mind for two of my best friends years later. And years after that, they’re now married.

20. Blackout f/ Trey Songz

Ah yes, the aforementioned Circuit City (R.I.P.) bonus track that I waited another week to get to for my own personal copy of the album. I was super geeked at the tracklisting to see Lupe and Trey Songz (my favorite rapper and R&B singer of the time) together on a collab for the first time. As I raised the personal hype for it, I was disappointed to not really hear Trey Songz on “Blackout”. The track is still ill, and I definitely laughed to myself when the collab I expected came out years later in the form of “Out of My Head”. I enjoyed that single, the DJ Ruckus remix even moreso.

* * * *

Not even two weeks after December 18, 2007, Lupe Fiasco held an album meet and greet in Chicago at The Bassment (also R.I.P.) The store was conveniently located in front of Maks G’s old place so we, and a buddy, ventured over for our first meeting with Lupe himself.

Again, we were 3 months in on gowherehiphop.com and honestly ecstatic that we were reaching visitors in the hundreds on the daily. “That’s an entire auditorium!”, we used to say. Today, we’re still ecstatic to be doing this 7 years later for the *cue The Rock* millions… (AND MILLIONS!) of Gowhere fans. (Ok, I’m kidding. We’re not in the millions.)

But I bring this up because, again, a few hundred is awesome but not a lot. That’s why we didn’t expect this conversation to follow…

Maks G, co-founder: Hey Lupe, nice to meet you. We actually run a hip hop blog called gowherehiphop.com.
Lupe Fiasco, artist: What’s it called? Oh, Gowhere?? Oh, I know you guys..!

Wait, what?! I can’t emphasize enough the times of two-thousand-and-seven. Remember, there was no Twitter. MP3s were uploaded on zShare. There was not the type of access to and mainstream knowledge about music blogs. Even beyond music blogs, it was still weird to meet people you met on the internet, in person. It feels like the Dark Ages compared to today.

So for my favorite rapper, albeit a self-proclaimed internet nerd, to know about gowherehiphop.com just 3 months in… was seriously our first big landmark moment. I remember the child-like thrill like it was yesterday — the first of many more to come. I doubt Lupe remembers this, but that moment was a dose of inspiration for us to grow gowherehiphop.com into Gowhere You Love today.

Hey, sometimes everything from your favorite album to the littlest conversation can have that big an impact on you. This was my story of both, for me. The only thing else I can say is to keep that in mind in your day-to-day life. Every thought and action can have an impact… we are one!

Real recognize real.
Real recognize real
December 18, 2014

BONUS: Lupe Fiasco tweeted some exciting news today, on the 7th anniversary, by revealing that the characters are coming back on Tetsuo & Youth on the second to last track, “T.R.O.N. (They. Resurrect. Over. New.)”. L.U.P.End is speculating that this track, and the last track “Spring”, is a possible prelude to an album Lu has hinted about titled, Skulls. Stay tuned!