When Jay-Z’s MTV Unplugged concert with The Roots aired, some were surprised to see him rock a shirt bearing Che Guevara’s emblematic portrait. Soon after, on “The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse,” he called himself “a revolutionary Jay Guevara” whose appearance couldn’t even be stopped by Osama Bin Laden, referring to the predecessor’s fateful release date September 11th 2001. Then, on his presumable career finale, “The Black Album,” Shawn Carter argued, “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on, I’m complex.” During that time, a new rapper emerged on the scene, employing the radical rhetoric of a political revolutionary. He went by the name of Immortal Technique, and on his debut he dubbed himself “the resurrected Che Guevara,” while denouncing his peers as “a bunch of fake Tony Montanas.”
Jay-Z deserves credit for his all of accomplishments, last but not least from an artistic viewpoint. But when it comes down to it, there’s no denying that he was much more convincing as Tony Montana than as Che Guevara. Lyrically, Jay never renounced his hustling ways, and hustlers are capitalists at heart. There are some contemporary rap acts, such as dead prez or The Coup, that try to unravel the revolutionary potential of the common hustler, that to a certain extent adopt the philosophy of the grind for a greater cause. But as long as he’s in it solely for the money, a hustler will never bring about change.
Rappers are known for throwing all types of references into the mix and likening themselves to all kinds of historic figures, some of them virtually showing no shame and using the most despicable characters to reinforce a certain image. While he was a communist and thus ultimately participating in a political movement that killed millions of people, history has been kind to Che Guevara, as he is still considered by many as someone who died for ideals worth dying for. Che was one of the good guys in a world where corruption and compromise prevent most political figures from being good guys.
So when rapper Lupe Fiasco dubs himself the Chi-Town Guevara, we should pay close attention. Is it yet another inappropriate reference? Not if you consider that as a Muslim, Lupe doesn’t possess the hustling background many of his peers claim to have, nor is he likely to give in to the sinful temptations your average up-and-coming rapper faces. In fact, in a song that leaked earlier this year and that will probably be on his upcoming album, he discusses the dilemma that being a rap fan and being a god-fearing young man put him in, admitting that he “used to hate hip-hop” because it degraded women, yet that Too $hort still made him laugh. One verse from “Hurt Me Soul” specifically deals with the self-proclaimed God MC Jay-Hova:
“I had a Geto Boy bop, a Jay-Z boycott
cause he said that he never prayed to God, he prayed to Gotti
I’m thinkin’, golly, God guard me from the ungodly
But by my 30th watchin’ of _Streets Is Watching_
I was back to give him props again
And that was botherin’, ’bout as uncomfortable
as a untouchable tochin’ you
The theme songs that niggas hustle to
seem wrong but these songs was comin’ true
and it was all becomin’ cool
I found a condom on the ground that johns would cum into
and thought what constitutes a prostitute
is the pursuit of profit; then they drop it
The homie in a suit pat her on the butt, then rock it
It seems I was seein’ the same scene adopted
prevalent in different things with the witnesses indifferent to stop it
They said don’t knock it, mind your business
His business isn’t mine and that nigga pimpin’ got it”
In 2006, in an ironic turn of events, Lupe Fiasco himself has become Jay-Z’s business, literally. “Food & Liquor,” its Chicagoan corner store-derived title representing the good (food) and the bad (liquor), will be executive-produced by the Def Jam boss. The “Chi-Town Guevara” mixtape is yet another promotional release before the delayed debut finally drops.
From carefully crafted mixtapes like the “Fahrenheit 1/15” series, to his “Peachfuzz buzz but beard on the verge”-introduction on Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky,” to this summer’s skateboard anthem “Kick Push” (whose video is included here), Lupe Fiasco’s work has been nothing short of promising. “Chi-Town Guevara” shows him as a creative rapper who will refer to a track as a science project (“Switch”), and who elaborates on the difficulty of writing the second verse of a song (“Truthfully I have trouble with second verses / cause the first one be so intimadatin’ / it be bullyin’, pickin’ on it, instigatin’ / pointin’ out all the second one’s limitations / like, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a imitation’…”). Whether he lives up to our artistic expectations and his own moral standards or not, “Food & Liquor” will tell.