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I’m probably not the first person who comes to mind when you think of rap and hip-hop, but I’ve managed to chat with some of the biggest names in that biz. I’ve interviewed Drake, 50 Cent, and, of course, Lil Wayne, who still calls me Miss Katie. But this is the first time I’ve talked with a rapper on a mission.
Lupe Fiasco, born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, grew up on Chicago’s West Side in the ‘80s in a particularly rough neighborhood filled with drug dealers, prostitution and gang activity. Despite the chaos outside, his home was a kind of oasis where reading was encouraged, and the shelves were lined with books and National Geographic magazines. Lupe credits his father, who he says was a kind of Renaissance man, with teaching him about music, art, karate and the world around him. Believe it or not, Lupe was a big Benny Goodman fan!
At just 18, Lupe was discovered by Jay Z. Four albums and a Grammy later, Lupe is widely viewed as a pioneer of the conscious hip-hop movement, his socially aware lyrics described by one writer as “music to think to, not to drink to.” His latest single, from his upcoming album “Tetsuo & Youth,” is no exception.
His song “Mission” supports Stand Up To Cancer, an organization I helped launch in 2008. The song empowers people battling cancer and remembers those who have died fighting it. The track begins with introductions from cancer survivors telling their stories. For Lupe, it’s personal. His grandmother died of breast cancer.
Cancer has touched my own life in a profound way, as well. I lost my husband, Jay, to colon cancer when he was just 42 years old. In 2001, my sister Emily lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. When I listened to “Mission,” I felt many emotions but mostly hope. I’ve been inspired by those who are surviving, thriving and fighting.
Lupe, himself, has been quite the fighter in other ways, and that has gotten him into some hot water. He’s been especially vocal about the Obama administration and his feelings that the president hasn’t done enough to end the war in Afghanistan or to help the African-American community. He said he was “immediately blackballed” after saying during a 2011 interview: “to me the biggest terrorist is Obama.” We talked about some of the controversial things he’s said and his views on politics. But Lupe made it clear that he wants his message to be positive and that he wants to be a role model for kids who are growing up in less than ideal environments.
In fact, his work has won him a prestigious honor. He was recently named to The Aspen Institute’s 2014 Class of Henry Crown Fellows for young entrepreneurs dedicated to building a better society.
Meanwhile, Lupe is also working on a remix of his song, appropriately calling it “Re-Mission.” He asked me if I would be willing to share my story for the remix, and I was honored to record with him. But more than anything, I loved the opportunity to remember my husband and my sister and to pay tribute to all those who missed so much but who touched so many.