TailSpin: Lupe Dumbs it Down

When Kanye rapped, “Choke a South Park writer with a fish stick,” on “Gorgeous,” I laughed. I’m sure that Kanye had more to say about South Park’s over-the-top jab at him, but he elected to respond briefly with sharp humor and wit and that was it. I wish I could say the same about Lupe’s reaction to Spin.

It all started when Spin’s rap blogger, Brandon Soderberg, wrote a hard-hitting response to Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” video. For Soderberg, the song and especially the video, are mindless and irresponsible. The reductive, simplistic nature of the song’s main topic, the haphazard use of blackface in the video and the slightly patronizing chorus – “Lady better?” Says who? King Arthur? – result in a bloated and unnecessary track that crowds out voices in a conversation that’s been going on for decades. In other words, Lupe’s “contribution” to the discourse on the word “bitch” does nothing for the discourse. For Soderberg, the song is akin to Lupe tardily walking into a boardroom full of women and shouting over everyone: it’s rude, it’s arrogant as fuck and it’s a privilege (Hence the term “mansplaining.”

Lupe Fiasco took Soderbergh’s argument as a personal attack and decided to unleash his Twitter hordes. “Hordes” may seem hyperbolic, but there’s really no other way to describe the legion of people that took to Twitter and to Spin’s website to spew vitriol at this writer. He heard it all – faggot, Jew, zionist, bitch – yet he’s considered the bully.

https://twitter.com/LupeFiasco/status/239093701069127681

While I recognize that Soderberg’s rhetoric within the article is definitely charged, in the end, his argument holds up. When I first heard “Bitch Bad,” I also felt it was lazy and half-baked. From its delivery to its simplicity to is subtle chivalry, the song just doesn’t feel polished. The video made this laziness even more apparent. I expect more from Lupe than tired tropes, stunted flow and two-dimensional content. He’s done much better work in the past. In fact, if you watch the video for Lupe’s song “Dumb it Down” and listen closely, you might find a little irony in the chorus’ sardonic line: “Make a song for the bitches.”

I certainly believe in being held accountable for what you say on the internet, but Soderberg isn’t being held accountable for what he said. He’s being held accountable for what he did: challenge a prominent “intellectual” rapper. I read through Lupe’s myriad retweets and the comments on SPIN. A minority of the responses mentioned Soderberg’s argument. Overwhelmingly, the backlash against the article is just knee-jerk fan bullshit. Of course, these kind of reactions come part and parcel with criticizing things that people are fanatically devoted to. I’ve had my own experience with such things. Nevertheless, I didn’t have an entity with a million followers on Twitter TELL fans to harass me. This kind of reactionary, childish sensitivity is well-known in the music world (what up, M.I.A?), but there’s something gravely disappointing about it being seen from an artist who’s lionized as an intellectual and luminary. If anyone needs to be boycotted, it’s Lupe. Seriously, when Kanye appears to be more mature than you, you’re not being “hated:” you’re doing something wrong.

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14 thoughts on “TailSpin: Lupe Dumbs it Down

  1. Nobody reads yours blog, I guess this is a way of getting attention eh? Whats your competitive benchmark to lupe ? .. nobody. If you haven’t heard Lupe’s rhymes he targeted a specific demographic, obviously the constructs were simpler from his other songs. The audience he is rapping to in this particular song are pre-teens, you think they are going to take the time to look at a thesaurus? It gets them thinking.. A different style, and popularized it. You know how many other rapper intellectuals have made it like Lupe, the way he made it. In an industry that goes out of their way (You and Soderberg good examples) to trivialize hip hop with good messages and promote the cookie cutter ones.

    • Lupe’s “good message” is cookie cutter and that’s my problem with it. My competitive benchmark to Lupe is Lupe’s career.

      I would write more, but I feel that you’ve already drawn your own conclusions. Thanks for reading!

  2. Well written article. I feel exactly the same way. Although “Bitch Bad” is a decent song among the other trash out there, it seemed unfinished and not well thought out, and the beat was below par. The lyrics were way to direct and simple. The song doesn’t leave any room for the listener to interpret it, like his past work. as far as I’m concerned, new Lupe’s competition is old Lupe, and he didn’t even come close to it.

    As far as his twitter rant goes, he was being immature. Not many people even know who Brandon Soderberg was before his rant. He brought light to an issue that didn’t exist. It would have been better for him just to leave it alone, or even just a simple “fuck you, hater.” He just took it way too far.

  3. Why does it seem like it is to below Lupe to write a song that is direct and without any need to interpret? And what is wrong with an aritist changing up his flow from what he usually does? The beat wasnt hard hitting and in your ear because Lupe probably wanted people who were listening to the song to be more in-tune with the lyrics that vibing with the beat. Naturally I am going to defend Lupe because he is one of my favorite artists, but at the same time any criticism from writers is almost unfair. I could be wronog, but if you look at what is popular to younger people listening to hip hop- its not all deep, introspective, and compelling and it is my opinion that Lupe changed it up so that he could go directly after that target audience. I applaud him for the song no matter how it came out. I expect Lupe to be Lupe and do what he wants as an artist. You can’t bash a man who has remained mainstream while not making stereotypical mainstream music. If thats the case why are we not bashing other artists like Jay-Z and especially Kanye who have completely changed their music? And as far as his twitter rant is concerned… He can do whatever he wants. Why can he not voice being disrespected? People act like artists arent human or arent allowed to exhibit human emotions. If someone were to blast something you did and take it totally out of context you would more than likely be on facebook and twitter doing the exact same thing.

  4. The whole argument that Lupe should condemn his fans because they called what’s-his-face a faggot is complete and utter nonsense. Lupe has zero control over how a few ignorant and intentionally hurtful people react to one man. Yes, their insults were unwarranted and unnecessary. But what these journalists are doing is oversimplifying. They’re picking at the small fry, grasping at straws because that’s the only argument they have. Let’s be real about this. If it was JUST a critique by Spin on the music itself, there wouldn’t have been any retaliation, because you can bet Spin magazine weren’t the only ones who reviewed the song. But what I haven’t seen a single one of these articles mention is that Spin has criticized Lupe in an unfair way in the past. True, Lupe sometimes does questionable things with his music choices (namely using Pete Rock’s T.R.O.Y. beat without his consent, a conflict he could’ve avoided altogether by consulting him first), but even artists like Open Mike Eagle and Sole have defended Lupe’s stance on these issues. Now, whether or not the fans want to boycott Spin is an entirely different issue. I’m a fan, but I don’t know enough about Spin’s reputation to shitcan them straight out, because it is their opinion and their view which they are entitled to. In fact, the author of this article has the right to say what he wants. Soderberg isn’t being held accountable for what he did, because he didn’t do shit. He didn’t challenge a so-called “intellectual” rapper. Because there was no “challenge”. If I had to choose between Spin’s article and this one, i’d say this one offers a slightly more sound argument. Ultimately I support the song and overall message, but stronger and more valid arguments can be made than “Soderberg has feelings too”.

    • “If it was JUST a critique by Spin on the music itself, there wouldn’t have been any retaliation, because you can bet Spin magazine weren’t the only ones who reviewed the song. But what I haven’t seen a single one of these articles mention is that Spin has criticized Lupe in an unfair way in the past.”

      Spin hasn’t criticized Lupe in an unfair way in the past. When “Bitch Bad” first came out, Soderberg made the exact same points with the exact same writing style (charged rhetoric). He just elaborated upon them when the video came out.

      Also, regarding “Bitch Bad,” I didn’t make an argument. All I did was summarize Soderberg’s argument, say that I agree with it and criticize Lupe’s reaction.

      • According to Lupe Fiasco himself, Spin has in fact criticized him in an unfair way in the past. Paraphrase from Lupe’s twitter feed: “I don’t care if you despise the song but this is the 2nd article in which you’ve publicly disrespected me personally”. So yes, this has happened. Secondly, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, by taking a stance defending Soderberg’s position, and asserting a claim that Lupe’s reaction was uncalled for, you did make an argument. Your critcism was backed by a claim that the reader either agrees or disagrees with, just like my responses to the article. So yes, you did make an argument, and took a stance. And while you have some strong points, they are dominated by weak ones.

  5. Lupe is my favorite rapper. At least he was before Lasers. I feel like people who are fans of someone think that he can do no wrong, and that’s the problem with hip hop. I used to be a lil wayne fan back in the Hot Boys, Tha Carter I and II days. He made good music and that’s how he got popular, but now he just says whatever over any old beat and people still support it just because it’s Wayne, and they’ve liked him for so long. If you were to do something at your job that is half assed, you’d be fired, but these artists aren’t being held responsible for half baked ideas/songs/albums. I do however agree with you when you say that he had to dumb it down for the type of audience he was appealing to. I really like the message of the song, but saying any criticism from writers is almost unfair, WHAT!? those are the people who hold them accountable for making good music!

    You’re right, Kanye has changed, (even though he has taken a lot of shit for it, he just doesn’t respond to the writers through an angry twitter rant) but the difference is, the effort is still there! Every bar of every instrument to every line is beautifully hand crafted, and well thought out.

    And you are right, he can do whatever he wants. He can go on a twitter rant and get his 1.2 million followers to call a rap blogger from Spin Magazine a Faggot, Jew, Zionist, Bitch, send him hate mail etc. Myself and Black Tongue have the right to say that’s immature, and childish. Brandon Soderberg has the right to say he didn’t particularly care for the song.

    • Thanks for reading. I think that the video is satirical, but I don’t think it’s a successful satire.

      I read your piece. I disagree about Soderberg misunderstanding blackface. He criticizes the use of blackface for the exact reason you mentioned: it is used recklessly, without regard for the audience or for its potent symbolic power. That is problematic.

  6. Hey, I think this is a good post. And although I disagree with Soderberg’s opinion of the song and video (and yours;) I respect the writers. I get it. I’m a fan of Lupe’s, and no this wasn’t one of my favorite songs of his, but I do like it. I get the satire, I get the message, and I’m sure if her wanted to be less direct and more complex he could have. Maybe he missed the mark to some, but to others he was spot on. I guess at the end of the day, I think it’s funny how some people are held to such high standards while we expect and applaud crap from others. I don’t have a twitter account (or FB), so I didn’t know about the twitter backlash. I did leave a comment on the Spin article…NO name calling, and it I wouldn’t go there. In fact, I told the writer that it was well written, though I did say some of the descriptive words he used were crappy lol. Bottom line is no one should be boycotted…not for making a controversial song, not for writing about it, not for responding to it, and the twitter stuff I can’t really speak on it. But Lupe is human, and so is Soderberg. Hopefully, they both just keep doing there thing, and maybe just stay out of each others way….there are WAY worse rappers/artists to criticize anyway.

    • Thanks for reading and responding, especially in a polite way. That doesn’t happen very often, ha. Staying out of each others’ ways would probably work out in the short term, but when artists and critics clash, something interesting is created by that collision.

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