This has been a tumultuous week for Lupe Fiasco.
First, his fans-turned-foes accused him of antisemitism in his new song, "N.E.R.D.," in which he harangues "dirty Jewish execs." Then, after trying to defending himself against the accusations, he tweeted he would retire. Last night, in the Chicago M.C.'s first show since saying he was finished, he took to the stage, at Denver's Fillmore Auditorium, and continued to blast the music industry, reminding the crowd this wasn't exactly his first time quitting show business.
Fiasco remained tight-lipped though the first few tracks of his set, saying little between songs. Eventually, he launched into, "N.E.R.D." stopping just before the "Dirty Jewish execs" line.
"I don't think we should say that," he said. "We might be called an 'antisemite.'
"Now I don't want to be here tonight," he continued. "I would rather be at home reading."
With that he railed about his career, his preference for drug dealers and gang bangers over rappers and music executives, whom he said, "were always big pieces of shit to me. I hated them."
He described the music industry as a "shitty, shitty place to be," and reminded the audience he quit nine years ago.
"I was done," he said, scolding his fans, asking them to be quiet.
Then he lauded the crowd for giving him the chance to send his sisters to private school; buy cars and jewelry; and tour the world.
As Fiasco tells it, the only reason he performs is that "one of his fans," Charles "Chilly" Patton, encourages him. Patton, who is serving a decades-long prison sentence for drug distribution, co-founded the independent record label 1st and 15th Entertainment with Fiasco in 2001.
"They say he's a heroin kingpin in Chicago," Fiasco said. "Chilly was one of the only people in the world that believed in me. And no matter what I did, he said, 'Listen man. You've got something special. You have God's gift. You've got God's voice in your mouth. Speak it to the people. Don't let these people rub you the wrong way or fuck you over.' Right? That's what he always said to me.
"That's the only reason I put out music," Fiasco continued. "Not for y'all. I want you to be clear about our relationship. I don't do music for you. I do music for me."
Battered, the crowd cheered.
"I've never signed a contract for you that said I'd be the soundtrack for your entire life," Fiasco said. "I've faced many crazy things in this business and I've left many times, only to have to come back because my friends asked me to come back."
After being "painted an antisemite — which is like death in the music business," a label a person can never escape, because music executives, "they just want to be victims" — he knew his career was over.
Patton spoke to Fiasco from prison earlier this week, and told the M.C., "You can't let them win like that."
Fiasco said that he had been called worse than an antisemite in his life and that wasn't why he was retiring.
"The worst thing I've ever been called is 'nigger,'" he said. "But I've reached my limit. I've said my piece. I've said the things that I've wanted to say, and with that, I retire, retire from talking to you."
After his speech he offered a gift to the audience and asked African American descendants of slaves to "hop the barricade" and come on stage. Security led them up. These fans huddled around Fiasco, as he spoke to them privately for 15 minutes, without his microphone. The crowd grew restless. Eventually, he broke the huddle to continue his concert. Those fans disappeared backstage.
Next up in his set was a passionate rendition of Kanye West's "Touch the Sky." In the middle of "Paris Tokyo," Fiasco interrupted himself again on the line, "So let's keep it real. All in together, free Chill," another reference to Patton.
Then Fiasco slung his second newest single, "Made in the U.S.A," released after this year's election, a no-holds-bar critique of U.S. politics and the economy.
Still, Fiasco had not finished lecturing his fans. The rapper said to the crowd, "I've got a fun fact for y'all. Y'all ready for one of Lupe's fun facts? What does the word 'Semite' mean? Y'all don't know, do you?
"Do you know who I consider semitic? Israelis. Peoples from Judaism. But also Palestinians are considered Semites," he said. "Did you know that? ... So anything that is hostility or an opposition against someone who is a Semite is considered antisemitic ... So if you have any aggressions or hostilities or war against Palestinian peoples, that makes you antisemitic too. Did you know that? I didn't know that either. But who the fuck am I?"
Fiasco's final song, "The Show Goes On," punctuated the future of the rapper's career with a question mark.
Fiasco said, "This song was the beginning of the end ... If you listen closely, you can hear it."
Lupe named two record executives and mocked their response to "The Show Goes On": "'This nigger wrote a song about us!'"
"Have you ever had the feeling
That you was being had,
Don't that shit there make you mad.
They treat you like a slave,
With chains all on your soul,
And put whips up on your back.
They be lying through they teeth.
Hope you slip up off your path.
I don't switch up. I just laugh
Put my kicks up on they desk
Unaffected by they threats
Than get busy on they ass."
Fiasco has one remaining stop on his tour, December 20th in Cleveland, Ohio. Fans are left wondering if his Denver remarks were the final words of his career or if his show — as it has in the past — will, indeed, go on.