Complex: How did the Japanese Cartoon EP come about?
Lupe Fiasco: Well, I’ve always been a fan of all music. My favorite songs aren’t hip-hop songs, they’re songs from Queen like “Somebody To Love.” Hip-hop is just something I actually know how to do. But I always had aspirations to participate in other forms of music. Once I got to create some hip-hop, it was like, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” So my artistic side was like, “Yo, let’s do some rock music.”
The true inspiration for Japanese Cartoon is the band Joy Division. You ever watch footage of Joy Division singing? [Joy Division’s lead singer] Ian Curtis is like a straight nerd. And he [doesn’t look] like the rock and roll type. But when he got on stage, he became a completely different animal, like he was having a seizure on stage. When he was performing he just threw himself into the performance, but when he came off stage he was a mild-mannered person. Japanese Cartoon is like a tribute to Joy Division and Ian Curtis.
And it actually came about quite secondhand. I was actually writing songs to hopefully present to Matthew Santos, who was working on his album at the time. It was kinda like my two cents. And it was good. It wasn’t great by any measure, and it wasn’t terrible by any measure. But it was just weird. The creative process for me to create that type of music, I had to put myself in a whole other zone. I only felt comfortable doing it in a British accent or some other kind of subdued version of my own voice. Simply because I don’t like to hear myself sing. So to get comfortable [hearing myself sing], I sang in another accent.
I still don’t know how to play any instruments. But the guy in the studio, Graham Burris, did. But we didn’t have a drum set, so he had to beat-box the drums. And he could play the bass, so he played a bassline on one song. And that’s how you get [the song] “ARMY.”
Then it went from making songs for Matthew to being its own thing. Like, “this is Japanese Cartoon.” With me singing in a fake British accent with this motley crew of guest engineers and guest studio musicians to play on this record by request. So that’s the band. And over time as we did more records, I got more comfortable hearing my own voice so the accent started to go away. On songs like, “Crowd Participation” and “You Are Here,” I’m not using the accent. Those are songs later in the recording process, [when] I’d stopped using the accent. But I felt it would have been an injustice to go back and re-sing all the songs. I felt that people should get the whole Japanese Cartoon experience as it was.
Complex: So what is Japanese Cartoon?
Lupe Fiasco: Japanese Cartoon is my lifeblood. That was my Plan B. If Lupe Fiasco fails and Lasers never comes out, I have to do something. I still have to make music. I still have to go out and tour. I want to make music as good as Radiohead, as good as Coldplay. I can make hip-hop as good as anybody. But you get bored with that and you want new challenges. And for me, this is a new challenge.
Complex: You mentioned Japanese Cartoon being your Plan B, let’s talk about Plan A. A second ago, you said “If Lasers never comes out.” Will it not come out?
Lupe Fiasco: It could. The situation with me and my record company has gotten to the point where it’s just like…we’re really at our final straws. People could say it’s me, that “Lupe doesn’t want to make popular music” or “The label has got to have records that they can sell and Lupe is not giving them the records they want to sell” and XYZ. I’ll meet a fan on the street and we’ll have a full conversation about it. There’s maybe six or seven people walking around who know the whole story with their mouths wide open and their jaws to the floor as to why Lasers has been held up to this point and why it’s not coming out. I can’t tell you that. We’re in a space where we’re still negotiating and some stuff isn’t meant for the public.
Complex: Do you see the record coming out any time soon?
Lupe Fiasco: God willing. I literally put it in God’s hands. You know what, Lasers is a record I poured my heart into. I was actually making my own music, in the studio making the songs, and rapping on them. And at the same time, making the music more acceptable. Not making it more poppy, but making it more popular. Putting it in the position where more people can understand it but at the same time still satisfy my hardcore fanbase.
Complex: You keep referring to it as Lasers, but on the Internet now people are saying the record could be called Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album. Is that not a real title?
Lupe Fiasco: When I said that I was going to do an album called The Great American Rap Album, I did it. Lasers is one project.
Complex: So you have two albums already done?
Lupe Fiasco: Yeah. I make music every day. [Laughs.] Half of the next Japanese Cartoon record is done. When I say Lasers has been done for two and a half years, what do you think I’ve been doing since then? I’ve been sitting back and making more music. I get beats every day from every producer. People want me to feature on their songs, and favors for favors, and all this other craziness. Lasers is one project on its own. It’s its own project, sitting being done, waiting to be released. And I’m in talks with doing the record after this one. So I’m constantly creating. But that doesn’t mean I’m constantly releasing.
Complex: But don’t you want to release Lasers? You made the album because you wanted to make it, right?
Lupe Fiasco: To be 100% honest, if it comes out, it comes out, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s not going to affect me either way. That doesn’t mean I don’t like hip-hop, that don’t mean I don’t want to be a rapper. It just means that I know what everybody else doesn’t know about that album. I know the dark side of that album. Nobody else knows the story. It’s a dark, deep, twisted, nasty story that people lost their jobs for.
It’s like Lasers, that’s one album that got disrupted in the business process. It’s a great album, but that album may not come out. But here’s Food and Liquor II. So what’s going to make you happy? What’s truly going to make the people happy? I’m giving you another album. I’m already past it. I’m not sitting around, “Oh man, I want Lasers. Why don’t they put out my songs?” Crying. For what? You go in and put out another record. And that’s what I did.
If God wills it to be, we’ll be talking about Food and Liquor II. And if Food and Liquor II doesn’t come out, we’ll be talking about Food and Liquor III. [Laughs.] If Food and Liquor III doesn’t come out, we’ll be talking about Food and Liquor IV. If that doesn’t come out, we’ll put out The Cool II, The Cool III. I’m never going to stop.
I love music. I’m never going to stop making music. I just did a whole punk rock album. So when the business overshadows the music, then I’m done. And I’ma step away from that, which is what happened to Lasers. All people see is music. It’s a music business. The music is beautiful and great. I love to perform it, and I love to go around the world, and I love to sing it and say it. But I hate to pick up my phone when I get off stage to talk about the music business!
I hate to be looked at as the villain. I can’t control my perception to the public but I try not to be a villain. My greatest fault is that I refuse to backbite others and put others on front street to the public. Because if I did that, I would be justified and vindicated with everything that I’m saying. But I’ll be doing myself a personal injustice in something I don’t believe in. If somebody wants to come to the plate and talk about the stuff that they’re doing behind the scenes as to why XYZ isn’t happening, then so be it. But I’m not going to put people on front street. That’s why I don’t do dis records or any stupidness like that. I’d rather to talk to somebody personally, and if they still motivated enough to tell the public what’s going, then so be it. If not, then I’ll take the L, publicly. And I don’t mind taking the L. I don’t really care.