Meet the Surprisingly Young Guy Who Is Organizing Lupe Fiasco's Protest Against Atlantic Records
Won't somebody please liberate this record?
Matthew La Corte is a 17-year-old rap fan from West Paterson, New Jersey. Specifically, Matthew's a fan of Lupe Fiasco, the bright, tortured, socially-conscious Chicago rapper whose third album, Lasers, has been infinitely delayed by his record label, Atlantic. About a week ago, someone made a proposal on the Kanye Live Forums message board that Matthew frequents: what if Lupe's fans staged a protest against the label? A Twitter hashtag, #FiascoFriday, begot a Facebook group, begot a real, honest to goodness protest, and so it came to pass that La Corte found himself planning a march on one of the biggest labels on the planet. He has help though: in addition to his Kanye Live confederates (many of whom, Matthew says, he's never even met in real life), more than 900 people have RSVP'd to the event; one of them appears to be Lupe Fiasco himself. Is this a real thing? We called the kid up to find out.
Explain to me the genesis of Fiasco Friday. What is it? How did it start?
Well, three years ago Lupe came out and said that he was going to do a new album. And we were kind of waiting around for things to happen. Then Lupe started to release some information about how the album was finished, the album was done, and he gave it into his record label Atlantic and nothing was happening. It was in their hands and he couldn't do anything. So we continued to wait. And then there was a petition that was started, and people started to spread that around, and now I think we're at 29,000 signatures. But we gave that in to Atlantic this summer and what happened was they tweeted that it was coming; that was all they were saying. They refused to give us any official information about why it hasn't been released. And I think many of us feel personally disrespected that they really have blatantly just been completely silent on this issue--that's basically what started this whole thing.
Since then, you've helped organize a physical protest, slated for October 15th. Is there anyone else you're organizing it with or is it just you?
There are so many people who are involved with this now. We have this Facebook group that last time I checked had over 900 members, and people are just posting ideas. Basically it's a mass group of people over the internet brainstorming things. Someone made t-shirts. Someone is looking into making a documentary about the whole thing. Everyone is putting their little creative twist on the event. And that it's mostly a youth-based movement is one of the better things about it, because with what's happening in the country and the whole scenario economically, politically, socially, things like that, it's really good to see the youth get behind someone who supports intelligent thought and creative direction and taking this world into a place that's better than it is now. I think that that's a major portion of this movement.
Where are you with the logistics? Do you guys have a permit yet?
We've been in talks. There are members on the forum talking with members of the governor's office in New York. I'm not really in charge of the permit portion of the thing, so I can't really tell you a lot about that. I know we are looking right now into getting a sound permit because we want to get speakers--we want have Lupe's music playing while we're there--so that's a major thing that we want to do. Other than that, I know we're planning on contacting NYPD, so they know what's happening. For a lot of people this is the first time they've done a real political action. I've done things before that were very small in my town of 11,000 people so I'm not really concerned about getting arrested or things like that but this is New York City and we're definitely aware of the fact that we need to get all the legal logistics worked out. We need to finish that portion because that's a major part. We just want it to be a safe and respectful and nonviolent protest at Atlantic and really make sure no one gets arrested, no one gets in trouble, things like that.
What town are you from in New Jersey?
West Paterson. They changed the name of my town, so I organized a student protest about two years ago. A bunch of us got together and we marched to the municipal building and we talked to the mayor, things like that. And I didn't get a permit and didn't talk to the cops, we just kinda went through it because I wasn't nervous about what was going happen. But where we are in 2010, I guess I can say I'm nervous about the potential for things getting a little rowdy because 900 people are on the Facebook group, there's already 850 who have responded on the website. We're getting emails from people left and right flying out from California and going on road trips, so if we don't have all the permits correct it would really be a catastrophe.
Why Lupe? Major labels sit on rappers' records all the time.
Personally I feel that Lupe Fiasco is a completely different breed of rapper. There are a lot of other types of rappers and what we really wanted to focus on was not talking about other rappers and what they do and naming names, but focusing on Lupe and his positive message and the things he talks about in his songs. It's also what he does outside the record booth and all the things he does for charity. He just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year for charity. He just donated coats for a children's charity. He's a rapper but he's also a social advocate, he's a political activist. He does things that really break the mold of that traditional rapper, and I think that's what draws a lot of people to his music is that here's a guy who is really talking about some of the most major issues that a lot of people feel, and that's why a lot of people can relate to him. Because we all, as the youth and even as older people, we have thoughts about what's going on, what's happening around us and we want to express those thoughts.
And people have said, "Oh, there are so many other reasons you could be protesting. Why are you protesting Lupe Fiasco?" I think that it's important that we get behind one person who's going put out information and ideas that other rappers aren't. That's a major portion of why we're doing this in the first place. Why is Atlantic not putting out this record? You can see right now how strong of a fanbase he has. Is the issue that it's not commercial? You're not going to hear a Lupe Fiasco songs on many radio stations. Are you gonna be able to get that money as the Atlantic Music Corporation from radio play? It's not gonna happen. So what idea is Atlantic Records putting out? That it's okay to bring our children up with this music that's all about me going out and partying tonight? Is that really what we're all looking for? I mean, rap and music and creative expression has forever been used to reflect the society, and what's going on in the world right now. I think there's a lot of other things that rappers can be expressing, and the things that are on the radio are really do not reflect what this society is all about. And I think that's why there's so much push behind Lupe, because he's really much more than just a rapper from Chicago. He represents a generation, and a movement.
Right, you have these sentences in this email you sent me--"Politically and socially conscious hip-hop has been a staple in music since its creation in the 1970s. But sadly, that major portion of hip-hop has drastically declined and is barely breathing in comparison to the sex-driven rap of 2010. A substantial reason for this change is that major music corporations reward mediocre artists for putting out repetitive music instead of encouraging creativity and diversity." I understand if you don't want to name names but I'm just kind of curious to get a better sense of what you feel like the problem is in 2010 as far as rap music goes?
Well, I turn on the radio, I'm in the New York area--Hot 97 and Power 105.1 are my major hip-hop stations. And when I turn on those stations basically I hear a lot of the same type of thing. It's a lot about "I'm gonna go out, I'm gonna go to the club, I'm gonna get X amount of girls, I'm gonna do all these different things." And it's great to have those party songs, it's great to have that enjoyable Friday night music that you go out and listen to with your friends in the car. But I feel like at the same time you look at how rap started, and it started as "Look where I am, look what's happening around me," and it was this conscious music about what's happening in society. You have these different rappers that came up and really pushed the idea of hip-hop and brought it to the forefront of music in America, because they were talking about things that were so relevant and so real. And I think now you have today in the last 15 years, my rap history is not that great because I only started listening to rap when I was, say, 8 and that was what, 2001, but the last 15 years really have brought about this change where the focus now is really this devaluing of women in society, this idea that it's money.
And I think that that's one of the most important ideas, that money is the king, the queen of the world, and it determines everything and every song is about "I have 14 Lambos and I have 6000 houses in every exotic island and I have money, so what more would I want?" Is that what we're really looking for? Is that what we're bringing our youth up into? It doesn't matter how we do it what we do, who we hurt, etc., etc.? I look at my school--I'm a high school senior--and I look around every day and I see these kids who support these rappers and bump all their music all day. What are they looking for? What are they doing in society? Where are they right now? And you look at other people who listen to these positive messages, you know especially songs with Lupe, and see people who are much more intelligent, kids who understand things more, who are much more open to other people and other things. When you take money and put it on such a pedestal, you're really setting yourself up to fail in the long run because you're hurting relationships, hurting things that are real in life. And it really saddens me to see how money--the idea and perception of money, the idea and perception of how many girls can you get with and things like that--has taken over hip-hop. There was always a place for that in hop-hop, but it was never such a major focus. And I think that what's happened now, in the last couple years, it's been taken to the forefront, and now every song you play on the radio, almost every single song, back to back to back, has basically the same message in it and it's not--it's a very small change in one verse or something--but the overwhelming majority of songs have this same information. There's no versatility, there's no creativity, there's none of this new idea of what people are feeling. And you have to go the underground to listen to these songs that aren't being pushed out there.
Why isn't Lupe Fiasco's song "I'm Beaming" on the radio? Why is every single song dealing with the same types of things that I will predict are basically going to damage kids growing up? Because your life shouldn't be based on the dollar signs in front of your check, there should be something else there. Money's important, but there has to be something more behind that. It's not all about money, it's not all about sex. I think that's what's missing in hip-hop today.
This is obviously a protest of Atlantic Records. How would you like to see their decision making process change? What would you like to see them do differently?
First of all, we would like to see a little bit of transparency from Atlantic. If there's a reason why they're not releasing this CD, come out and tell us. We have no idea. If they had just come out and said, "Lasers is coming out Spring of 2011"--well, okay we would have been angry, we would have been mad--that's pretty ridiculous, four years after the original fact--but okay, it's coming out. The fact that they won't say anything, the fact that we gave them a petition with 20,000 plus signatures and they have no response to us, and they don't want to talk to us--that is what really, really annoys this movement. And when you have an artist like Lupe Fiasco who comes in the game and releases his first two CDs, critically acclaimed and nominated for Grammys and all these types of awards and things, and you're just not going release his album, that's disrespectful to Lupe, and that's disrespectful to the fans of Lupe Fiasco. And I think the problem is his music isn't commercial enough. We've just seen with an artist this year where a very good rapper put out a CD that you obviously could tell had a lot of commercial influence. And there were reports on the internet that, you know, Atlantic made people go back and write songs that were more radio friendly, and now you look at those types of songs and now they're all over the Billboard charts.
Are you talking about B.O.B right now?
Drake? He's not on Atlantic. You're talking about B.O.B.
It's an artist on Atlantic and it's like, what are they sending out there? What are we doing this whole music thing for? I thought music was this idea of, "I'm gonna go home and write a song about what's happening and we're gonna put this song out," and now its like, "Okay we want you to put the same music out, we want you to have no creativity, have no control over what's going to happen." Once you put chains on an artist, and once you intervene in the artistic process and the creative process, I mean, you're not going come out with what you set out for in the first place and I think that you're flat out disrespecting artists when you say, "You can't do this, you can't do that, we want you to do this, and you if don't do that we're not putting your album out. And on top of not putting your album out we're not going to say anything about it. " And I think that Atlantic really needs to, you know, get with the times and understand what's happening to the fanbases around the world. You can mess with other artists, but when you have Lupe Fiasco, these aren't people who support him that are just gonna sit down and say, "Okay we're just not gonna do anything." This is a group of people who are gonna get up do something. You saw with the petition over the summer, and now we're going to go outside your building and attempt to bring 1000 people out and contact every major outlet in the world and have everybody talk about it. This is not the group that you want to do this too. That's all I'm gonna say.
Did you buy Lupe's first two records when they came out?
No. I'll be honest--I did not buy the records, I just listened to them over the internet. I've become over the past few years more of a music enthusiast, so now I've been buying the records and supporting the artists, you know, that I feel deserve that support. But I did not buy the first two albums.
What are your hopes for the actual protest? Do you think Lupe will actually show up?
Yeah, he actually posted on his Twitter about three days into it that he was going to come. I think people before that were like "Okay, there's gonna be 25 kids there. Nothing's really gonna happen." After Lupe said he was going to be there it was kind of like, "Woah, let's take a step back and see what's gonna happen here," and I think that that brought a lot more people into the mix. I'm super excited to see him there. He spoke at a U.N. event the other day and he talked about us twice. That's amazing. You really don't think about ever doing something and having major artists like this talk about it and then attend. I got an email today: "Do we make our own signs, or are you gonna supply signs?" So we're going to get in the whole sign-making process. There are videos that are being made. Hopefully, we get that sound permit so we can make speeches. I really want to make a speech. I think that would be such an incredible experience just for my future, to make a speech in front of people like this at this incredibly historic event--that would really mean a lot to me. I would love to really just have a sound, legal, non-violent, peaceful, strong, powerful protest, starting at Central Park and marching to Atlantic. We'll get there, and our message definitely will be heard.
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