I’m sorry to start off on a bit of a downer here, and I know that a white person mentioning these things is always a bit of a bummer. I can hear all the white readers already:
And I hear you, bro! It’s totally easier for us rad white guys to just ignore the guilt that’s naturally eating away at every white person! It wasn’t us who enslaved an entire section of people! It was, like, our great great great granddads and shit, yeah? But, like, not my great great great granddad, he would have been totally woke in the 18th century! If my great great great granddad had slaves, then how come I have so many black friends?! Loads! Like who? Peter! He’s black! What’s that? Italian, you say? But he’s got such dark… I mean, in certain lights… So, does he not count…?
In the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (1525-1866), 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. Roughly 26% of them were children. Yeah, sure, the importation of slaves into the United States was banned by Congress (under Constitutional command) in 1808, yet by 1860, the nation’s black population had jumped from 400,000 to 4.4 million, of which 3.9 million were slaves. The importation of slaves may have banned in 1808, but there was still almost another 60 years of slavery in the US where, I guess, the plan was just to wait until all the slave population died under the horrendous conditions they were forced to live in. Unfortunately, somebody told these slaves that they could have sex and have children, so being behind the times in terms of banning slavery meant that the United States went from being a country that accounted for 6 percent of slaves imported to the New World to one that in 1860 held more than 60 percent of the hemisphere’s slave population. Some of these babies accounting for the slave increase were ‘mulattoes’, mixed race children born of a slave master unable to withstand his gross male urges and raping one of his slaves. These slaves were actually more likely to be set free, simply because they looked a little whiter. I mean, come on, let’s not pretend that these hundreds of years of assigning human worth based on skin colour hasn’t left some epigenetic aftershocks. Nobody’s asking white people to feel ‘guilty’ about slavery, but I think we at least need to recognise how its effects may still be felt in 2018.
Of the 12.5 million slaves who were kidnapped from Africa, about 10.7 million survived. That means nearly two million Africans died simply being transported from Africa. They might actually have been the lucky ones. This idea of whether dying on those (many, many, many) ships on the way to America might have actually been preferable is built upon to astonishing effect on Lupe Fiasco’s latest masterpiece. He imagines a ship full of slaves went down in the Atlantic, but those slaves were granted superpowers and managed to build a society under the waters, and spent the rest of their existence pulling other slave ships under the water, saving fellow Africans from slavery and freeing them to live their lives in freedom under the water. It’s a bit bonkers. It’s a lot brilliant.
Lupe Fiasco is the greatest rapper in the world. I might have previously said that he’s ‘one of’ or ‘up there with’ the best. I think ‘DROGAS WAVE’ is the final proof that he’s the best. Sure, other rappers may be much more lauded, perhaps more technically gifted, and even have more Nobel Prizes, but consistently Lupe is more interesting, more ambitious, and frequently just has more certified bangers.
There’s a central theme on ‘DROGAS WAVE’ of second chances and rebirths. As well as the story of the slaves magically resurrected after their ship sinking, there are also songs about what Alan Kurdi might have achieved did he not drown during Europe’s migrant ‘crisis’, or what Jonylah Watkins could have done were she not shot five times when she was six months old. There are also associations with Lupe managing to leave his fractious contract with Atlantic Records, but this is never overplayed and certainly not disrespectful in any way. The album is so successful that:
In seriously considered putting ‘DROGAS WAVE’ as number one, and like Young Fathers Lupe will definitely win one day, I just wasn’t sure that this was the year. Mainly due to two reasons. The first?
Yea-heah-heah-eah! That’s, let’s all be honest here, fucking ridiculous. It never actually drags, it’s just that there’s far too much here to succinctly get to grips with. The second reason is a little more debatable:
In his praise for the former Ethiopian leader, Lupe commits the album’s major goof, and opens him up to accusations of ignorance and Western insensitivity. His view of Haile Selassie is very much the Gwenyth Paltrow, ‘spiritual’ on weekends, ‘only white people can be bad’ mindset, one which I may at one point have held myself. Sure, Haile might have been a fountain of great bumper sticker quotes like “Throughout history it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most. This, has made it possible for evil to triumph”, but what Lupe is actually doing is bringing an extremely complex figure down to two dimensional status, maybe to prove how wonderful African dictators are in comparison to colonist rulers. Fine, I’ll accept that for many people in Ethiopia, life under Selassie was probably better than for other countries under colonist rule, and Selassie might be an icon of African self-rule. But he was also a conniving and ruthless politician, who was once in deference to the United States but happily turned the whole country Communist when he thought support from the USSR would be more beneficial. He also waged a brutal and merciless war against Eritrea, the effects of which we’re still dealing with every day at the Manchester Refugee Support Network. I’m not saying Selassie was a ‘bad’ man, but praising him unthinkingly as an unimpeachable saint is just offensive. Sorry, Lupe, but that’s cost you a top 10 place.