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Epics have a thousand facets. The Greeks had The Odyssey, the Italians had Dante’s Divine Comedy, and France had the titular À la recherche du temps perdu.. all take place on a grandiose stage — transcending unities of time/genre.
Lupe Fiasco’s “The Cool” saga is no exception..
Don’t you know that I run this place
And I’ve begun this race, must we rerun this pace?
Lupe Fiasco, “Put You on Game”
Rap Genius takes special pride in explaining the lyrics of Lupe Fiasco (we don’t call him the King of Lyrical Trickiness for nothing)..
But when it comes to The Cool Saga, there cannot be claim to certainty. In fact, no one in the world is ever 100% sure what Lupe is saying..
Photo: Rap Genius editors pondering The Cool Saga
So keep in mind this is a work in progress! Nevertheless, I have been instructed to continue.
The protagonist of the saga, Michael Young History (pronounced “My Cool Young History”, also known as “The Cool”) appears sporadically in Lupe’s debut album “Food & Liquor” and is the central focus of his follow-up, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. The Cool’s a strange fellow, namely because he was shot, killed and came back to life (remember that even Jesus was killed by the polices..)
Picture that girl in high school who you went on one date with and it went really well.. so well that when you gave her your favorite track jacket, you got to hit it. The next day, you caught her fucking the A/V kid while stealing his car keys. That’s The Streets, a ruthless thug-woman, bent on stealing hearts and collecting child support..
The Streets pretends to love you, but as soon as the money stops flowing, she leaves you for dead. She takes great pleasure in tattooing the names of her victims on her breasts — and has dollar signs for eyes.
If you haven’t gotten it yet, she’s a total bitch. Like Catwoman — but instead of catlike teasing, she expects indentured servitude (meow!)
The Game is basically The Godfather with superpowers. Married to the Streets (supra), The Game is her partner and her personal hitman. He draws in the youth with promises of fame and fortune — then, he either offs you or makes you his undead slave.
Together, he and The Streets promote gang ethics, with promises of short-term riches and bitches in exchange for loyalty and potential war wounds.
note: like Lupe, Rap Genius wishes to express a nonjudgmental attitude towards “Thug Life” — get it how you get it playboy
The narrative begins in the childhood of a nameless boy, whose plight is attributed to Michael Young History. Although he was a bright young lad in his youth, the departure of his father had lasting effects on Michael’s psyche.
He and his mother both ineffectively plead with the father to help raise Michael — or at least give him the time of day, but Papa History just writes his check and bounces. (Check? Bounce? Clever.) At the end of each verse, Lupe throws in a tiny bit of foreshadowing, setting us up for The Cool’s next adventure..
Between the first and second songs of The Cool saga, Michael does quite a bit of growing. Told entirely in the first person, “The Coolest” is the heart of Michael’s journey through the thug life.
Without a strong father figure, Michael learns to only care about himself. He does have a sexy girl — The Streets. In her usual way, The Streets woos Michael with promises of fame and fortune the likes of which he could only dream about. There’s a catch, though — he’s got to peddle drugs for The Game (you see how the names are getting allegorical?)
The tragedy lies in Michael’s true love for The Streets, who manipulates his emotions. MYH believes that The Streets would do anything for him.. but she doesn’t feel the same way.
Although he raps the whole song from the perspective of a cheeseburger (no, that’s not a joke), Lupe manages to weave together another entry in the life of the future Cool. Michael’s rise to prominence combined with the attention he’s received from The Streets has made The Game a bit jealous, and he threatens to have Michael whacked.
Meanwhile, MYH experiences the ups-and-downs of slanging. Despite the thrills of giving handouts to his homeys and calling homeless people gay, The Game’s demanding workload is taking its toll on him. He visits a church expecting good advice, but only hears about how the friar scored some awesome pussy. Desperate to escape, he tries to turn himself in to the police; unfortunately, most of the force is bought and paid for by The Game, so his request is denied.
SPOILER ALERT: Lupe explicitly says that this song is the “death of The Cool”..
Michael and his bro are rolling around the streets of, uh, Somewhere, while MYH’s homey tells him about some of the rumors he’s heard. Apparently, some guys out there are a bit jealous of Michael’s fame and his dame, and plan to assassinate him. Meanwhile, following them is one of The Game’s hitmen, out to murder MYH for his all-too-familiar relationship with The Streets. The two discuss evening plans (“what a surprise! I’m going to the club and getting laid too!”), but only one of them makes it there.
Michael’s friend has to take a piss, so they pull over for a brief respite. Jokingly, his friend tells MYH not to worry if he gets killed, because gangsta heaven is a guarantee. While MYH waits and the song ends, the hitman pulls over, walks up and shoots Michael 6 times execution-style, killing him.
You: But Rap Genius, Lupe already said Michael’s dead!
Quiet, you! The show goes on...
As Michael dies, he is stopped at Heaven’s gates by the divine bouncer, St. Peter. Despite his protests, St. Peter refuses his requests due to his seedy past and failure to create anything positive during his time on Earth. Not even Hell wants to deal with him. Michael is forced to return to Earth & told to do some good for once in his life. Reluctantly, Michael does what he is told.
Sounds corny, but told with such pathos..
Back on Earth, Michael finds himself trapped underground in his own casket. He is no longer Michael Young History, he is now “The Cool”. A significant amount of time has passed — enough for his right hand to completely decompose. After he gets a little drunk, he decides to claw his way out using his gold chain. When this proves too slow, he uses his mouth, even eating some of the dirt..
As he gets off the subway, he tries to score some crack but gets held up by a group of kids using the same gun as The Game’s hitman.
He remains calm when pressured, reminding the listener of the life he led before he became The Cool: “hustler for death, no heaven for a gangsta”..
Although it is perhaps unfinished, The Cool saga remains an as-of-yet unduplicated feat: hip-hop’s first epic poem. Lupe’s tale crosses metaphors, narrators and albums while making it all seem easy. Of course, that’s the point — it’s not easy, and there is much debate over what belongs as a part of “The Cool” chronology..
Speculation and amateur interpretation abounds.. expect frequent updates to this post..
Lupe’s third effort, LASERS, drops on March 8th. Until then, here’s a list of the songs mentioned and some which many believe should have been!
Plus the apocryphal entries: