Lupe Fiasco's Inauguration Protest Was Totally Necessary, and Totally Art


Amid the day's pomp and circumstance floated the undeniable narrative of disillusionment: Obama supporters cheered on the president as he embarked upon a second term though, it seemed, that their expectations and excitement had waned since the first inauguration, when nearly 2 million spectators packed onto the Washington Mall to watch him take the oath of office.

However, Lupe Fiasco, who was invited to perform at Sunday night's inaugural event celebrating President Obama's second term went far beyond expressing disappointment.

At an event organized by StartUp RockOn — a networking group for start-up entrepreneurs that does a poor job explaining what it actually does on its website — Fiasco performed a song from his 2011 album Lasers, "Words I Never Said," which includes the following lyrical bomb: "Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist / Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn't say shit."

Unsurprisingly, this classic case of biting the feeding hand resulted in Fiasco leaving the stage.

The specifics of how and why the rapper was led offstage remain blurry — the Washington Post reports that he was "approached by guards and taken off stage." Foreign policy reporter Josh Rogin tweeted that the rapper was "thrown off stage" and Matt Dornic, CNN Worldwide's senior director of public relations, that he was "kicked off stage."

StartUp RockOn, however, noted in a statement Fiasco was "not 'kicked off stage'" and instead claims that "organizers decided to move on to the next act" after the rapper performed the same song for 40 minutes.

Fiasco's action has sparked controversy online, where some are lauding the 30-year-old performer for his courage.

Yet what has gone unnoticed in the mostly celebrity-driven coverage of this incident, is the context surrounding Fiasco's lyrical protest.

In "Words I Never Said," a chilling piano-backed hip-hop anthem laced with conspiratorial lyrics, Fiasco paints a dark portrait of the country. He asks if 9/11 was an inside job ("9/11, Building 7, did they really pull it"); takes the fluff-obsessed news media to task ("If you turn on TV, all you see's a bunch of what-the-f---s / Dude is dating so-and-so, blabbering 'bout such and such"); and describes powerful financiers as money-hungry psychopaths ("Crooked banks around the world would gladly give a loan today / So if you ever miss payment they can take your home away").

Beyond the song's incendiary lyrics lies a potent message: out of fear we keep to ourselves what we know to be the truth. Haunting female vocals repeat a to-the-point chorus: "It's so loud inside my head / With words that I should have said / As I drown in my regrets / I can't take back the words I never said."

Fiasco's protest performance shows his art comprises more than mere words serving the bottom line of a major record label — they contain, to at least some extent, his real thoughts; they serve as his vehicle of self expression.

If it takes spoiling an inaugural celebration for the artist to share what his conscience tells him he must, then that makes him a man of his word.

That's more than can be said about most politicians.