Just when we taught things had calmed down Lupe has reignited the flames of controversy by firing back at Pete Rock.  The single at the center of the controversy is called “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” and uses a sample of “T.R.O.Y.”, in essence it is a sample of a sample. And this is what makes Pete Rock’s recent outburst all the more ironic. The argument played out on twitter began like this:

@PeteRock – No disrespect to lupe fiasco and i like him alot but TROY should be left alone. Feel so violated, the beat is next to my heart and was made outta anguish and pain. When it’s like that it should not be touched by no one! Who ever re-created that didn’t do a good job @ all. #nohate. I’m not flattered @ all. Dat shit is wack, and the producer should be ashamed of his f*ckin self. SMH. I think lupe is a great artist, I’m that angry with him but it’s a major label idea. I can feel it..

It begins with “no disrespect” and ends in exactly that. He places a hash tag of “nohate” and follows it by saying the producer should be ashamed of his ‘fucking self‘. These tweets which are loaded with contradictions, have seen Lupe attract considerable heat from all over the internet. Yet this response which is now bordering on hysteria, seems out of place compared to how other work of a similar nature has been greeted in the past. When Elzhi released “Elmatic” last year, the moral question arose, was it right or wrong to take someones work and reinterpret it? The general reception was positive, many blogs and magazines rated the album as one of 2011’s best. Tellingly, one of the album highlights “The World Is Yours” was a remade version of the classic Pete Rock instrumental of the same name. And yet neither Nas or Pete Rock spoke out on the issue. Rumour has it both of them gave Elzhi their stamp of approval. With this ground work laid, perhaps Lupe felt it was the right time to take on a hip-hop classic of his own.

But to his shock he didn’t receive the same love as Elzhi. Perhaps the missing link behind the fall out is in fact financial. Lupe is one of the few hip-hop artists who continues to sell large amounts of albums. Pete Rock on the other hand has always maintained an underground following. His music is critically acclaimed but his album sales in the last decade have been small compared to major label backed artists. You’d be naive to think there isn’t some bitterness in that he’ll receive no royalties from the single and my general feeling is that this is playing a part in his anger. The heated response may be coming from the fact that Lupe has a big following and is likely to do very well from the single where as “Elmatic” was free.

The events have placed a huge negative vibe on what was one of the most anticipated hip-hop singles of the year. “Food & Liquor Part Two” may yet be a classic, but it will be in spite of Pete Rock and not because of him. Overall it’s detracted from a remarkable piece of work which to my mind sees Lupe return to his glorious best. The argument that the song shouldn’t have been touched because of it’s meaning is also a little fishy. Hip-hop is based on emotional songs and the idea of certain pieces being more protected than others based on their lyrics is illogical. If such over protection was applied to all of hip-hop there would be no mixtapes. When you make a song that resonates on a higher level, to imagine only CL Smooth will grace the beat is expecting too much. Perhaps if the lyrics disrespected the original tribute he would have had a point.

In order to clear somethings up, Pete has delivered his own official statement:

It’s true that Lupe Fiasco’s representative from Atlantic Records contacted me last fall and he did so while I was in mourning over the sudden death of my cousin Heavy D. I gave the representative a conditional “yes” to use T.R.O.Y. for Lupe’s album but only based on the condition that I be involved on the project. It’s what I always say when approached by people who want to use that particular song. I was never contacted again. At no point was there any follow up from Atlantic Records. Now, the story gets twisted and it’s being said that I said “yes.” The part about my conditions has been left out to make me seem like I’m a hypocrite. When I heard about the song again, it was done, completed, and playing on the radio… and that was Monday night.

It’s true that people have made T.R.O.Y. over. I can’t control what’s done with my work after it’s already out there but I can control who gets my blessings. Those who involve me and respect me in the process, get my blessings. Those who work behind my back – but all the while putting up a front like I’m down with it – don’t.

I’m flattered that they wanted to remake my song and that they respect it for the classic that it is. I just think they should have talked to Atlantic Records to make sure things were done right. The biggest violation is from Atlantic Records but what can you expect? Labels are corporations and their whole point is to sell records. If they respect the artist in the process that would be nice, but they’re not required. For as political as Lupe as, I expected him to know that and to have hopefully made them more accountable. I’m surprised that he’s siding with the corporation on this.

Technically, there was no crime committed with the release of Lupe’s version of my song. Technically, the song can be out there but I’m not talking about legalities. I’m asking: Where’s the respect for the code among artists? No ego, but I know my place in this game. I’m recognized as a legend and I accept that. But most of all, I’m a grown man. The love and admiration that people have for me as a producer and as a man of honor has been non-stop, consistent for over 20 years. That’s based on something that can’t be touched. My music and my character stands for itself. T.R.O.Y was a career-defining song has gotten me invited to the White House. It’s not just because people think the production is dope. It’s also because of what the song stands for. I want my music to touch people but I don’t want to be walked over or lied on in the process.

I admit that my outburst on Monday night on Twitter was based on my reminiscing about Heav and Troy. I think about them every day. I apologize for being emotional about this. I had no intentions of hurting Lupe’s career. That’s not me. I’m known for building up not breaking down careers. Moving forward, I’m 100% in control and focused on what’s good. -Pete Rock

The line “on the condition that I be involved on the project” is vague, did he want to be in the video? did he want to rap on the record? if these were his only conditions to saying yes, then why didn’t he originally tweet something regarding his disappointment at not being part of the project? Instead he attacked Lupe as an artist, then in the same breathe contradicted himself by saying he respected Lupe. How can he justify his harsh criticisms of the producer, knowing the reason why they had to tamper with the beat was due to Pete Rock not owning the sample. Withholding this information from fans was key to the backlash that Lupe is now facing. It is hard to follow Pete’s complaints as he is all the time switching the focus to something new. At first his problem was he didn’t give the go ahead for the song to be released, then we find out that he did. And with each tweet the plot seems to thicken with him.

The spirit of hip-hop lies with the 1970’s New York block parties, the essence being an emcee rapping over every dope beat that the DJ throws his way.  It’s not about stopping to think who own’s the copyrights to each individual track, it’s about the level of artistry you bring to the table. When Lupe raps over “T.R.O.Y.” he honours that tradition and legacy. To have his motivations questioned and ability derided is no doubt painful for him. Pete Rocks criticisms are not like any random artist giving their opinion. He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest producers of all time, which is why his unwarranted outburst must have really hit below the belt.

To say that Lupe is unoriginal is absurd. Was Big Pun unoriginal when he used the beat for “Deep Cover” on his own album? No, because Pun delivered it in his own voice and conceptual vision. I don’t see how it would have been any more creative of Lupe to use a generic instrumental. There is no doubt thousands of beats offered to Lupe in any given year, he could have easily chosen something more radio friendly. But the strength of his lyrics and flow on this single would carry almost any instrumental and make it a hit. He picked out “T.R.O.Y.” not because he was lazy, but to pay homage to the greats and to introduce a new generation to Pete Rock and CL Smooth. His chorus, style and content is entirely original and a refreshing break from the low standards of artists like Lil’ Wayne. The important message of “Around My Way” is now being lost through a sea of mundane controversy. It is a story causing division between fans in each camp and with this rising level of attention it seems far from over.


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