Lupe Fiasco Pays Tribute To Johnny Cash

Rapper Lupe Fiasco is famous for his edgy rhymes and radical politics. For the Tell Me More series "In Your Ear," Fiasco shares some of the songs that motivate him. That includes Johnny Cash's "Man In Black" that inspired his latest album cover.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for the occasional feature we call In Your Ear. That's where we hear from some of the guests on the program to find out what songs they've been listening to. Today we hear from rapper Lupe Fiasco. He recently joined the program to talk about his new album "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1." Now he's known for his often provocative lyrics and statements, and he talked about that. But he also talked about the songs that help him stay motivated.

LUPE FIASCO: Hey, this is Lupe Fiasco and what's in my ear right now is Major Lazer's "Get Free."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET FREE")

FIASCO: Major Lazer is a dance electro kind of a group with more of a reggae kind of vive. And it's just the content of the record, amazing vocalist who singing this song as she talks about, you know, I can never get free. You know, we can never get free.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET FREE")

MAJOR LAZER: (Singing) Look at me, I just can't believe what they've done to me. We could never get free. I just wanna be. I just wanna be. Look at me I just can't believe what they've done to me. We could never get free.

FIASCO: It's almost reversed inspiration because it's kind of almost a sad song, but it forces you to take into consideration your surroundings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET FREE")

FIASCO: The other song that is, you know, in my ear is Johnny Cash's the "Man In Black." You know, it's poignant because my album "Food & Liquor II," in stores right now, the packaging from my album is all black, so there's no words, no pictures, no anything on any of the packaging in and out. And the inspiration, one of the inspirations for that was Johnny Cash's "Man In Black."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAN IN BLACK")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town. I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he's a victim of the times. I wear the black for those who never read...

FIASCO: And I literally listen to this song, you know, almost on a weekly basis just to remind myself of the beauty. It's a beautiful song. Johnny Cash is a beautiful man and may he rest in peace. But this song in particular, it talks about why he dresses in black from head to toe. And he does it not to look like the cool rocker. He does it, you know, for prisoners, you know, who have been imprisoned way beyond, you know, the time that they should have been there. He does it for poor people. He does it for old people. He does it for sick people. He does it for people who've never heard the words of "Jesus," you know, quote. You know, he does it for, you know, innocent victims, you know, of war and atrocity. You know, he does it for, you know, all these different reasons and he kind of counterbalances with, you know, he'll never wear a suit of white, you know, as long as, you know, we don't start making a move to make a few things right, you'll never see me wear a suit of white.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAN IN BLACK")

CASH: (Singing) You'll never see me wear a suit of white. Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day, and tell the world that everything's OK. But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back, till...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JA FUNMI")

FIASCO: Another song that is in my ear, there's a group from Africa that my father actually used to play a lot, King Sunny A., and it's a song called "Ja Funmi."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JA FUNMI")

KING SUNNY ADE: (Sung in foreign language)

FIASCO: I don't understand a word of it, but it's such a beautiful rhythm and a beautiful song and it kind of takes me back to my childhood when my father used to play it in the house and stuff like that. So that's what's in my ear, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JA FUNMI")

ADE: (Sung in foreign language)

MARTIN: That was rapper and activist Lupe Fiasco telling us what's playing in his ear. To listen to our previous conversation, just go to our website, NPR.org, click on the Programs tab and look for TELL ME MORE.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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