How Genius Works May 2011

Lupe Fiasco

RAPPER



Project: Write the lyrics for “Words I Never Said”



Special Report: How Genius Works Fiasco is a Grammy-winning hip-hop artist celebrated for deft, witty lyricism and socially conscious themes. Here he describes his songwriting process and shares the draft of “Words I Never Said” from his new album, LASERS.

"I've always been into political commentary and social events. This one is a little more stinging. It's very direct and real and raw. Atlantic Records put together a team of lawyers, fact-checking every single little piece, making sure it wasn't libelous. The lawyers always want to make sure everything is nice and tidy. But I didn't get any revisions or edits in the actual lyrics--not from my crew or the record company."

"For songs that I write prior to hearing any music, it looks like this. It's just words that rhyme--jail, bail, tail. It's just a bunch of words scribbled down that I'll put together once I have a piece of music I actually like."

I’m not the type that writes before I have music. I know some people that do that. When I’m creating something specifically for an album, I’ll sit down with the track and communicate with the music first. A lot of times, I write in the studio. It’s usually just the engineer and me, and I’m either writing at the engineer’s desk—where the mixing board and all that stuff is—or with the music playing through the speakers or headphones. I write down a line, I’ll go record it. With this song, I’d write a little bit, record that, then maybe stop for a bit. Listen to the track a few more times, write a little, record a little more.

Creativity comes in weird places and in weird ways. Sometimes I find I write better in the car, with just the beat playing and me driving. There’s something about the way the thoughts come out when I’m actually in motion. Everybody has a different take. With Jay-Z, for instance, I’ve seen him go into a studio and lay a record down just like that. Walk out, finished. I’m like, “How did you just do that?” Then some people, it will take them three days to write the song. They’ll sit there and literally write word for word, erase, try it again. Some rappers need to sit to write, but for some raps, you need to stand up. It’s a weird process. I definitely think people would give hip-hop a little bit more credit if they saw the actual creative process.

—As told to Alex Hoyt

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