After local MC Lupe Fiasco was named best artist last year at the Chicago Hip-Hop Awards, the rumor was his name had been spelled wrong ("Lupe Fisco") on the plaque. Mishaps like that have been the story of Fiasco's career over the last six years, and at times it looked like he'd be permanently exiled to the realm of the almost famous. He's bounced between three major-label deals, seen his creative partner and producer, Chili, thrown in jail, had his debut record leaked through the Internet months before it was even completed, and worried publicly that the album might not even get released. Last year he flipped Kanye West's "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" as the socially conscious banger "Conflict Diamonds," which went viral online, only to have West come back a few weeks later with a successful remix that jacked his verse. (West claims it was a coincidence, and the two have made peace, with Fiasco even making a cameo on the West single "Touch the Sky.") But Food & Liquor (Atlantic), executive produced by longtime fan Jay-Z, shows Fiasco is capable of challenging hip-hop conventions in ways that West and Common have always flirted with but never followed through on. A midwestern kid raised on Islam and obsessed with skateboarding, he makes it clear where he's coming from on cuts like "No Place to Go": "I used to hate hip-hop, yup, because the women degraded / But Too Short made me laugh; like a hypocrite I played it / A hypocrite I stated, but I only recited half, omitted the word bitch." Fiasco can pack a sixteen with incisive, introspective rhymes and still keep it from clunking, making him something truly special. Here's hoping he sticks around Chicago once he blows up. Lupe Fiasco performs as part of the Molemen's fourth annual Chicago Rocks festival; see page 30 for a complete schedule. Sat 5/13, 6 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $16. All ages.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ray Tamarra.

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