The last time Londonist caught up with Lupe Fiasco, in 2006, the Chicago rapper was sporting the quotidian hip hop uniform of suede Tims and baggy jeans. Last night was a different look altogether. Clearly setting out to match his surroundings, Lupe bounded onstage kitted in a tuxedo and fresh white shirt, his band similarly well attired. As he remarked later in the evening, Esquire have just anointed him one of their best-dressed men of the year. He's clearly trying to bring such maturity to his live show - and tonight, he succeeds.
As if keen to forget his geek chic for good, Lupe dispatched skateboarding paean Kick, Push early on, before rattling headlong into a sampler of highlights from his first disc, Food & Liquor. Lupe's lyrical dexterity is impressive enough on wax, and the effect is heightened in performance: attacking the microphone, he bends his tongue nimbly around every syllable, so classic think-twice lines - "I'm trying to stop lyin' like a Mum-Ra", geddit? - are caught and dwelt on by even the casual listener. Less adept is his skill in beat selection - his second LP in particular suffered from a nepotistic choice to favour Chi-town homeys - yet with the band in lock-step, even the not-so thrilling numbers sound rejuvenated.
Last year Lupe caused a brief internet message board flame-war when, after fluffing his lines during a VH1 Hip Hop Honours tribute performance to A Tribe Called Quest, he subsequently declared that he wasn't much of a Tribe fan: anathema to rap fans, certainly, and doubly so since one of the standout tracks from sophomore album The Cool was a song that sounded like a forgotten number from Midnight Marauders. That song, Paris Tokyo, is given a rousing reception here, and the story surrounding it encapsulates what's so likeable about Lupe: the 21st century gadfly who's content to nod to the older gods without embracing them completely, crimping a little from anyplace he likes and forging his own style from it. He's certainly capable of moving this London crowd, and we can't wait to welcome him back.
Photograph by Stephen Cromwell