Lupe Hadiya Coleman Fiasco

When Lupe Fiasco spoke at Saint Sabina’s church last Friday, his focus was on metamorphosis. Upon taking his place at the head of the church, the rapper explained that he wanted to begin the night with a change in how he and his audience saw themselves. “Tonight I am Hadiya Coleman,” he said, referencing two Chicago teens, Hadiya Pendleton and Joseph “JoJo” Coleman, recently killed on the South Side. “Tonight, we are all Hadiya Coleman.” Throughout the night he referred to all other individuals in his speech as Hadiya Coleman, at one point describing an artist as “Hadiya Coleman meets Hadiya Coleman meets Hadiya Coleman.”

The Grammy Award—winning rapper and producer returned to Chicago to speak at Saint Sabina’s as part of  the church’s African-American speaking series “Prophets Among Us.” The series includes four speakers and runs from February 10 to March 1 as a celebration of Black History Month. Lupe Fiasco’s presentation, free and open to the public, was well attended; nearly every pew in the Auburn Gresham church was filled with locals anxious to hear the decorated musician–a native of the West Side–speak.

Talk of transformations dominated the night. Speaking for nearly two hours, Lupe focused on seven transformations, from the silly to the painfully solemn. Subject matter for the night included Franz Kafka’s short story “Metamorphosis,” and the fact that the fast food chain White Castle decorates and accepts dinner reservations for Valentine’s Day. He also discussed the progression of soul food from garbage intended for slaves into what is now considered “southern cuisine,” as well as his childhood vision of the buildings of Chicago coming together to form a giant robot–an image that was recreated in his Grammy Award-winning song “Daydreamin’.” The artist, known for his strong political feelings, concluded his speech with a discussion of what he referred to as the “most sought after transformation in the city”: the modification of semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons.

Overall, the speech was very well received. Lupe came to the pulpit wearing a simple black sweater and his trademark thick-rimmed glasses, and spoke casually to those in attendance, adhering firmly to the church’s introduction of the speech as “a conversation.” The rapper remained jovial throughout, winning chuckles from the crowd. At one point he even needed to refer to an audience member’s knowledge of one of his songs, as he himself could not remember all of the lyrics.

Despite a warm reception, at times the rapper’s conversation seemed a bit disjointed. Beyond the fact that all of these subjects were stories of transformations, it seemed that these references lacked a strong link to hold them together. Often the audience was left wondering–what exactly was he trying to say? Were these transformations positive?

But perhaps Lupe’s intention had always been to simply pose some questions to the audience and get them to think about these issues. To conclude, he urged the crowd to ask themselves, “Why do these transformations occur? Why are we Hadiya Coleman?”

Saint Sabina’s African-American speaking series began with a talk by Dr. Cornel West on February 10, will continue with Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. on February 22, and will conclude with a talk given by Louis Farrakhan on March 1.