Beat n Path: Journeying with Lupe Fiasco Part 1

Artists are complex individuals that draw inspirations from underground wells that are fed by different bodies. These hidden rivers are tributaries to the sources that pour into the souls behind the music. The convergence of these waters pool into the reservoir that become the ink for the quill. Lupe Fiasco is more than a Hip-Hop artist and a philanthropist. Before he was an emcee, he was a martial artist. Lupe’s lyrics are littered with double entendres and Street Fighter references, but what is hidden beneath the bars is his connection to karate. It is this connection that drew me to Lupe’s music because, as with his father, my mother is my Sensei. With his new web-series, Lupe takes us on a journey of discovery into the origins of Kung Fu and how the spiritual connections of its values branched out from the temples in China and wove their way across the world to shape and mold a kid in Chicago.

When Lupe announced his Beat N Path series, my green belt heart lept at the chance to see how karate has shaped Lu’s life outlook, worldly perceptions and how he uses those as a mirror to reflect who he is through music. Known for his intricate lessons and visualizations of abstract ideas conveyed by his lyricism, Lupe lets his faith, his home and his hobbies be the conductor of his songs. By allowing us to travel on this pilgrimage to the home of Kung Fu, he is once again giving his passion the wheel and riding shotgun to his own story.
My mother has been teaching a Japanese martial arts called Isshin-ryu for over 20 years. Starting when she was a child, she has dedicated her entire adult life to bringing the pillars and practices of this martial arts and instilling their values into the kids she teaches, I among the many generations of students that cycle through her dojo. Through unarmed and armed forms called katas, we learned discipline, grace and purposefulness of movement. Through sparring and wrassling, we learned self defense and disarming tactics. Every lesson my mother instills begins and ends with Isshin-ryu’s principle, “I do not wish to fight you, but I will if I have to.”

I ended my martial arts career at my green belt, but Lupe continues to allow the lessons his father taught him to have a seat at the table behind his decisions. This latest offering from Lupe is a 9 part web-series, with a 10-minute running time per episode. Each episode follows Lupe as he dives deep into the heart behind Kung Fu by immersing himself in its training and culture. The unique vantage that Lu holds as a student outside of the community serves as an opaque backdrop to how worlds can collide and the resultant explosion births new horizons. This is seen the most in Episode 1: I Think I’m Ready. Lupe and crew visit Shaolin Temple but the experience is an unexpected one. From temple to temple, Lu enters Fa Wong Temple and has the honor to have his form critiqued. For those of us who study a martial arts, the heavy panting afterwards is a sign of putting strength behind movement. Open-hand katas can be seen as blocking for a potential fight so they depend on inner power and explosive force from your core. 
In the second episode, Lu is learning the root form of Kung Fu. As with my background in Isshin-ryu, “a body in motion stays in motion and a body at rest stays at rest.” Forms in Kung Fu and katas in Isshin-ryu sync your motions to your surroundings, using one as a compliment to the other. This synergy can only be achieved if the lines your body makes are firm and strong. From the knuckles of your downward block, through your wrist, to the elbow and shoulders, each strike or block must be completed as a part of the broader motion of the body. Fluidity is key in transferring the energy needed to defend or attack. 

If you’ve ever tried to mediate, you understand the difficulty it can be to turn your thoughts inward. In Episode 3: Thanks Pops, Lupe is taught proper meditation techniques. All martial arts rely on the quiet spaces between the movements. When you allow yourself to sit inside the pauses between your breaths, then actively practicing the arts will flow naturally. But you can’t have the Path without the Beats and in episode 4, Lupe links with a Bejing producer Jeff kung to speak on Hip-Hop in China as well as to gather the soundtrack to this trek.

The convergence of who Lupe is seen at Wushu mosque in Episode 5: It’s really Full Circle. In this episode, he learns the history of muslim martial arts in China as well as how martial arts can be taught anywhere; any building can be a dojo. Episode 5 demonstrates how martial arts principles translate within religion.

Beat n Path is a great glimpse into how Lupe creates his art. The meaning behind his time in China and the determination he put into learning the martial arts that his father so loved. The entire series is available to stream at Beat n Path, with downloadable content available for purchase. Proceeds from the purchases go to Rebuild Foundation, a non profit that champions giving back to underinvested neighborhoods in Chicago. Check back next week as we finish the series.


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