U.S. Soccer’s relationship with Lupe Fiasco is as puzzling as ever

USA! USA! USA!

Be the progress that Jurgen Klinsmann wants to see. Be a soccer federation with direct ties to a deeply political, often controversial, socially-conscious, possibly too-smart-for-his-own-good rapper from Chicago. Be American. Be Lupe Fiasco.

How many albums does England’s music director have coming out today? Does Mexico’s music director have a new song out that features Ty Dolla $ign singing about something socially relevant? I don’t think they do. Land of the free, home of the brave, son.

I’ve been a Lupe Fiasco fan — to varying degrees — since his debut single, “Kick, Push.” When Lupe is at his best, and not tangled in his seemingly never-ending struggle with fame and public perception, he is, without question, one of the best rappers alive.

With songs like “American Terrorist,” Lupe has never shied away from sensitive subjects: America’s military involvement in the Middle East, race relations, presidents Bush and Obama, the so-called War on Drugs and America’s sub-standard educational system. Controversial socio-political opinion isn’t just an arena Lupe Fiasco visits, it’s where he lives. It’s why he records. So I was bewildered when U.S. Soccer gave him to the (largely ceremonial) title of Music Director in the run up to the World Cup in Brazil.

U.S. Soccer isn’t exactly culturally adventurous. Picture a random member of the American Outlaws. His name is Chad, he wears cargo shorts and flipflops, and he listens to O.A.R. It’s my perception that U.S. Soccer — and MLS, and any entity responsible for branding the domestic game — avoids any idea, person, or concept with an “edge.” U.S. Soccer caters toward the monolithic, white, suburban clichés of the ’80s and ’90s, regardless of the actual makeup of the fanbase.

So where, in that antiquated, one-eye and one-ear closed sense of perception, does a Lupe Fiasco partnership fit it? It’s something that I discuss with friends of mine who work and play in the worlds of soccer, music, art, brand promotion, or generally cool shit. After more than half a year discussing it, we still can’t come up with an answer. It dumbfounds me.

Was someone at U.S. Soccer swayed because Lupe isn’t overly profane or at all “gangsta”? (Note: please stop saying “gangsta.”) Did the decision-makers and check-writers never actually listen to his music? Is my idea of U.S. Soccer, and the Soccer Industrial Complex, dead wrong?

Maybe my perception of the chosen image of the game in America was correct, but aligning with an artist like Lupe was the sign of a change in philosophy. That’s what I choose to believe. It’s the most optimistic answer. It isn’t fun to love a game and feel like those in charge think people with your shared interests are somehow unsafe to be associated with.

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