“I don’t want to be relevant today,” says Wasalu Jaco, a.k.a. Lupe Fiasco, the now 32-year old Chicago rapper. He describes Tetsuo & Youth, his 5th studio album, as “the end of an era.” “I’m not as relevant as I was before,” he says, “I think I had my peak and now I am coming down in relevancy. It’s not a sad thing for me. I don’t want to be the go-to guy for the club song or to speak on all the dumb shit that’s going around. I’m happy being that somewhat sophisticated, overly deep weird guy making powerful music — but just two or three degrees away from the center of attention. There is a new generation speaking to a new generation, so you have a Kendrick Lamar and a J. Cole and the other people who are the new Lupe’s. I don’t have the same lingo. I don’t sip lean or smoke weed. I can’t compete with a Wiz Khalifa for the attention of a 12-year old.”

Although it’s somewhat humbling to see Lupe acknowledge his position in the hip-hop/rap world, this takes nothing away from the power, talent, awe, and performance of Tetsuo & Youth. Totaling at 16 tracks, around an hour and eighteen minutes long, Tetsuo & Youth is one among the books of the best adult-contemporary rap albums. This record is sleek, smooth, thought-provoking, and Lupe’s flow is anything if not stealthy and completely in the pocket. “It’s an interesting album because it’s a transition,” says Lupe, “I’m much more mature in my representation in public.” Lupe also stresses the idea that his record is socially conscious, and not political. He explains that he “doesn’t think people know what political means. This is not a shot to you or anyone else, even myself. We just paint that on to things that speak to society, but that’s not political. Political is, ‘I want a revolution.’ ‘I want to change the government structure.’ And I don’t think those records necessarily do that. I think people like to slap that on anything that is outside of the realm of shaking their ass in the club. There are no mentions of Democrats or Republicans. I don’t look at [the songs] as political. I look at them as social portraits as opposed to political diatribes.”

And if anyone knows what they’re talking about, it’s Lupe Fiasco. Known for being one of the best socially conscious rappers inventively and lyrically, Tetsuo & Youth is a massive over-an-hour-long audio thought-scape. Lupe isn’t afraid to tell you how he feels. This record, is lyrically inspired by his upbringing in Chicago’s crime-ridden Westside. He says of the record’s lyrical content that it’s like, “’Oh, shit, I didn’t know Lupe could talk like that. I didn’t know Lupe knew that guy. I didn’t know Lupe was affiliated with that.’”

“Last night I was sitting at this little coffee shop in LA”, says Lupe, “and having a conversation about my place in music. The place is closing and this guy and girl walk up. They go, ‘Hey, how are you doing Lupe? I don’t know how to say this, we were sitting over there for the longest time trying to figure out how to say hello, but I wanted to thank you.’ Prior to this I was thinking, ‘I ain’t got no place in hip-hop, my career is over,’ that whole speech I gave you earlier. But she goes, ‘I teach your music in my class. I teach at a community college in the Bay. You don’t know how many papers I’ve read about your music.’ The other guy teaches high school, and says, ‘I incorporate music in my class, so of course I play you and put on a lot of kids to your music.’ So in 2006 I was speaking to high school kids, and in 2015 I’m speaking to high school kids through the people who heard me in 2006. They are passing up the chain, back through time. It was an interesting moment. One moment I was talking about the end of days for my career and then two teachers — one high school, one college — walk up to me and say, ‘We are grading essays about your music and teaching you in our class.’ That was just kind of like, Oh maybe I do have a little more fight, a little more gas in the engine.”