Lupe Fiasco

2020-21 CAST Visiting Artist

Breaking down and building up the languages of rap

About the Residency

Grammy award-winning rapper Lupe Fiasco and Professor of Digital Media Nick Montfort have come together to engage the MIT community at the intersection of rap, computing, and activism. 

Wasalu Jaco, better known as Lupe Fiasco’s work as a rapper and producer is informed by his interests in cognitive science, linguistics, semiotics, and computing. During his 2021 CAST residency, he shared insights from his work as an entrepreneur and community advocate, for instance working with the Society of Spoken Art (SOSA), an educational guild for aspiring and established rappers, of which he is a co-founder. 

In fall 2021, Montfort and Fiasco led “Code Cypher,” a programming competition for language and rhythm that engages teams of MIT students in a one-day creative coding event. 

Lupe Fiasco returns to MIT in the 2022-23 academic year as part of MIT’s MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program. His fellowship builds on successful collaborations with MIT in 2021, when he was a visiting artist with MIT’s Center for Art, Science & Technology.

Fiasco, whose most recent album Drill Music in Zion dropped in June 2022, now makes Cambridge his home base as he engages with the campus community through class visits and by teaching a special subjects course on rap in spring 2023. His appointment is hosted by Comparative Media Studies/Writing professor Nick Montfort and Literature professor Mary Fuller.


Past Events

MLK Scholar Presentation: “Optimal Novelty” with Wasalu “Lupe Fiasco” Jaco
Wednesday, November 16, 2022 / 12:00-1:00pm | Hybrid

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor Program was established in 1991 to enhance and recognize the contributions of outstanding scholars. The program honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by increasing the presence of minority scholars at MIT. Visiting Professors and Scholars enhance their scholarship through intellectual interactions with MIT peers and enrich the intellectual life of the Institute with their participation in MIT research and academic programs.

Creative Arts Competition Kickoff Event
Thursday October 13 / 5:00pm
MIT Hacker Reactor, 7th Floor
292 Main Street, Cambridge, MA

Artist-entrepreneur Wasalu Jaco (known professionally as Lupe Fiasco) joined recent competition alum Anj Fayemi, co-founder of Rivet, for a conversation about entrepreneurship in the arts to launch the 2022-23 Creative Arts Competition. Building on MIT’s entrepreneurship legacy, the competition supports arts-focused startups at the Institute, helping to turn students’ big ideas into successful business ventures. A year-long challenge, the Creative Arts Competition equips a cohort of semi-finalists, selected in Fall by application, with mentors and workshops to hone their products, business models, and pitches. The Competition culminates in a spring pitch event, where finalists compete for a $15,000 prize to launch new solutions for the creative industries.

“Code Cypher” Programming Competition
Saturday, October 9, 2021 / 10:00am – 6:00pm
MIT Building W97
345 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA

“Code Cypher,” hosted by CAST Visiting Artist and Grammy-winning rapper Lupe Fiasco and Professor Nick Montfort, invited MIT students to develop computational artworks that play with language and rhythm. 

Some participants brought more experience in music and rap, others in programming and computation, but all showed up ready to work together on a new project inspired by “What I saw in the forest…”, a topic announced on the day of the competition. Over the course of the eight hour event, teams hacked and interpreted the prompt into a diverse set of computational art performances and then presented their projects to Lupe Fiasco. 

The winning project is an interactive rhythm and poetry performance called Tree Clocks, created by Chelsi Cocking and Manaswi Mishra of the MIT Media Lab. The interface presents imagery of tree trunks, which when clicked create a meditative sound world—sounding different rhythms and sonic textures generated from processing the rings on the trunks—while also surfacing text from the team’s favorite poems which reflect on the connections between humans and nature. Each tree trunk exposes rhythm and poetry, akin to the way a music record exposes music and lyrics through a needle traversing around its contours.

CAST Visiting Artist Lupe Fiasco: SOSA (The Society of Spoken Art)
Wednesday, February 24, 2021 / 5:00pm EST

Lupe Fiasco speaks about SOSA (The Society of Spoken Art), an educational guild that brings established and aspiring rappers together to hone their verbal prowess and master the fundamentals of linguistic and semiotic methodology. In its educational dimension, SOSA fosters connections between established rappers and some of the most well-respected minds in academia. A comprehensive curriculum provides lyricists with the guidance and resources they need to deepen their linguistic and rhetorical understandings of spoken art.

In this conversation with his MIT collaborator Professor Nick Montfort, Fiasco covers the history, structure, academic and artistic programming, methodology, and goals of the organization.

Collaborators at MIT

Nick Montfort, professor of digital media in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing, studies creative computing and develops computational art and poetry. Montfort founded and directs The Trope Tank, a DIY research lab/studio, based at MIT and in New York, that undertakes scholarly and aesthetic projects and offers material computing resources. His computer-generated books of poetry include #!, the collaboration 2×6, Autopia, The Truelist, and most recently, Golem. His digital projects include the collaborations The Deletionist and Sea and Spar Between. His MIT Press books, collaborative and individual, are: The New Media Reader, Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities, and The Future.

Biography: MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing

D. Fox Harrell, Professor of Digital Media & AI and Director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality

Ian Condry, Professor of Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Ekene Ijeoma, Assistant Professor in Media Arts and Sciences and Director of the Poetic Justice group


Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, is a Chicago-born Grammy award-winning American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and community advocate. Rising to fame in 2006 following the success of his debut album, Food & Liquor, Fiasco has released more than four acclaimed studio albums; his latest, Drogas Wave, was released in fall 2018. His efforts to propagate conscious material helped solidify him as GQ’s Man of the Year in 2006, and garnered him recognition as a Henry Crown Fellow. While musical genius and ingenuity are at the forefront of Fiasco’s achievements, the artist extends his innovation to projects that aim to foster creative discourse and opportunities in underprivileged and impoverished communities.

As the co-founder and co-owner of community initiatives such as We Are M.U.R.A.L, The Neighborhood Start-Up Fund, Society of Spoken Art (SOSA), and Studio SV with Bonnie Chan Woo, Lupe Fiasco proves that he is more than just a mouthpiece for change, but a committed facilitator of intellectual community discourse and outreach.

Lupe Fiasco’s conscious efforts to propagate social and artistic change continue to inspire his musical and community efforts, serving as a distinguished example of giving back and paying it forward.

Website: Lupe Fiasco
Social: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube