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Grammy award-winning artist Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, will join Yale’s community as a Saybrook Associate Fellow in the fall of 2023.

The program allows Fellows and Associate Fellows — who can be faculty, staff and other Yale affiliates — to form connections with each other and with students over a four-year renewable timespan. Head of College Thomas Near described Saybrook’s Fellowship as a sort of college “social network,” wherein students are able to reach out to specific Fellows based on individual interests and expertise.

Though Fellows are often associated with the University, colleges can nominate and appoint non-Yale employees per year as Associate Fellows. This year, Head Near nominated Fiasco, and Fiasco accepted.

“He’s a big fan of Yale because he’s essentially participated in every one of the Open Yale Courses online on YouTube,” Near explained.

Fiasco’s journey to becoming a Fellow started at an entirely different academic institution: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Fiasco has been at MIT for a year as part of its MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program, where he taught a course at MIT called Rap Theory and Practice, a technical exploration into the creation of rap music. 

Fiasco also worked with MIT faculty to understand the neurophysiology of spoken word art and rap. While there, he met computational biologist and Yale Assistant Professor Brandon Ogbunu GRD ’10, a member of the same program.

“Lupe represents the kind of thinker that Yale champions,” Ogbunu told the News. “He had a very big impact on MIT.”

He and Ogbunu collaborated on projects and talked, and eventually Ogbunu invited him to take part in a College Tea at Saybrook

Nathan Mai ’25 attended the February College Tea, and described the experience as “surreal.” He said that Fiasco had been one of his favorite artists since he first heard the rapper’s feature on “Touch The Sky.”

“He really struck me as a cerebral guy when he was talking,” Mai said. “There were moments where he was quoting Aristotle next to A$AP Rocky… He had all sorts of little influences from everywhere. He seems like a very curious guy.” 

From the tea, Fiasco and Near bonded quickly — near, like Fiasco, is from Chicago, and connected with Fiasco’s music.

“We grew up in different geographic parts of the city, but we both faced very similar pressures, and I’m a white dude, and because of white privilege I was able to escape trouble,” Near noted.  “Lupe escaped trouble…by being an artist.”

His favorite song? “Kick, Push.” the lead single off Fiasco’s first album: “Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor.”

Near nominated Fiasco as an Associate Fellow, and Fiasco was chosen this past March.

“Proud to announce I’ve been chosen to be a Saybrook Fellow at my OTHER favorite school in the whole wide world outside of MIT…@Yale,” Fiasco wrote on his Twitter on March 30. “Shout to Tom Near for nominating me to a place where against all odds two Chicagoans found a home in the Ivy League. #SayBrookCollege #SAYWHAT”

Mai had been following Fiasco’s MIT class from afar, and praised Fiasco’s desire to bring rap music into the university as an art form worth being studied as poetry.

Fiasco will likely continue living in Cambridge in the fall, but Near and Ogbunu are hopeful that he will establish a physical homespace at Yale in some capacity over the next year.

Sartaj Rajpal ’25, who produces hip-hop and house music, praised Fiasco’s lyricism, and said he was particularly excited about the opportunity to learn from such an accomplished hip-hop artist.

“ I will be spending some time in Saybrook that’s for sure,” Rajpal told the News. “I’d love to work with him at some point”

Near and Ogbunu both noted that Fiasco would be a resource for students interested in the arts.

The college will work with the rapper to set up lectures and talks — and perhaps even to establish a course for Fiasco to teach. 

“I love the fact that we have communities where we can bring people all together, regardless of who they are …. We all come together and we find community,” Near explained in closing. “I don’t think there’s a lot of institutions where that happens.”

Lupe Fiasco headlined Yale Spring Fling in 2011. 

Miranda Wollen is the University Editor for the News; she also writes very silly pieces for the WKND section. She previous covered Faculty and Academics, and she is a junior in Silliman College double-majoring in English and Classics.
Nathaniel Rosenberg is City Editor for the News. He previously served as Audience Editor, where he managed the News's newsletter content, covered cops and courts and housing and homelessness for the City Desk. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a junior in Morse College majoring in history.