Tesla Motors and The Lupe Fiasco Paradox

17 Oct

Having grown up on hip-hop, one of the most frustrating cliches that never seems to die is underground rappers who define themselves not by what they are, but what they are not. Like Republicans who are more comfortable governing in opposition, they’re less able to elucidate a platform than to merely decry the state of mainstream hip-hop, rarely offering a viable alternative of their own.1 Worse yet, whatever aesthetic they wind up pushing winds up mirroring that which they allegedly hate the most. Mos Def railed against sellouts before all but giving up on rapping, selling his songs to Madison Avenue, and trading the mic for a movie career. More recently, Lupe Fiasco’s made a show of how much of an alternative he presents to mainstream rap, but also raps extensively about clothing lines and limited-edition sneakers.2 Any differences between him and, say, Paul Wall, are more cosmetic than he might want to admit. Lil Wayne might be rapping about shooting someone’s grandmother, but at least he’s upfront about what he stands for.3 Unfortunately, people who ask to be held to a higher standard… well, get held to a higher standard, whether it fits or not. And since, in spite of these contradictions, Lupe Fiasco still manages to make interesting music, the paradox gets named after him.

If this is a problem in the world of rap, at least the only thing at stake is egos and record sales. In the corporate world, the stakes can be considerably higher. Phillip Morris is going to get away with practices that Whole Foods never could, because they sell a product that kills people. What’s a little union-busting between friends?

And for this week, at least, Tesla Motors takes the grand prize in this… fiasco. Granted, the current economic conditions are not the best in which to start a business. And the auto industry is taking as much of a beating as anyone. And they’re on their third CEO in as many years. But Tesla isn’t your daddy’s Oldsmobile. They’re building zero-emission plug-in electric vehicles. And they’re bypassing the stale Detroit industry model by recruiting outsiders and operating out of Silicon Valley. And firing their employees via blog post.

[Record scratch noise]

Wait, what??? Firing your employees without having the decency to tell them? Guess they’re not that different. While we’re at it, can I get some $350 Bapes in a size 9 1/2?

BONUS: In honor of my spirited defense of ignorant rap that doesn’t try to present itself as anything other than what it is, we have some Birdman and Wayne:

1 And the ignorant rappers usually have better beats. It’s a fact.
2 See also: Wale
3 Actually, he mostly just stands for being the best rapper alive. And shooting someone’s grandmother.

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