Fiasco was born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco on February 16, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois. He was one of nine children of Shirley, a gourmet chef, and Gregory, an engineer. His father, a member of the Black Panther Party, was a prolific African drummer, karate teacher, operating plant engineer, and owner of karate schools and army surplus stores. Fiasco was raised Muslim on the West Side of Chicago on Madison Terrace housing project. At the age of three, Fiasco began taking martial arts classes. His parents divorced when he was five, and he went on to live with his mother, but his father still remained an important part of his life. He described his father's influence over the family by saying, "After school, my father would come and get us and take us out into the world—one day, we're listening to N.W.A, the next day we're listening to Ravi Shankar, the next day, he's teaching us how to shoot an AK-47, the next day, we're at karate class, the next day, we're in Chinatown..." In sixth grade, he went to live with his father full-time in Harvey, Illinois. His father lived next door to a crack house and taught Fiasco to use guns to defend himself from drug dealers. Despite his unstable upbringing, Fiasco states that he was well-educated as a child, asserting that his parents exposed him to a diverse array of subjects and that reading was highly encouraged in his household. As a teenager, Fiasco participated in Academic Decathlon competitions. His mother described him by saying, "He was a great spirited child. Smart, a bit complex; he kind of was a loner; he didn't hang with a lot of people...He always had the glasses. Always had a book bag over his shoulder and some type of a writing tablet." Fiasco initially disliked hip hop music for its use of vulgarity, and preferred to listen to jazz; he idolized clarinet player Benny Goodman. His struggle to learn to play an instrument led him to create poetry instead, which led to his interest in the lyrical aspects of music. After turning away from gangsta rap, he developed a greater appreciation of the lyricism of Jay-Z and Nas. His mother also gave him a record of the influential group The Watts Prophets, one of the first bands to use spoken words with music. Although he was without a group for the first time, Fiasco continued to record music.