FASHAWN: MORE DIGNITY AND MORE HONOR
photo by theo jemison
Five years ago, Fashawn’s star was rising. Produced entirely by Exile, his debut album—the soul-drenched, evocative Boy Meets World—was critically acclaimed. Plucked out of the crowded ranks of rappers, he rubbed shoulders with Wiz Khalifa on XXL’s 2010 Freshman cover. Playing stages all over the country, his days selling weed on a street corner in his hometown of Fresno seemed distant. But his ascension stalled. It stalled so long, in fact, that last year he considered giving up on his dream entirely. And then Nas called. Fashawn had paid tribute to the legendary New York rapper in 2010 with the tape Ode to Illmatic—now, Nas wanted to sign him to his new indie imprint, Mass Appeal Records. Last week, Fashawn hit yet another speed bump when his highly anticipated sophomore album, The Ecology, leaked. His response? Release the album early on iTunes and book his release show for the Echoplex on Feb. 26. After all, as he said on 2009’s “Stars”: “A star is a star and it shines regardless.” This interview by Rebecca Haithcoat.
So let’s talk about the reason why you’ve been having such a crazy week lately—The Ecology came out.
Better run with it and not get ran over! That’s all. My label put it out. And they move fast, man—they move quick! So yeah—things are happening. I actually took the initiative and actually released it, that’s all. I’m happy that it’s actually out now. It doesn’t even belong to me any more, it’s kind of a weird thing—it belongs to you guys.
Is it a relief?
Yeah! It’s out! You can get it right now! You can get it right now.
How long exactly have you been working on this? I know it’s been at least a couple years?
It’s been too many years! I had this idea in my head—like a concept. And the songs, and yeah, it goes back to this whole journey I’ve been on—almost five, six years, yo!
I remember last year we were talking about how you were on the verge of leaving rapping behind. And now that you’re past that, and the album’s out, how does it feel to be on this side of it?
Right now, I’m living out the dream I had since I was a kid, just to be where I am now. It’s overwhelming sometimes, just to actually manifest something that you feel like you’ve worked for your whole life. It’s a good feeling, I’m happy to be out here, achieving it now. I’ve always wanted to be a part of a—a dynasty. To be on stage with like a really good roster of people, and I feel like that’s where I’m at now. Like I finally found a home.
I know you have a great imagination and you’re so great with lyrics and talking to you—
No, no! I remember the first time just talking to you, there was a shawarma sign you just like riffed on it—making a rap about it! It’s just—you’re a true person who just loves words!
When you were a kid, how did you daydream? How did you spend your own time? What were you like?
I used to daydream about the weirdest shit! I’d daydream that I was in Rome, that I was a czar. I’d daydream that I was actually in the midst of historical events that happened. Like Martin Luther King day and the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Sometimes I’d daydream about what it felt like to be there. Sometimes when I was a kid I’d just stare at the stars and sun and imagine what was going on up there—is there a heaven up there, is there a hell below us? I’d always ponder these things as a child, and I still do. To this day. And now I started being even more childlike with my imagination and my approach to art.
Is there anything that you have to do as an artist to keep your mind elastic like that?
I have to continue to dream, and continue to be fucking weird and not be conformist, and not be like appropriated, or confined. The fact that I continue to dream, that’s why keeps my imagination elastic and flexible. It doesn’t dry up and stop; it just continues. That’s why Einstein said imagination is more important than education or something like that—than knowledge. I think that’s the beauty of that, the beauty of being an artist, I get to express that and be the purveyor of the truth that I’m bringing.
Your little girl is kindergarten at this point?
Yup! She knows daddy is a rapper. And her grades are great, by the way!
How has having a child and being a father changed you?
I think part of it has made everything else look small. I used to think that everything else was so major—like reputation, or all that stuff. I used to think that was important. But after she was born, I was like, ‘No.’ I’m trying to just see this little girl, that’s the reason I’m doing all this. It makes me approach my work with more dignity and more honor. That’s why I hate when I see rappers do all these crazy antics and do stupid shit—they’ll look back on that and their kid will look at that. I’m just happy that I never had to take that route.
Is it weird raising a little girl?
Absolutely! My whole perception on women has evolved. It’s totally different now than it was five years ago. I embrace it, and fatherhood is the most important thing in my life.
You and Exile’s relationship, your artistic collaboration—what’s your working relationship like?
That’s my guy—my daughter calls him Uncle Alex and shit! Creatively we’re just really both free spirits and we appreciate the elasticity of imagination and creativity and art. We’re like Siamese twins! We have the same mind. I don’t have the same thing with any other producer. When I’m making music with him, I’m letting you guys into my diary. When I’m making music with another producer, you guys are getting me in my MC mode. You’re not getting 1000% me, like the human. I’m in a certain mode when I work with Exile. We’re like audio biographies about my life. And when I work with other people, I don’t get the same thing. So I always go to Exile when I want to get stuff off my chest.
So do you keep a diary?
I do. I still got a stack of books and pages of rhymes and stuff I wrote down. And yeah, I got all my journals. Looking back on it, I spend a lot of time keeping these journals, so I can can literally go back to January 10, 2001, when I had a crush on this girl named Amanda in high school. I can go back and find that song and remember how I felt about life at the time, and really go back and reflect on my perspective. Making music kind of turning albums into journals as well. Diaries for the public to tear apart or praise or whatever they would do to it—like a book.
I’ve kept a diary since I was in second grade.
That’s great! Your collection is probably shitting on mine right now—I didn’t keep a diary in 2nd grade. Honestly, I probably threw more rhymes away than I kept. I mean—I still have a large collection now, but there’s so many I burned and trashed. They’re in the atmosphere now. Maybe someone’ll find then one day.
What was your favorite toy as a kid?
[Laughs] A Steve Urkel doll had was my favorite toy. I had Legos and Play-Doh and all that shit, and those cars they used to have—Big Wheels. But my favorite toy was the Steve Urkel doll. He was a dope character. In some ways he was not your average—not a black man I could see every day! Back then, our heroes were like Tupac and Wesley Snipes, not like nerdy kids. I never met a Steve Urkel in my hood, ever. And just to have the polar opposite—it’s cool. It’s something different. That’s probably my favorite TV show as well!
It’s so weird now—there was never a character like that where you were growing up. And now nerds are cool.
Now it’s cool to wear glasses and be articulate, and be smart! It’s cool—it’s more appropriate now. And there’s pros and cons to that as well.
Do you still feel like at the heart of your mission as an artist, or your goal as an artist, there is still a sense of community and politics?
I’m still the same guy. To give you an example: when the first single for this album came out, instead of doing the typical thing that rappers do when go out and they campaign they single, first thing I did was donate the money to the Fresno community feed bank and the homeless shelter downtown. That was my focus. Of course I had music out but to me it’s a small thing, being a philanthropist and someone of influence is more important than being just an MC or a rapper. Art is my baby—it’s my main thing. But I feel like it’s up to the artist of they want to be a philanthropist and give back. It’s up to them, but that’s how I feel about it.
Where do you see yourself next year at this point?
I have no idea. But really, I’m going to pray that God gives me—that I make it to that day. That you won’t have to write a terrible article about me. Hopefully I make it to that day, that’s all I can ask for. I remember Andre 2000 said [in the Art of Storytelling]—alive! Simply.
I’m sure people have told you that you have a maturity beyond your years. You’re 26 but you have a maturity.
Thank you. I think it’s just from being around all the people I’ve been around. I was always—that kid in my family, they used to call me Little Yoda cause I’m short, and like wise, and I kinda look older than I am—I’ve always been that guy.
ARTDONTSLEEP AND THE ECHO PRESENT FASHAWN’S THE ECOLOGY RELEASE PARTY WITH FASHAWN, BLU + EXILE, EMANON, DAG SAVAGE, CHOOSEY, ABJO, MED, COSS AND MORE ON THURS., FEB. 26, AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $15 / 18+. GET TICKETS HERE! THE ECOLOGY IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM MASS APPEAL. VISIT FASHAWN AT FASHAWN.CA.