“Who knew I would maneuver through the manure and come out clean/ Still, I’m just a kid with the world on a string.”- Fashawn
2009 was the year this “kid” met the world and introduced himself with a bang. Showing that he’s a force to be reckoned with, he gave fans his experiences, doused in realism, mixed with innocence and hope. After dropping a debut that's been widely compared to Nas' Illmatic and other respected introductory albums, Fashawn has become one of the year’s most acclaimed artists in Rap. Using potent lyrics, balanced topical selection and a keen ear for beats, he didn’t just meet the world this year, he hit the Hip Hop globe with impressive impact.
Unveiling one lauded effort is enough for many but ‘Shawn managed to drop two acclaimed projects in one year, The Antidote (produced entirely by Alchemist) and Boy Meets World (produced entirely by Exile). So, it's no wonder that when HipHopDX had to give away the Rookie of the Year Award, Fashawn became the victor.
Before announcing the win, HipHopDX spoke with Fashawn about the year, his debut and more. Never one to bite his tongue, he spoke with us about spirituality, childhood and why he kept the album so personal. For the uninitiated, he even goes into detail about Fresno, California and for his supporters, he sheds light on what he's got planned for the future.
HipHopDX: You’re considered one of the premier up and comers in the game, especially after the year you’ve had in ‘09. What’s been the most surprising part of this year?
Fashawn: Just the respect that I get from people when I meet them, the people that I’d least expect. Traveling [has been surprising, too]. I never thought I’d be touring this much in one year. I’m doing what I planned and doing it to the fullest extent. My album on the shelves, being in the company of Jay-Z and Eminem in the Top 10 on iTunes and shit like that. I couldn’t have pictured that, but it’s cool because shit like that, it’s amazing.
DX: “Life as a Shorty” has impressive visuals. It touches on a lot of what the album is about. It captures the essence of childhood in a cool way. How’d the video come about?
Fashawn: Aw, man, basically I just shot it with the dude that I always shot with, from day one. Basically, he just brought what I said to life. It came together real nice, man. It was cool.
DX: It wasn’t just the video, though. The whole album is inspired by childhood themes. Was that cathartic for you, to deal with childhood topics from a grown man’s perspective?
Fashawn: Yeah, 'cause it's always better to reflect on that type of shit. It's hard going through it but as I reflect on it, I just learn from it. It makes everything I'm doing now make more sense. On [Boy Meets World], I chose to reflect on the last 20 years of my life. On the next album, I want to deal with things I want to see in the next 20 years of my life.
DX: Let’s talk about a few of the cuts off the album. "Ecology" got a lot of love from fans. What inspired that track from your upbringing?
Fashawn: It's my reality, man, shit I was seeing growing up in Fresno, California. It's just a vivid description of life through my eyes. You know what I mean? That's how I would put it. It's the ecology. It's not just me talking shit about the ghetto, like "Yeah, niggas killin' eachother and bitches hoin' and shit.” It's more me really analyzing that behavior and telling people my perspective and how I feel about it, you know?
DX: On the title track, you say something interesting. You say you got into a lot of mischief until you got religious. Throughout the album, you make references to that. Do you still consider yourself religious?
Fashawn: Nah, I mean, my moms was a real religious person. She always tried to raise me in the church when she could, despite what she was doing in the streets. She always instilled that in me, from day one. When I grew up, I kind of drifted my own way because I got taken away from her by CPS [Child Protective Services] when I was like twelve or eleven. After that, life was difficult so I made some mistakes. I regret them but it all formed me to the dude I am now so if I didn't have that, I wouldn't have this.
DX: When that all happened, is that when you became religious?
Fashawn: Yeah, during that process, I was just trying to find myself, I guess. I met a lot of people and they had a big influence on me, man, especially my Muslim brothers. I would always drift around to different churches, I guess because I never stayed in one spot. Moms would take me to Presbyterian churches and more like, weird shit. That's kind of how I got that way, I guess. But, I appreciate everything and all the philosophies of every religion. If I could make the perfect religion, it'd probably have concepts from each one. I'm just a spiritual person; I wouldn't say I'm a religious person.
DX: But then you have “Father,” where you talk about God in a creative way. How’d that come about?
Fashawn: Yeah, the concept is about Mother Earth and Father Sky. It's like, if I could say something...Since 2012 is approaching and people are talking about the world ending and shit like that, I wanted to touch on that. It's like my open letter to God and the world, people that are standing physically with us. With Mother Earth, I was talking to the world and the people. That's what birthed that idea and song. It was on a previous mixtape and it was actually Exile's idea to put it on that beat. That's how it came together.
DX: Throughout the album, you speak on a lot of person things like your mother and various father figures and more. A lot of artists seem scared to take it there. Why did you decide to make it so personal on this album?
Fashawn: It’s because I feel like a lot more people are paying attention to me. I feel like I have the opportunity to do that, you know? I feel like I got the opportunity to do that. I don't feel like I have to sell myself short, put up a persona, or a gimmick or none of that shit. I could just talk to the people directly through the mic and the music and be myself. I wanted to do that. A lot of people don't. They wear masks. I didn't want to, I just wanted to...It's my first LP. I think it's the perfect introduction. On Boy Meets World, I think it’s only appropriate. It’s me saying hello to the world like, "Meet me and come into my world."
DX: There are also many instances where you make a lot of classic Hip Hop references. What albums were the most influential for you growing up?
Fashawn: 2pacalypse Now [by 2Pac], um, Doggystyle [by Snoop Dogg], The Chronic [by Dr. Dre], Paid in Full [by Eric B & Rakim], that’s one of my favorite albums. Man, it’s a lot of shit. I listened to too much Hip Hop [Laughs]. [I listened to] niggas like C-Bo, Nas' Illmatic, Big L's The Big Picture, that shit was crazy and Reflection Eternal's [Train of Thought]. So many albums, man.
DX: Of all the projects that came out this year, yours proved one of the most balanced in concepts, personal touches, stories, street driven tracks, etcetera. How important was it to have that balance on your first full length?
Fashawn: It's just something...It's the answer to everything else that's out in Rap. There's a lot of different styles of music and I feel like if you could capture every piece of it and still keep it original, expressing it in your own fresh little way, it's dope. I can make songs to make people dance. I can make songs that make people cry or make people jump. I feel like that's important. Every artist should have that and raise their shit to that same standard. It's important - especially when people put out albums and it's a single here and a single there. The whole album isn't cohesive. It doesn't even sound like an album. So, I definitely think that's important.
DX: Let’s talk a bit about working with Exile. What was that process like?
Fashawn: Aw, it was amazing, man. I started working on the project with Exile before we even physically met. I started working with him and he would send beats via email and shit. We started working on the album like that. Then, I went to his crib [in Los Angeles] and we worked for like a week and really finished the album. I have to say I did about 70% of the album in my hometown of Fresno via email. He would send his beats and critiques back, we'd shoot ideas back and forth. But, when we got together in person, it was just crazy, man. We banged out so many records like "Father," the intro, "Stars," and all these records. It was dope, man. That's why he did the whole album. You feel the whole chemistry through every track.
DX: Now, I saw somewhere that Exile sent you over 100 beats. What happened to the rest of those beats? Is that coming out somewhere soon?
Fashawn: [Laughs] I mean, the thing is, I record a lot of songs and I'm a perfectionist. I have to tell you like 90% of the beats got used but only 40% of the tracks landed on the album. So, they might be on my second album. They might be on my third album. You never know, but they just weren't fit for Boy Meets World. You never know, so stay tuned!
DX: Is there a plan you currently have to stay with Exile on the next project or will you be working with different producers on the follow-up album?
Fashawn: Um, I plan to work with a lot of people, man. I'm still a fan of a lot of people and a lot of people are reaching out to me, especially now. But, I still want to find out. I'm still evaluating the game right now, seeing what I should do, man, what people like about me and really learning myself still. So, I don't know. All I know is I work with a lot of great producers so the second album's going to be amazing whether I do it with one producer or all of them.
DX: You rep Central California pretty hard. I was surprised to see one of the comments from a reader who replied to our review of Boy Meets World by saying “New York Hip Hop is back!” Can you please let the world know what Fresno, California is like?
Fashawn: Hold up, hold up, hold up! They said that because of me? Nah man, you gotta understand. I'm from the west side. I grew up on Heiroglyphics, Planet Asia, Ras Kass, Tash and cats who rhyme like that. You could tell that's the type of shit that birthed me. That's crazy. I've never heard that in my life. I got love for the east and all that shit, man but wow! But, Fresno, California is like a mix of Compton and the Bay Area. It's right in the middle of both, you know what I'm saying? The people I know are great. Everybody sticks to themselves, man. It's real territorial. There's not many colors. We abide by numbers like, "Niggas from numbers over there on that neighborhood." But, it's real close knit because it's one of the smallest towns in Cali. It's like the lost city because you're driving from Oakland or Los Angeles, you'll see a lot of country and stuff. You might pass the city if you're passing through but for those who make that pit stop, or those who live here, they know. Stories have been told before; I'm just the new addition to this shit. It's been cats like Planet Asia, Killa Tay and people like that, my big homies. The history is thick. It's strong, man. There was graffiti and all that. I used to do graffiti and that whole culture out there is crazy. I came from that in the '90s. I'm a kid of the '90s. That was my experience growing up in Fresno.