In 2014, Nas and Mass Appeal Magazine announced the formation of Mass Appeal Records. Since then, much of the buzz has been about rostermate Fashawn and the inevitable release of The Ecology. In 2009, the Fresno, California emcee made major headwaves with his debut Boy Meets World, making him a hot commodity on the Indie circuit. Prior to its release, Mass Appeal delayed The Ecology at least once — in October — to fully maximize the fully justifiable hype surrounding Run The Jewels 2. Now, it’s Fashawn’s turn.

The bulk of The Ecology deals with the hardships and obstacles he’s surmounted to reach this point in his career. From a troubled childhood (“To Be Young”), to his mother’s struggles with addiction (“Mother”), Fashawn is no stranger to resilience in the face of adversity. His storytelling and written voice are captivating, and the Exile-fronted production team establishes a mellow ambiance, frequently opting for piano and keyboard samples.

Average song time is around four minutes, which means The Ecology isn’t for the layman: Fashawn has a lot to to talk about. Setting the tone on the first track, “Guess Who’s Back,” he declares, “Art minus the easel, I’m unbelievable,” and then in the second verse, “Fash hotter than a favela in Guatemala / Eight baby mamas sittin’ in the sauna.” He achieves liftoff quickly, riding the momentum into track two, the sex-driven “Confess,” and holds his own alongside Nas on “Something To Believe In.” The latter track can only be called a lyrical field day.

With “Higher,” Fashawn’s personal content begins to define The Ecology. Speaking directly to the listener, he asks, “Do I need the recognition when I have the reputation? / You’re thinking entertainment, I’m thinking elevation.” That hunger for elevation is rooted in a tough childhood: his mother had a fierce addiction to crack, and his father was largely absent. On “Man of the House,” he raps, “When he wasn’t in the pen he was tryin’ to diss police / Tryin’ to get a piece of pussy instead of tryin’ to visit me / Damn, what a fatherly figure / When we met I was 15 and I hardly remember / Bitter, I was, admit, a tad bit / Spent 15 years wondering where dad went.” It may not be easy for Fashawn to speak on these topics, but he does so with grace, continuously piquing  listener interest.

Piano samples are oft-utilized, but are by no means the sole mode of production. Exile, who produced all of Boy Meets World, has nine beats and achieves commendable diversity with his beat tempos and tones. “It’s A Good Thing” is a break from the album’s mostly high energy, with dulcet Latin guitar and vocal samples. “Out The Trunk,” on the other hand, is a banger that thrives with the fitting addition of Busta Rhymes on the hook. Other producers include Beewirks (“Guess Who’s Back”), DJ Khalil (“Something to Believe In”), Quincy Tones & Jo Caleb (“Man of the House”), and Alchemist (“Letter F”).  All four bring their own styles to the table without sacrificing the continuity of the vibe.

The first half of The Ecology is Fashawn aptly going bar-for-bar. The second half is nostalgia, sentimentality, and self-reflection, all rolled into one. Fashawn’s sophomore release is a strong follow-up, six years in the making, that hits hard while preaching perseverance. Mass Appeal appears to be doing all the right things, and Fashawn is in a unique position on a roster ripe with young talent. The Ecology is the great second album he needed to keep trending upwards.