Fashawn refuses to be put in a box. The Mass Appeal signee convincingly alternates between a thug, a player, a black revolutionary, an MC’s MC, and sometimes, just a young man from Grizzly City a.k.a. Fresno, CA. His complexity, not unlike another West Coast MC you may remember, turns the tapestry that is Manna into the most complete portrait yet of the rhymer born Santiago Leyva.
Nas’ favorite son turns his scope on America, much like many other rappers have in the unfortunate times of 45. Fash’s flow and delivery still sound like he’s trying the make the most of every last syllable, and this conviction fits with his pro-black sentiments like MJ in the red Thriller jacket. “Proud” is a mammoth, chest-thumping anthem for a generation born a quarter-century after James Brown screamed, “I’m black and I’m proud!” He still has a knack for a phrase, proclaiming he’s “blacker than the panther on the jacket of Huey P.” He maxes out on weighty topics with the album closer, “Mother Amerikkka,” heartbreakingly singing, “How could you take my smile away from me/You said you loved me/But you lied, you lied, you lied.” His hurt sums up the feeling of Black America following the end of Obama’s presidency. Statements like these not only position Fashawn as a worthy voice of his culture and generation but also display a penchant for smooth hooks.
There are eyebrow-raising claims; he says he heard that Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are the new KKK, and also decries interracial relationships on “Mother Amerikkka.” Casting Kanye, despite all he’s done, in that light is a head-scratcher, and wishing against the existence of biracial people is downright alarming. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between and do little to hamper the overall product.
Fashawn is as musical as he is lyrical. While many ultra-lyricists struggle with hooks and choosing enticing production, The Letter F enlists premier beatsmiths including Exile (who fully produced his last two projects), Evidence and Large Professor. The latter produces thick drums for Fash to take a shit on and a hyper piano loop for “Fashawn.” Elsewhere, he is in the pocket on “Afraid,” which features haunting crooning and a shimmering bassline. About the only musical misstep is “Crack Amerikkka.” The methodical tribal drums are appropriately forceful, but Fash errs with a choppy flow that doesn’t fit like size 34 jeans on a defensive tackle. This is an anomaly; the music of Manna is at-once hard and, as his daughter would say, “pretty.” It’s an intriguing combination that marks the music of this project as unique as its architect.
Manna is Fashawn’s show, but also pays tribute to the West Coast. He dons his pimp hat and kicks rhymes about the fairer sex alongside an inspired Snoop D-O-Double-G on “Pardon My G.” The aforementioned “Afraid” features a ghostly 2Pac soundbite about showing no fear, only ambition. Makaveli’s words mirror where Fashawn is today; from the opening thumper “Manna” to the final notes of “Mother Amerikkka” he is fearless for his people, his place in Hip Hop, and his role in today’s America. This album probably won’t get the shine it deserves or emit the mass impact Fashawn was aiming for. That’s a damn shame because Fash threw honesty, courage, and wizardry in the pot, called it Manna and served up yet another healthy dose of Hip Hop you can’t deny in 2017.