A few weeks back, I had the great pleasure of meeting one of my favorite emcees in Berlin: Fashawn. I got to know him as a really down-to-earth guy, a most humble fella let alone a dope rapper. Promoting his current album „The Ecology“, we sat down at the K1X showroom in Berlin-Pankow and talked about his music, his expectations, his signing with Mass Appeal and his life in general.
Big thanks and s/o go out to Jan from Sureshot Promotions, Max from Mindfeederz and of course Fashawn for making this experience possible for me.
It’s been six years since your debut album “Boy Meets World“ dropped – how would you describe your progress from the young dude from Fresno rapping about the life as a shorty to a seasoned rapper releasing a highly anticipated album on Nas’ Mass Appeal?
I would say it’s a growth. When I was talking about my “Life As A Shorty“, just compare it to a song like “Higher“. It’s about my daughter, and I’m talking about my relationship to fame, you know what I mean, I’m talking about being a father now. I’m just talking about more mature topics now, because I have the feeling I did not just grow as an artist but as a man, most importantly. And I’m thinking this is starting to show in my music.
That’s what I like especially about your music, it gives the listener the feeling of getting an insight into the person behind Fashawn.
You know, the whole image of the emcee is just like super-invincible, you know, just tough; and it doesn’t leave space to be vulnerable or sad at times, or hurt. It doesn’t allow for emotions, that humans experience every day. I try to make my music to be the alternative to that. I still love emceeing, though, I still love the sport, the art, the craft, all that, but I also like to talk about things I care about, without some forced attitude.
I’m just happy to be a man, not even the man, I never aspired to be that. I do my thing and how I wanna do it.
After the great acclaim for “Boy meets world” we got six years filled with several mix tapes and feature parts: Why did you choose this point in time to release your follow-up album “The Ecology”?
I didn’t choose that, I mean, it was just time. Hip hop needed it. I don’t know how else to put it, just like, hip hop needed that album. Because I was still making music consistently, it took this album about two years to be cultivated and everything else was like practicing, leading up to this big moment. All those mix tapes in between that gap was just me trying to find the sound for my sophomore release, my actual album.
I’m glad I took my time, thank god for mix tapes, EPs and stuff like that, because they kept people at bay over six years. I needed to connect this story or these stories to the one I am telling on “Boy Meets World” without getting to far away from it, I needed to find that balance – and I finally did.
Regarding that, like artist-wise, I really have to thank artists like Kendrick Lamar and Nas, if it weren’t for those guys, I maybe never would have been motivated to step out and drop an album. Nas of course for signing me and so much more, but Kendrick also for reminding me that I’m dope. At the time, when he came, I really needed that push. S/O to those guys.
It takes a lot for me to do this, you know, it might look fun but it is hard work. I’m happy to be back, though, like genuinely happy to be back.
Last year, you officially signed with Mass Appeal, which additionally raised the anticipation for your album. How does it feel to work with a living rap legend like Nas and how did that signing come to be?
Working with Nas definitely is intimidating at times. You know, when you’re working on a song with somebody, who’s catalogue begins with Illmatic, it’s like: Where are you gonna take this? How am I to approach this record? What am I gonna say? Whatever I gonna say, it has to be amazing, it’s gotta be five mics (XXL Wertung) standard, whatever the perfect rating is, that’s where it starts.
Yeah, it’s intimidating sometimes, but rewarding, very rewarding. But after it’s done, you realize it’s like a bucket list thing for many emcees – “I gotta do a record with Nas”. He’s in everybody’s top five. And I got to do it, man. [laughs]
It’s really flattering, for him to say that he’s a fan of me. I’m still not used to it. I’ve been with Mass Appeal for almost a year now and it’s still the same feeling when I see the boss. I’m like: “That guy pays me to rap? Are you serious?” That’s it in it’s most simple form – he pays me to rap and I still can’t believe it.
And how it came about: I was going through a transitional phase in my career, I was almost on my way out of the game. I was like “Fuck this shit, I’m outta here”.
May I ask why?
I didn’t like the attention, I don’t like fame. That part, I don’t like being a celebrity. It just feels to me sometimes like I would die in a bath tub in France like Jim Morrison, if I really jumped on the fame train.
How did you do it then?
I still love the craft! You know, on behalf of the craft I tolerate all the bullshit that comes with it. I tolerate that, but that’s not why I do it. I love putting words down, I love making music, I love sound, I love vibrations, I love uniting people, I love seeing the crowd full of every ethnicity waving their hands together, not worrying about political issues, they’re just all in unison – that’s more rewarding than a platinum record, a cover of the biggest publication or anything the celebrity status could ever give me.
So, I tolerate everything that comes with it on behalf of the actual art. But I could do without all the other stuff, you know. [laughs]
What role did Nas (as executive producer) play in the genesis of “The Ecology” – was he just mentoring or die he take explicit creative influence in the process?
He came in really late in the production of The Ecology. The Ecology took two years of cultivation. The first year was just me and Exile trying to find our vibe, our chemistry, our sound again. The second year, Mass Appeal came. It felt like we were already done with the album and Nas came in and just kept making suggestions, like “never stop recording”. When you’re doing an album, you just cannot stop recording, even when you get a release date, so I took that approach. I just went from here to here (gesture), like, just off the sheer inspiration of having these new energies around like Mass Appeal and Nas.
It was really mostly suggestions, not even critique, he was like [„my best Nas voice“] “Yo, that’s that shit”, every time I sent him a new piece of the records. He’s really brief with his comments, like “Word” or “that’s dope”, but then you know if he liked it or not. But he’s the coolest guy ever, seriously. Every night, after I recorded, I sent him a record, hoping to get a critique and he would just give me the thumbs up, only saying “great” or something like that. And even though I was content, I was like “tell me something, man, mentor me”. [laughs]
But he’s just like “for real man, you’re killing it, keep doing what you’re doing right now” – and it’s really humbling to hear something like that from Nas. And that’s kind of the role he played as the executive producer: He listened to my new material and gave me instant feedback, which luckily was always amazing. And when I was finished and played the album to him in whole, he said: “Put his voice up and the beats down”, it was just like sonic critiques, you know. And he said: “You’ll thank me for this later. You want your vocals sitting on top of everything, you are the star of this movie, you’re the star of the show, don’t forget that.” So – thank you, Nas! [laughs]
So let’s take a turn towards the sound aesthetics and the production of the album. “Boy Meets World” was produced entirely by Exile, if I recall correctly. Was this consistency in production clear from the early stages of creating “The Ecology” or was this like a logical consequence?
Yeah, I knew I couldn’t do my new album without Exile, I knew that five years ago. It was just a certain sound that we invented together and I did not get that with any other producer. And I noticed that really early on and I basically diagnosed my brand of music with an Exile production – I knew, this is what a Fashawn record had to sound like. Compared to anything, if you played it next to anything else, I and one should know, that this is exactly what I’m doing.
So I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t do my new album without him. The whole album stems from one song that we did back in 2009 for my first album and that’s like the epitomy of our sound right there.
Your new album features beats from other renowned producers like The Alchemist or DJ Khalil who worked with lots of contemporary geniuses like Evidence, Action Bronson, Dilated Peoples… What kind of sound aesthetics did you want to reach by broadening your variety of producers?
I wanted it to sound like 2015 but still have the integrity of my 2009 album. I wanted to have the same heart, the same soul, the same feel in it like on my debut record. But I did not know how to accomplish that, I did not know how to make something that’s still fresh but still gives you that nostalgia at the same time. It’s hard for me to do that, but I knew I could do it with people like DJ Khalil, artists like Aloe Blacc, who are pop stars now, they’re not even underground hit makers anymore, they’re full flesh superstars. I knew, with guys like Aloe – whose songs are playing at 7-11, you know? You step in there, hear a song and chances are good it’s Aloe Blacc! [laughs] – it wasn’t hard for me to make it sound like today, because the people I chose to work with on the record are pretty established artists.
I don’t even think of them as Fresno features, just more on a global level, working with people who are internationally respected like Aloe Blacc, Nas and even Dom Kennedy having fans around the world. So I wanted to reach the masses in that way, but remind them that I’m still Fashawn, still the same guy that you heard on “Boy Meets World”, but I needed that album to sound like Mass Appeal. I needed it to sound massive and the whole presentation needed to be like that, too. I needed to go to Paris to shoot the cover, I needed to make these certain adjustments, I guess. It’s just a step up, it’s Fashawn reloaded. On my first album, I just unloaded the whole clip, I didn’t even know where I was shooting, I was just like [machine gun sounds]. Now, every bullet has a name on it. Sorry, if I speak in metaphors a lot, but that’s why I get paid [laughs].
How much of Fashawn is in the beats of “The Ecology”? Were there beats specifically produced for you or did you have some creative influence on the production like “I want that sample” or “I want 808s on that”?
I’m not too into the production side of things, to be honest. As long as I got music that envokes a certain emotion out of me, when that kind of fits the cohesive missile of everything else I recorded, that’s all I need. Then I’m not concerned about how the drums sound or how the bass sound or who’s mastering it or stuff like that. I’m really not too hands-on with that stuff, it’s just me and the mic, you know.
But the people I have around me…I try to surround myself with great people, you know. My brother Iceman from California, he masters all my stuff, he masters for a lot of people and he’s one of my right-hand men making sure everything sounds properly and is properly presented. Iceman, Mike, he’s the same guy that mastered Kendrick’s “Good Kid, m.a.A.d city”. I just try to get people, who are the best at what they do and let them do that. Like me, I’m an emcee, I’m an artist, I try to put my all into that and not try to get it distorted with other things.
Is there a producer – US-american or worldwide – who you’d just love to work with? Like a favorite?
I’d love to work with Suff Daddy, I’m a great fan of Suff Daddy. He was in the club last night and he was just killing it as a DJ, too. I got his album “The Gin Diaries” maybe a few years ago, when I was out here and I just fell in love with his style of production. I’d definitely love to work with him and I’d love to work with Dr. Dre again. I haven’t worked with him in a long time and noone’s even heard the shit we worked on in the first place. [laughs] So Suff, Dre, Premo, of course, Public Enemy. I’d love to be a party of the Native Tongues, I don’t know if they still accept members, but yeah, Native Tongues would be it. [laughs] I don’t know, there’s so many people I’d love to collaborate with, but like above all, those guys. And Kanye, of course, I feel like we could do some magic together.
“FASHionably Late” last year and “The Letter F” on your new album – can the listeners expect more of this high-quality collaboration with The Alchemist?
S/O to Alchemist! Yeah, I’d love to do an actual album with the alchemist one day. A real LP. He’s my brother man, something that goes beyond music, so I guess, we’ll be collaborating forever. Me and Alchemist is like me and Exile, I found my sound through those gentlemen, I will forever be working with those guys.
That’s good news for your fans! In your contemporary music, you describe your journey from said shorty to “The Man In the House” – is this development connected to certain events in your life over the past six years? And, if yes, does or did your musical transition correlate with that?
Of course, I’ve really grown a lot over those six years. I became a father, I became a man of influence, became a world-renowned artist – it’s just so many life-changing things in this little gap of time. And you have to understand, I got 20 years prior of living not being Fashawn, just being a kid from Fresno, or a young black man growing up in America, who was expected to be in a correctional facility or who was expected to be dead by 21 and not being on tour. Not promoting “Boy Meets World”, supposed to be dead already. [laughs] That’s why I felt like resurrected, like reborn, when I did my first album, when I got 21, when I got a grown man. That’s when my life truly started, in those past six years, I’m really just finding out who I am right now. Finding out what I mean to this world, what I mean to my family or what I mean to humanity, if you wanna put it like that. I’m barely figuring that out now and I guess that all comes together describing my transition from back then to today.
You already mentioned how it feels to be working with a god like Nas: How did the feature with another rap veteran like Busta Rhymes come into existence?
I was in Cologne, Germany, actually, when I stopped by to see Nas in concert. I just left splash! festival last year and we drove up to Cologne to see Nas. Exile sent me a beat inbetween that time and I was just backstage playing records for Nas, updating him on the album. Exile’s beat: He just sent it, really he was like, “I know the album’s done, but check this one out, I think you might wanna breath on this one”. As soon as I played it, Nas was like: “Wooooo, what’s that? That right there? That’s potent, whatever it is, it needs to be a part of your work!” I told him Exile did it and Nas played it to Busta. Busta never heard of me, like “Who’s that kid? From California, you say?”. Busta heard it, he heard my rhyme I did over it and he said he just needed to get on it. Busta really took the initiative, I did not ask him, I had no idea he even knew who I was or that I was on his radar. So, he became an instant fan and so I got to have a short Busta Rhymes feature on my album. At first I only got the hook and I couldn’t believe my luck, but there’s a remix with a whole verse of Busta coming really soon and it’s gonna be dope as hell and blow your mind. His verse is definitely sending me back to the studio, I will not just go at it like that. [laughs]
Which expectations did and do you have of “The Ecology”? It’s already attributed with phrases like “instant classic” or “album of the year”?
I have no expectations for “The Ecology”, man. I don’t know if it’s gonna sell, I don’t know if it’s gonna keep me on tour for five years like my first album did, I don’t know. And I’m not worried about howe it does, because it’s music and every song has it’s own life. It’s like an infinity between drum and kick and I already made it. It’s out, it’s done, it’s in the orbit – and that’s timeless, I feel like I’m immortalized through my music. That alone is enough for me. I don’t have any expectations other than killing my shows every night, killing every mic I get in front of. But I really want the people to ove this album, to walk away getting touched by my music and taking something away from listening to it.
Last, but not least, Darryl Robertson of XXL aptly described your current record as “throbbing with an MC offering an array of content matched with the confidence to tell his story, even if it’s not about moving tons of drugs, fucking bitches and being covered in jewels.“ How would you yorself describe your new album in one sentence?
This isn’t an album by a rapper, this is an album by a human being.
Great words to finish with, thanks a lot for having me, I had a great time!