Between his critically acclaimed debut Boy Meets World and a slew of stellar mixtapes over the last few years, Central California-born emcee Fashawn has been heating things up in a major way. His raw, personal lyrics and soulful music are a welcome refreshment from all the trendy hip-pop songs dominating the airwaves. TRU caught up with him recently about his inspiration, his current situation in hip-hop, and his plans for the future. Read up.
TRU: What have you been up to lately?
Fashawn: I just got off tour with Talib Kweli. Did the west-coast leg of the Gutter Rainbows tour. I also did my first leg of my first headliner tour- Higher Learning Tour- so it’s been a busy 2011
TRU: Your official website, fashawn.net, claims that you enjoyed nonfiction and motivational books growing up. What books in particular influenced you and your art?
Fashawn: I’d have to say The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (and) Fools Die by Mario Puzo. I’d have to say The Alchemist inspired Boy Meets World.
TRU: Your birth name is Santiago. How did you adopt the moniker “Fashawn?”
Fashawn: I got it from a Rakim song. I must have been high at the time. This was like ‘98, ‘99, and I was watching Rap City and (the video for “When I B on tha Mic”) came on.
TRU: If I had not looked you up, I would have never known you were a West Coast MC. Your production has a nostalgic, soulful feel to it that is generally linked to east-coast rap. How did you get into that kind of sound growing up in California?
Fashawn: When I was growing up, man, I was blessed to know a guy from my apartment building who know some of the best producers (around). At that time of my life I started branching out to other types of music.
I grew up in a musically oriented family and my mom did background vocals for Toni Braxton. My uncle that raised me; his whole music collection is the reason why I’m into music so much. That ranged from Curtis Mayfield to Tupac.
TRU: In “The Ecology” off Boy Meets World, you drop the line, “It’s hard to be optimistic/when you live on the same block as the killers who just got outta prison.” There’s another line in “Life as a Shorty” that speaks on being forced to be tough as a child. Hence, your music seems to be that of an observer of hood politics, rather than a participant in them. Was that a conscious choice of the music you wanted to make, or did it just come out of self-reflection?
Fashawn: It was a conscious choice. In the beginning I had to be the killer like (raps bars about shooting a gun). By the time I really heard myself, I was like “this shit is wack.” By the time I actually opened my eyes I was like, “I can change other people’s lives like other rapper’s changed mine.”
TRU: Without getting into too many details, was the early content of your music your lifestyle, or was it more of a narrative?
Fashawn: It was a lifestyle, man. It was just a lifestyle that we were living. The story I was telling; that’s just what I knew. I used to call myself Shawn Stacks, because I used to just stack all day. I still hustle (with music) like when I was on the corner.
TRU: Ode to Illmatic was extremely daring in that it contained your lyrics on the production of one of the most renowned hip-hop albums of all time. What made you want to take on that challenge?
Fashawn: I was in a show with a lot of Nas’ peoples and people started calling me “Little Nas.” That was a joke but when my shit dropped I was getting a lot of comparisons to Nas. I wanted to do something controversial and ballsy and something I never did before.
TRU: Boy Meets World is soulful, raw, and personal. If I may say so myself, it is one of the better albums of 2009. How do you plan on keeping that rawness and honesty as you become more and more known in music?
Fashawn: For me, man, I like to drop stuff when I’m ready. A lot of people get positions and they have to, you know, get in certain deadlines and drop things, and I’ve never been in that position. I’ma just keep pushing and my real fans will wait for me, and my new fans will just jump on the boat. I don’t have a big radio hit, so you really can’t attach me to something. So I don’t know where my new fans are coming from. Fame is a funny thing, man. Fame is a collection of misunderstandings.
Fashawn: Yeah, I want to drop The Ecology. I don’t even want to drop no more mixtapes. I’m just working on my album, unless I’m on the road.
TRU: Without dropping names, you and I both know that a lot of rappers start out making dope music and, due to pressures from their label company, they completely change their style. Are you able to avoid those pressures or is it still a struggle to make the kind of music you want to make?
Fashawn: I’m not even on a label, period. Boy Meets World was the only time I ever had a record deal. And that was indie. I feel like I’m cut from a whole different cloth from the rest of these motha fuckas. But I can understand. I’ve been on a record label; I know the pressures. All these other artists man; God bless ‘em. I hope they succeed. They just making it easier for me to do my thing and make this real music.
TRU: Would you ever consider going the major/indie label route?
Fashawn: I’m just down with anybody that interests me, man. I’m more interested in a good roster rather than a major label that has a good machine. We really don’t need (the industry’s) help. I guess by default I didn’t go that route and it worked out for me, and now I’m 22 and that’s a blessing.
TRU: What are you looking to accomplish during your career?
Fashawn: I just want to express myself; do all types of expression. You never know. I could be doing art ten years from now. I could be playing the saxophone. You never know. I think my career will last forever. Longevity is success to me. Consistency is success to me. Like U2, they’re successful. They can not drop an album for like five years and still sell out coleseums. That’s successful. I want to be remembered like those guys.
TRU: What do you want to be remembered for?
Fashawn: I want to be remembered for being able to do everything. From writing songs to performing. I want to be known as an artist that spoke for his whole generation.
TRU: What is next for you?
Fashawn: Next album, man. The Ecology is up next.
TRU: Thank you for your time and this interview.