Fashawn? Fa Sho! [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – Fashawn seems to symbolize all that’s right with hip-hop’s bumper crop of rappers: local boy makes good without the drag of a 360 deal, overindulgent lifestyle or lyrically empty beats. What he presents instead is a social symbol that people can relate to: a proud father, an independent worker and a lyrical sponge. He creates something new out of the old and stale, all while maintaining a certain level of sass as an incarnation of Bart Simpson. HipHopCanada’s Amalia Judith sat down with the Samsonite Man to talk a little about crack, tracks, and the machine.
“That’s really why I call myself Bart Simpson, it’s just my little joke at anybody who wants to capitalize off me. I already did it.”
HipHopCanada: Your bio really highlights the fact that you grew up without a strong parental presence. What’s your history?
Fashawn: I guess I should start in Fresno. I was born in Fresno, California, 1988, which was…I don’t know if it was the end of the crack era or just the beginning cause I felt like I was in the aftermath of it in the nineties and that was kind of the origins of me growing up parentless. My mother fell victim to drugs – crack in the nineties and crystal meth, which was is really bad in central California. Meth labs everywhere, even to this day, and that’s what propelled me to parentlessness.
HipHopCanada: How’d you get through that, and come out successful on the other side?
Fashawn: I got through because I stayed focused on just writing and art, and skateboarding and other outlets to express my anger and loneliness instead of going to jail and doing other crazy shit. I just really tried to be positive the whole time cause I knew I didn’t want to end up in jail or dead so I always had a bigger goal. Always have an exit plan, something to keep your mind off current conditions, that’s how you get through it. Surround yourself with people that love you, genuinely, and you can conquer anything.
HipHopCanada: Was there a defining moment that turned things around for you?
Fashawn: When I had my daughter back in 2009, right before my album was coming out. And I was still doing music, I was heavily consumed by music, but still had a whole leg in the streets. I didn’t have a record deal, I didn’t have nothing, I was selling tapes out of the trunk on the corner and that’s what really did it for me. I had the option to sign an independent record deal, this label called One Records out of New York and that’s what really put everything into perspective for me. I could see to go this way instead of that way, straight up.
HipHopCanada: I hear you’re an avid reader, what do you like?
Fashawn: I like books by Paolo Coehlo, he’s pretty cool. Mario Puzo books are sick, Malcolm Gladwell would probably be my favorite writer right now. Just anything. I was like that growing up, I’d read every sign that I could possibly see, and that never changed.
HipHopCanada: How does that hunger for input translate into your output?
Fashawn: I just basically regurgitate everything that comes in, even when I’m in the studio, somebody can say something and I’ll just grab it. They could say a certain word and I’ll like how the syllables slap against each other and I might create a DNA for something, a crazy DNA or an idea…lyrical something spatulas, mackerel…create a whole body.
HipHopCanada: Obviously being feaured in XXL’s Freshman issue is a big deal… how, specifically, have you noticed that has impacted you?
Fashawn: Definitely my notoriety, people notice me a lot more everywhere I go cause it’s such a massive publication. It’s really helped bring to life the people that are fans that didn’t know what I looked like before, especially some of my favorite rappers that come up to me, like “Yo I read about you” and they know my history and what I do and that’s the best part really, that’s what’s really changed. It wasn’t like that two years ago.
HipHopCanada: Why’d they name you the most artistic?
Fashawn: I have no idea, I need to talk to them about that. I think it’s because I just focus mainly on my art and I don’t have a marketing plan or machine behind me. I’m here solely because of my talent as an artist. Not because how I look or nothing, you know?
HipHopCanada: That’s pretty rare these days, how’d you work around the industry’s need for that kind of machination?
Fashawn: I kinda just took it upon myself. I approached Fashawn like I felt a major label would approach it, as far as marketing myself and branding my name and establishing myself. That’s why I put out the free tapes, just to get in peoples’ ears and that’s how it happened, I guess, that’s the origins. I’ve only signed one contract in my whole entire life, when I was 21, and I’m currently free from that and just doing my own thing.
HipHopCanada: Your Ode to Illmatic with Green Lantern shows how much Nas has influenced you. Any other artists you’d create an ode to?
Fashawn: I wanna do an ode to Stevie Wonder. It would sound crazy. Really dirty and chopped up, a lot of harmonies and a lot of social songs cause I feel like he was one of the artists who really talked about the whole world, he didn’t just talk about this neighbourhood. I’d probably do ode to Songs in the Key of Life. I’d tell the world to love each other or perish.
HipHopCanada: Your image is fairly youth-friendly, especially your identification with Bart Simpson on your tour posters. Is that to target a certain demographic or just a display of your own youthfulness?
Fashawn: I took that because I felt like Bart Simpson was a character that was created by a writer somewhere who had an idea to appeal to these certain kids. But then I feel somebody took that idea and corrupted it, like “let’s put him on lunchboxes, let’s put him on shirts, let’s have him with a cigarette in his mouth.” I felt like that’s what happened to me once I got in the actual game, the actual industry, where people tried to market me. “Do this and do that” when honestly this shit is naturally just me and people tried to force it on me and it doesn’t work. That’s really why I call myself Bart Simpson, it’s just my little joke at anybody who wants to capitalize off me. I already did it. And I like to skate and sometimes I can be disrespectful, and I don’t find nothing wrong with that.
HipHopCanada: Higher Learning 2 came out recently, what are you showcasing in that work?
Fashawn: Higher Learning 2 is a tape I dropped February 16 featuring my man DJ Ill Will and Rockstar. XXL put that out and I think that’s the funnest project I got to do because I really did it just stress-free and while I was home in Fresno, off tour. I think it really showcases my versatility and how diverse I can be, which I feel like sometimes is unappreciated or overlooked because of the certain style I’m poppin before. But I feel like Higher Learning 2 is me showcasing every side of me, especially where I’m at in my life now after touring around the world and being a father and really dealing with adult things in life.
HipHopCanada: What’s it like being a father and still trying to stay on the grind?
Fashawn: It’s a beautiful thing. Every night I’m reminded why I love home and when I go home it’s like, “that’s why I did all that hard work, for my family at home.” I couldn’t picture life any other way. I’m a proud father, I have a very beautiful daughter.
HipHopCanada: Samsonite Man takes both musical samples and thematic elements from Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” How organically did the form and content unite on that song?
Fashawn: Exile actually came with the beat the lyrics spoke to me, like directly. The whole fact of looking out your window and I’m gone, and once I heard that it just made me think of my people back home waiting for me to come home. And that was the origins of the whole concept. I wrote that song gradually. I wrote the first verse while I was at home, the second verse on tour, and we actually came back to finish it and it just came together nicely. I was there when Blu laid his verse, it just came to me perfectly. Samsonite man, that’s the story of my life.
HipHopCanada: Other projects we need to know about?
Fashawn: Look out for the new album with me and Exile, coming soon. Check for me on Evidence’s I Don’t Need Love, just stay tuned. Just getting started.
Interview and Photography by Amalia Judith