Fashawn's new album, The Ecology, almost didn't happen because Fashawn almost gave up, twice.
Before his 2009 project, Boy Meets World, Fashawn was on the verge of packing in his musical aspirations. He had a daughter on the way, real responsibilities, real bills due right now, and right now hip-hop wasn't enough. Maybe this music thing was a mistake, a dream too far. As he said in our interview, "I didn't know what to do. I didn't know if I was going to ascend to the music industry, or descend to the streets. I was right at that crossroads in my life."
But then Boy Meets World came out and the acclaim was validating, proof that he had gone the right way at those crossroads. Fashawn was now a professional emcee, but he quickly realized the road he was traveling down was paved with sweat, not gold. He had to work for every song, grind for every dollar, and as year after year ticked by, as the constant fight to stay relevant started to take its toll, he began to question his life's work again. All this pressure, for what? He loved hip-hop, but was that enough?
"There were times when I didn't put out music at all," he said. "Didn't care about getting in the studio, didn't care about who was number one on the charts. There was a time when I was on the verge of going back to my old self, to the guy that I was speaking about on the first album."
And then Nas called. A meeting with Tunji turned into a text to Nas, which turned into Nas wanting to meet him, which turned into performing alongside Nas at SXSW, which lead to signing to Mass Appeal, which lead to Fashawn releasing his sophomore album, The Ecology, five years after Boy Meets World first introduced that boy to the world. As Fashawn put it, it was Nas who, "reignited the fire in me to rhyme again, to express myself."
Music had saved his life, again.
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Imagine if I had stayed in the dungeon/ I would have never signed to Esco, never rhymed with Rakim / Tell me, how could I ever let go huh?
Fittingly then, TheEcology is much more than an album from a rapper trying chasing success. The Ecology is an album from a rapper making music because the fates seem determined to tell Fashawn he really doesn't have any other choice. And sure, signing to Mass Appeal has its perks, like say a song with God's Son for starters. Fash told me that he had the a rough version of Aloe Blacc on "Something to Believe In" for a minute, but a re-working from DJ Khalil created a sonic temptation to strong for Nas to resist. And just like that the Fresno emcee went from considering retirement to a song with hip-hop royalty in just under a year. And Nas' backing came in handy again when Exile finished "Pop The Trunk" and they realized Busta Rhymes would be a dream come true over that beat. Now that dream wasn't so outlandish, and a phone call later Busta was in love with the song and Fashawn found himself with yet another hip-hop legend on his sophomore album.
Make no mistake though, The Ecology is far more than a collection of guest verses. Fashawn poured the last few years of his life, all of those pains and joys, his struggles and his successes, into the project and it shows. A song like "Man of the House" could only come from living a real life outside of rap's often insular bubble. A song like "Place to Go" cuts so deep because you're listening to the voice of a man who's seen the lows, not just the highs. On a personal note, I had to let him know how much including his daughter's voice on "Higher" meant to me. As a dad I rarely see my experiences reflected in the hip-hop I listen to, but Fashawn said that his daughter is such a big part of his life, and he's so commited to channeling his life into his music, that a song like "Higher" was inevitable, and neccesary.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Fashawn. Five years from now he might once again be contemplating packing it all in, or he could be sitting at heights so stratospheric he can't even see them now. Life is rarely that predictable; if it was, what would artists make music about? Right now though, with The Ecology out and a tour about to launch, the planets are aligning for Fashawn, and as the tough time fade into the rearview the horizon's looking bright.
"I was really going to stop what I was good at? What I'm great at? Now I can't ever really see myself putting the pen down," he said. "I thought Boys Meets World was the peak, but even just last year, going to France to shoot an album cover, I didn't picture that, and I can't wait to see what 2015 has in store. It's a beautiful time."
Let the beautiful times roll.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]