It called him an underground favorite. His classmates were Wiz Khalifa and J. Cole, for context.
Since then, the Fresno rapper has increased his visibility on the local and national level. He’s become the center piece of Grizzly Fest, the annual music festival in downtown Fresno. He also inked a deal with Mass Appeal, the record label started by East Coast rapper Nas (it’s also home to the popular indie hip-hop duo Run The Jewels). The label released Fashawn’s sophomore album, “The Ecology,” in 2015 and is set to release “Manna,” a nine-track EP that serves as a follow up and spiritual counterpart. The EP, out on Friday, is the culmination of a trilogy that began with 2009’s “Boy Meets World.”
If you’re not listening to Fashawn right now, you should be. Here’s why:
He’s got major co-signs
Fashawn has made fans of some of the greatest rappers of all time. That includes Nas, obviously. The “Illmatic” rapper was personally involved in getting Fashawn out on tour and signed to Mass Appeal Records. He did a guest spot on “The Ecology” (with Aloe Blacc) and even made a surprise appearance at the album release party.
Then, there’s Snoop Dogg, who makes an appearance on “Manna” (on the track “Pardon My G”). Last month, the rapper posted a Fourth-of-July video selfie, singing along in his car to Fashawn’s 2016 single “California.”
It was a moment of honor, Fashawn says during a phone call interview in advance of the EP.
Snoop is a rap god and here he was celebrating the holiday by driving through the neighborhood blasting one of Fashawn’s songs.
“I celebrated so many holidays to his songs,” Fashawn says.
“His music, his presence, has been in my household more than my own father.”
If you mention my name, it won’t be around any cornball, mediocre rappers.
He is creating a sound for Fresno
Fashawn worked with a dream team of producers on “Manna,” including Nas’ longtime collaborator and East Coast rap pioneer Large Professor.
But Fashawn kept things local for the EP’s opening and closing tracks.
“It made sense that I started and ended it with that Grizzly City sound,” says Fashawn, referencing the moniker he gave Fresno on his first mixtape.
The tracks are produced by Hektic and Jukebawks, two local guys with close ties to Fashawn. Hektic has been producing hip-hop in Fresno since the days of Planet Asia and Diego Redd and was key in cultivating the Grizzly City sound in the early 2000s, Fashawn says.
Jukebawks, he discovered a couple of years ago. He counts the producer as his secret weapon.
“He can produce anything, but he has a keen ear for hip-hop,” Fashawn says.
The Grizzly City sound is, much like the city itself, a diverse thing.
“Its raw and relatable to people around the world,” Fashawn says.
“It’s East Coast and East Side,” he says, meaning the east side of Fresno, where he grew up. It is a reflection of the city, the things you see driving down Belmont or Shields avenues. Try it sometime while playing his songs and you’ll understand.
“It’s beautifully ugly,” he says.
The rapper has something to say
“Manna” isn’t a party-time club record. The first single, “Mother Amerikkka,” is explosive and politically charged, with nods (in the title at least) to Ice Cube’s first solo record.
“Somebody, anybody, what’s the worth of a black life? Or even a brown one?” Fashawn raps in verse one. Later in the song, he references those killed by police over the past few years. “No justice for Alton Sterling or Bettie Jones, Miguel Espinal, Nathaniel Picket, Philando.”
The track represents Fashawn’s struggle to reconcile the love and pride he feels for the country that birthed him and gave him the will to succeed, with his need to speak out against the treatment of people of color within its borders. While the content could be seen as controversial, the rapper trusted the song and the metaphor.
“We all love our mothers,” he says.
“I want to have an honest conversation with my mother, that’s all.”
As a whole, the EP represents a sort of spiritual evolution for the rapper. The title track gets it name from the book of Exodus and God’s gift to Moses and the Israelites.
“He called it manna. And nobody knew what it was,” Fashawn says. But it served as a kind of spiritual nourishment for the masses.
Fashawn created the EP as a kind of spiritual nourishment for fans, he says.
“They all need manna right now.”
- Manna (Moses)
- Crack Amerikkka
- Afraid Lyrics
- Proud Lyrics
- Pardon My G (Ft. Snoop Dogg)
- Clouds Above
- Mother Amerikkka