Fashawn Talks Mentor Nas and Making a Classic with 'The Ecology'

Fashawn Talks Mentor Nas and Making a Classic with 'The Ecology'
For California MC Fashawn, the best things come to those who wait. This week, he released his impressive sophomore album The Ecology; featuring production from noted names like Alchemist, DJ Khalil and Exile, as well as appearances from Nas, Aloe Blacc, Dom Kennedy and BJ the Chicago Kid, the album clearly benefited from its prolonged creative process.
Back in 2009, Fashawn delivered his critically acclaimed solo LP Boy Meets World anchored by striking introspective tracks like "Life As a Shorty" unflinchingly exploring his own familial problems and struggles growing into manhood. Entirely produced by Exile (best known for his collaborative work with Blu on their revered Below the Heavens LP), Boy Meets World was a balanced affair of left coast mic mastery brimming with boundless potential.
However, despite the fact Fashawn released the self-explanatory Ode to Illmatic mixtape in 2010, recorded a collaborative album with Murs in 2012 and featured on tracks with West Coast cohorts like the Alchemist and Evidence, his profile has remained relatively low in an era of mixtape glut, slipping to the back of the minds of even his most ardent fans.
"You gotta understand, my first album came out on my 21st birthday," Fashawn tells Exclaim! "I didn't even know how to be an adult or a man at that point. After I dropped that album I went on that journey just to find myself and to find out what I was meant to do and find my purpose on this planet."
Fashawn reemerged when Nas welcomed him on stage during his show at SXSW last year. A few months later, the rap veteran announced he'd inked Fashawn to his Mass Appeal imprint. Being on a label headed by Nas and featuring Run the Jewels, Fashawn has all kinds of veteran wisdom to draw from and he's taken advantage of the opportunity, especially getting advice from the Queens MC who has clearly inspired him.
"[Nas] just told me to not afraid to be honest, with yourself, with your fans and everyone around you," says Fashawn. "There are too many artists out here that are hiding behind themselves, so he just told me to be honest with myself and other people. That's probably the most valuable thing. That's what I've gotten from my big homies."
Fashawn has applied these lessons to The Ecology. "I really wanted to make a classic," says Fashawn. "Most people don't intend to make classics. I really intended to make a classic with this album. I wanted to use the same approach like my boss did, like Nas did when he grabbed Q-Tip, when he grabbed Large Professor and Premier… and made one cohesive project and made a certain sound even when working with different producers."
Fashawn's trademark introspection is all over The Ecology, with heartfelt dedications to his daughter on "Higher" and the raw, conflicting emotions of "Mother" being immediate lyrical standouts. However, technically lyrical exercises like "Confess" and the undeniable "Out The Trunk" — with its infectious sampled Busta Rhymes hook — are also primed to grab attention. Musically, The Ecology takes on a more expansive approach than its predecessor, with the Afrobeat-tinged "Something to Believe In" featuring Nas and Aloe Blacc being a prime example.
"I just want to reach more people man," says Fashawn. "I want to just expand my gospel and my brand and just reach the world. I think sonically that's what it sounds like we're reaching for. And lyrically that's what I'm aspiring to do is touch everybody. I'm not an omni-linguist, I can't speak every language but I can convey a message that's gonna resonate with all the people all over the world with this music."
Fashawn's tour will be an opportunity for the MC to making that ideal a reality, including Canadian stops in Vancouver (March 3) and Toronto (March 13). In addition to kudos for Toronto group Notes to Self ("They took me all through Canada. They showed me what Canada was about"), he's just recorded a collaboration with Madchild and is taking another BC-based MC, SonReal, on selected tour dates.