[Interview] Fashawn talks “Champagne & Styrofoam Cups,” his upcoming album “The Ecology,” and the verse that changed his life

Interview by: Martin Bauman

Fresno’s finest, Fashawn, is a name you should definitely get familiar with. The 24-year old Central Cali emcee has made a name for himself in recent years, after teaming up with Exile to release his debut album, Boy Meets World, in 2009 – an album that has been dubbed a “modern day classic.” Since his debut, Fashawn has graced the 2010 XXL Freshmen cover, and shared the stage with the likes of Rakim and Wiz Khalifa, having earned the respect of both generations of hip-hop – a gap he bridges with Murs in their recent album, This Generation. Now, Fashawn is poised to make his solo return to the mic with the long-awaited release of Champagne and Styrofoam Cups (due November 20th), followed by the much-anticipated sequel to Boy Meets World, The Ecology, next year. The Come Up Show caught up with Fashawn leading up to the release of Champagne and Styrofoam Cups, and looked back on his career so far, as well as what lies ahead. We discussed C&S, how he feels about The Ecology, the verse that changed his life, and much more. Read the full interview below.

TCUS: You were once on the cover of L.A. Record. What’s the full story?

Fashawn: [Laughs] Great question, man! This was back in like early 2009, I was working on [Boy Meets World] with Exile and just finishing it up. I happened to be at Exile’s house when he got the call to do the L.A. Record cover, and at the time, he was doing Exile Radio as well. He had this thing called the speaker monks, these guys with hoodies who looked like hooded monks, and they had boomboxes and stuff like that. I actually got to be the hooded monk on the cover of L.A. Record; if you notice, there’s a black monk, and he has a California tattoo on his hand – that’s actually me. That was the first cover I was on, technically.

TCUS: Before we get into Champagne and Styrofoam Cups, I’d like to get a little background. You first started rapping when your brother would leave lyrics around the house, can you talk about this?

Fashawn: Yeah, I just remember growing up and always finding little pieces of graffiti on paper, and on the other side, [there] would be lines that my brother would write about the most ignorant of things, just crazy stuff. I was inspired by that. I’d always steal them from him and read them to myself, and get inspired to do graffiti and [write] a rhyme at the same time, and just be exposed to the culture like that. So my bigger brother’s influence was pretty cool. I always wanted to be like him, and now he wants to be like me.

TCUS: You have a special connection to Goodie Mob’s Soul Food album. Can you explain?

Fashawn: Yeah! The first beat I ever wrote to was in ’96 or something like that. Goodie Mob put out this single, I think it was “Soul Food” and “Cell Therapy” on the A and B [side] of the cassette I was rhyming to. I think it was “Cell Therapy”, and I might have [written] to that whole tape until the f***ing speakers broke, you know what I mean? [Laughs] But yeah, Goodie Mob was the first instrumental I ever rhymed to. I got to work with Goodie Mob years later, and it was a dream come true.

TCUS: In your song “Life As A Shorty”, you rap about a fight you had in third grade. That must have been around the same time. Can you tell the story?

Fashawn: Well, there was this girl named Barbara. We’re not gonna say her government name, out of respect, but we’ll call her Barbara Johnson, like I did on the song. And yeah, me and this kid named Dariah, we both liked the girl. Unfortunately for him, she was feeling me a little more, and I guess he got emotional. He was a bigger guy, too. He was like a fifth grader or sixth grader, which is like the equivalent of a senior to a freshman in that grade. And yeah, we got in a fight over it. He started it, I finished it.

TCUS: [Laughs] From that same song, you talk about building the world on a blank sheet. What importance does writing music have to you?

Fashawn: For me, it enables me to put all these irrational situations that come into my life, and stuff that I think doesn’t make sense, [so that] when I put it all on paper, and actually put thought into it and reflect on it, it makes sense to me. I think that’s the importance to me. It kinda keeps me sane; it’s like my therapy. It’s how I sort out everything in my life. And it’s good to be able to express yourself, man. If you can’t express yourself, or if you can’t think for yourself, you might as well be dead. That’s the importance for me, just [to] really keep my mind active and try to make logic out of this, man. “Decipher life through the microphone,” like Nas said. Decipher life through the mic and say “peace”.

TCUS: In another song off that album, “Hey Young World”, you rap about intuition, and how when you’re feeling at your lowest and about to collapse, it lets you know you’re on the right track. Have you been at a point in your life when you could relate to this?

Fashawn: Of course, man. Especially when I was writing those lyrics. I had just moved from 1st Street, which was my everything – this was the hood I grew up in. I had just moved from there and started my rap career, professionally. At that point, I had given up all things that would hinder my rap career, so I was struggling at the time. I didn’t know what was going to happen in my life, financially or whatever. I didn’t know where my career was headed, I had a daughter on the way, and I felt like “I gotta do something, I have nothing at this point.” I put my all into that music, and it became a success for me. And that’s what really inspired those lyrics. I remember sleeping on couches, just random couches, during that time. Fast forward years later, [and] I’m alright, living good. And it was all out of intuition. I didn’t know if I would succeed or not, but I had a feeling deep down. That’s what intuition is to me.

TCUS: You were told that you would be dead by the age of 21. How did that impact you?

Fashawn: It kinda made me live every day like it was my last – but not in the sense of like “yo, I’mma go the most ignorant thing I can,” and just living it up to the max. It really gave me a different thirst for life, and a different understanding for life. And to think, if I was gonna die at 21, what would I do? What would I say? What would I leave here on this Earth? To me, that was the Boy Meets World album, leading up to my 21st birthday. It actually came out on the day after my 21st birthday, so it was an eerie thing to think I’d be dead at that point. Boy Meets World was like a new birth, to me. Like yo, I’m still here, so now I predict I’ll be here for 21 more years, or if God gives me 100 more years, who knows?

TCUS: What can you tell me about Joanna Newsom’s “Cosmia”?

Fashawn: Joanna Newsom’s “Cosmia” is a phenomenal record, and one of the first samples I’ve ever gotten cleared – shout out to Joanna Newsom. “Cosmia” is a record that Exile sampled on “When She Calls”, which is a record on Boy Meets World. It’s a lot of people’s favourite record, you know? It’s a really touching record. It’s a song about relationships – not the bright side of them, but more of the serious side, the stuff you see on A&E. My friend committed suicide when I was a youngster over a girl, and nobody really understood why except me, because I was the guy he’d come talk to all the time, and I’d listen, as opposed to everyone else who’d call him a loser for even being in love with a girl. I chose to speak about it, and yeah, shout out to Joanna Newsom for provoking these lyrics, because whatever spirit was in that song, it provoked me to talk about what I was talking about.

TCUS: You describe your verse on “The Far Left” as the verse that literally changed your life. How so?

Fashawn: That verse was around the time that I had just put out One Shot One Kill with Mick Boogie and Terry Urban – this was way before my album came out. I was just a guy floating around the mixtape sphere, and nobody really knew who I was. I had never been on MTV, or the television for that matter. Nothing. Here I am, in the midst of these legends, Alchemist and Evidence. And Evidence turns over to me – we had a studio on Pico Boulevard in L.A. – he was like “yo, you wanna hop on this song?” He plays me Alchemist’s verse, and I’m like “shit, this is a monster song, what am I gonna do to this song?” I wrote one verse, and I didn’t like it. I broke the pattern, my flow didn’t really match up to the foundation that Alchemist had laid. I went back and I rewrote it – no one knows this, until now – and I followed the flow that Alchemist was doing. I went in [the studio], and I did it in one take. Evidence wouldn’t even let me hear what I recorded; he was just blown away. Like I said, it changed my life. From that moment on, Ev took me to Europe, and I’ve been on planes ever since, just flying around the whole world. This was all leading up to my album release. But that day right there, it changed my life, man. Never had to sleep on that couch again [laughs]. I think Ev’s couch was the last couch I slept on – word to my mother.

TCUS: On the subject of Evidence, at one point you were roommates with him. What was it like living with him and having his mentorship?

Fashawn: It was great, man. Like I said, that was the last couch I slept on. Sooner or later I moved in, and I got my own room, and my own bed and everything. It was cool, it was like living with the king of Venice. I could do whatever I wanted. I could skate, smoke the best weed, and go to the beach. It was like heaven for a kid from Fresno. If you know that history, it’s nothing like Santa Monica. It’s similar, because we got kids who grow up as skaters and now serve as waiters. But yeah, it was cool, just the whole discipline of being an emcee, I really learned from him. Seeing him wake up every day and write rhymes, even when he’s at his lowest, making music. [I] learned my whole work ethic from him. I was a Dilated Pupil at that point, learning how to conduct myself in this crazy, crazy industry.

TCUS: You have a personal connection to the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. What influence has this book had on you?

Fashawn: The Alchemist really taught me to follow my intuition, and to follow what I feel I’m put on this Earth for – my personal legend, as they say. I remember Tupac saying, “your name has everything to do with your destiny,” so when I read that book and the boy’s name was Santiago, just like mine, I felt intertwined with the story – I felt his story was mine, and vice versa. When I actually met the Alchemist, the producer, I felt like I was at the right place at the right time, and I kept following my intuition from there, always taking The Alchemist‘s advice along with me. That story is a beautiful story, man. It’s inspired so many great people and great minds. That’s what helped me write Boy Meets World, as well. I was like the character Santiago the whole time, and I was taking you through my journey. And at the end, it’s where my story begins.

TCUS: One thing I’ve noticed from listening to your music is that your album intros always leave a huge impression, whether it be the Intro to Boy Meets World, or “Manny Pacquiao”, or “Just Begun” with Murs. What’s your approach when you write intros, and what importance does the album intro have to you?

Fashawn: The intro is the grand opening, man. It’s when the curtains come up. It’s the beginning of the show. I think at that point, it’s your job to grab the person’s undivided attention, and get them ready for whatever you’re about to tell them. Remember, an album or mixtape [goes on] for at least 30 minutes to an hour – some people go crazy with it and do two hours, but that’s just overkilling it to me – but yeah, intros always have to be strong. It’s like the first round of a fight. You gotta calculate it: you can’t give it all to ’em, but you gotta give them enough to let them know you’re here for the whole bout. So, I like to come out the gate powerful every time, just to let people know I’m not playing in here, and [so they’ll] stick around for track two, and track three, and so on, and so on.

TCUS: Let’s talk about your upcoming project, Champagne and Styrofoam Cups, which comes out on November 20th. You recently tweeted that it’s not a mixtape. Can you explain?

Fashawn: Usually, when I take the mixtape approach, I’m rhyming over everybody else’s stuff – intertwined with maybe a beat from Exile, or a producer of choice. But on this one, it’s all producers [of] choice, it’s all original music that I took my time with. I didn’t rush it and put it out like a mixtape. But I still feel like it’s not what I wanted to do, as far as a sequel to Boy Meets World – I always promised my fans that I’d do that with Exile. This was kinda like exercise to me, but when I sat back and listened to the material, it was album-quality stuff. And [with] the stuff that I was saying on it, I was creatively in a space that I was in [for] Boy Meets World, when I had really [been] stripped to the bone. I had just put out 10 mixtapes prior to Boy Meets World, and then put that out and toured my life away, putting out mixtapes and doing so many features, and I was kinda burnt out. But every time that happens, I always get to a place, spiritually, where it’s just like “yo, I ain’t got nothing else to say [except for] the truth, and what’s [happening] now. I ain’t got no funny metaphors, no stupid punchlines, all I can say is what’s real, and with clarity.” That’s what this project is, Champagne and Styrofoam Cups. The champagne is for the celebration when you get to where you want to be, and you’re poppin’ bottles, and the styrofoam cups [represent] being back on the block, struggling, and trying to get it. It’s the combination of the two.

TCUS: Leading up to Champagne and Styrofoam Cups, you dropped “Skating Down The Block”. How has skateboarding played an influence in your life?

Fashawn: Skateboarding is like my breakdancing – I could never breakdance, so I expressed myself through skating down the street, and how I do my kickflips, and big spins, and whatever. That whole energy is something that resonated with me. I always found it funny how it got exploited in the past few years. A lot of rappers are trying to fake like they skate, and I just find it weird, because I remember skating back in the day and getting made fun of by these same guys that are now wearing tight jeans and Vans. But yeah, I rap just like I skate. When I’m writing a rap, it’s like Paul Rodriguez doing a 40-second run. I’m just trying to squeeze in as many tre flips and grinds as I can, and show you I got it. Rap and skating are synonymous to me. I dress onstage the same way that I dress at the skate park – there’s no difference.

TCUS: You have a mural at Camp Woodward. How did that come about?

Fashawn: [Laughs] Yeah, man! I don’t know if that’s still there, hopefully it is. Those are my people, man, out on the East Coast – as funny as that is. I went out to Pennsylvania [maybe] two years ago. Growing up, I could never afford to go to Camp Woodward, my parents could never afford that. To be invited, and to get paid to go to Camp Woodward, and do a commercial for them and write their anthem, man, it was just the most surreal thing ever. They actually painted a mural of my name, right there by the F-bomb – that’s what they call it, it’s this bowl that’s shaped like a F. And yeah, it was an honour, man. I’m still flattered to this day. I can’t wait to go back and shred.

TCUS: Another song leading up to C&S is “Generation F”. What was the inspiration behind this track?

Fashawn: That was just some miscellaneous raps, man. Stuff I wrote and just wanted to get off my chest. I hadn’t talked to my fans in awhile, and I had dropped “Skating Down The Block” maybe like a week or two prior to that, and a lot of my fans didn’t like it. A lot of my fans don’t like when I flow simple, and I’m just having fun. A lot of people love the kid that was on “The Score”, rhyming all crazy and stuff. I have many styles, you know what I’m saying? But I wanted to show them [that] I still rap, too. I don’t need a hook, or anything like that, to be able to communicate with my fans – or with anyone, for that matter. So, I did “Generation F”, and it’s just me going on a tantrum with my pen, talking to my fans and my friends in the rap game. And “Generation F” is like this idea that I had. You know how every generation has a name, like Generation X and etcetera? I feel like “Generation F” is a culture of kids that I’m cultivating – kids who think like me, and who agree with me, and live [accordingly]. That’s what “Generation F” is: me ushering in my generation.

TCUS: How did the Bear Gang begin, and how did you decide to start giving out bear names?

Fashawn: [Laughs] Bear Gang, Grizzly Gang… It all starts with the Grizzly Gang, [which] stems from the city called Grizzly City, which is the city I carry the flag for. We grew up, and we started calling ourselves the Grizzly Gang, in honour of our city and our movement. It kinda trickled down to my fans, years later, [and] I kinda separated the two. My new fans representing Grizzly Gang, who don’t really know what it’s about, I call them my bears. They don’t really know where the Grizzly Gang comes from, but they’re obviously down with it, so let’s get them down with it. But they’re not down until they get a bear name. When you accept this Grizzly City stuff, this Grizzly Gang doctrine, your whole life is gonna change – so you gotta get a bear name. That was a funny thing that I would do with my homies, and then one day I did it on twitter for one of my fans, and he loved it [laughs]. All of a sudden, people started hitting me up like “I want a bear name!” It’s just something I have fun with. I let people know, “alright, you’re down with us now, you’re a bear.” I love it, it’s fun.

TCUS: Coming up next year is The Ecology. What can you tell us about that project?

Fashawn: The Ecology is gonna be amazing, man. It’s everything that boy on the first album has learned from his experiences of seeing the world, and how it’s shaped him into a man at this point. The scars, the struggle, the celebrations, the setbacks, etcetera. It’s been awhile since I got to talk to my fans about where I left off on that album, as Santiago, and The Ecology is about that. It’s how the world could affect the kid, and turn him into a rugged man, and a scarred man, and [it’s about] how he deals with it, and in turn, how that guy affects the rest of the world. That’s what The Ecology is about: it’s not just my story, it’s our story. It’s about how the world affects us, as well. I can’t wait for the people to get their hands on that. I’m still cultivating it now, as we speak, in the midst of all the C&S, and This Generation, and all that. I’m still in the lab perfecting that, but that should be due [in] 2013.

TCUS: You’re hitting up Europe in December with Murs. What’s your favourite place to perform out there?

Fashawn: I’d have to say…. Aww man, Skater’s Palace out in Münster, Germany. Love that place. When I come early for the soundcheck, I’m just skating. They’ve got ramps everywhere, [and] I’m just cruising through the whole building – I’m not even really checking the mics, you’ve gotta stop me from skating, like “Fash, you gotta do your soundcheck!” There’s graffiti everywhere, and…. Ahh, I got to rock with Rakim live onstage. He gave me the mic, and I got to freestyle with Rakim, and Smif-N-Wessun and the Beatnuts. That place just has a legendary aura to it, you know? I’ve got so many great memories there. They invite me back almost every year, man. I love that place.

TCUS: When will you be coming to Canada again?

Fashawn: Hopefully next year. Hopefully I come back and tour with my brothers Notes To Self or something.

TCUS: Last time you were in Canada you linked up with Fresh Kils. I got to hear a little bit from Kils about that collaboration. How did the two of you link up in the first place?

Fashawn: Fresh Kils is someone I respect from that side, and we were always fans of each other’s crafts. It was only right, when I got out that way, that we connected. We got something down on record, and it was effortless. You get two people like ourselves, who are skilled at what we do, and love what we do, the rhymes come naturally. That’s how that collaboration came about, just through mutual respect and admiration for one another.

TCUS: That’s all from me, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Fashawn: I just want to say what up to all my people in Canada, and all over. There’s a Grizzly City everywhere, there’s even one in Saskatoon. Everywhere. Grizzly City is coming to a city near you, whether you like it or not.

TCUS: Thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it. Best of luck to you in the future!

Fashawn: Likewise, brother. Thanks for having me.