Fresno's Fashawn Overcomes Challenges in Rise to Hip Hop Stardom
One of today’s brightest young stars in the world of hip hop is from Fresno. His name is Fashawn. He’s been on the cover of XXL Magazine, he’s toured internationally with some of the biggest MC’s, and his own recordings and videos like the critically acclaimed “Boy Meets World” combine clever wordplay and rhythms with a message.
Last November he produced his own hip hop festival in Fresno, and released his latest mixtape, "Champagne in Styrofoam Cups." His latest album, "This Generation" is a collaboration with the legendary hip hop artist MURS. Fashawn also is the headline artist at this Saturday’s second annual Catacomb Party, a massive free musical festival taking place on the Fulton Mall in Downtown Fresno.
Here are some highlights from our interview with Fashawn.
About his childhood and overcoming a difficult family life:
"I went to McLane High School and I got kicked out. You can go to Wikipedia that. The most notable students who went there, it says Santiago Leyva, but in red it says, “never graduated.” I went there then I got kicked out and went to this school called Carter G. Woodson. And that’s really where I figured out that a lot of teachers couldn’t teach me, and I was more of a self educated type of person."
"As far as my family life, I really didn’t have much of a family at all. I had my mother, well she gave birth to me but she never had me, you know what I’m sayin? She was there not even half the time. But when she was there it was awesome. She made us dinner and gave us a lot of affection, and knowledge and wisdom. But the streets had her and her drug addiction had her. And my father, he was a member of the Bulldog gang, if you’re familiar with those guys. And he’s been in prison my whole life. And still to this day I don’t know him. I know where he lives. He still lives on First Street, a block I claim dearly. But I had to overcome just the absence of them."
"I guess the freedom of having no limitations, like no one to really guide you, and really always seeking that male figure, and that female figure. I had to go to the streets to find it. To gather all these things that I know now. I didn’t get to learn them inside of my household. I was told god’s favored struggle the most. They’re obstacles, but I feel that they were put there to strengthen me for what was to come."
About his Uncle Roy, who intervened in his life after Child Protective Services placed him and his sister in a group home:
"We went through a lot of different places like the Marjaree Mason Center, the Craycroft Center, and just a lot of random place. But eventually my uncle Roy wasn’t having that. [He said] “I’ll take my sister’s kids, at least they’ll be with some family, some blood.” And he took care of me from eight until eighteen... But that's my guy, that's my pops. He's more than an uncle, that's the patriarch of my life."
On the role music played as a teenager growing up:
"It was an outlet. It was music and skateboarding. Skateboarding, I can physically go out and express myself, express my pain. Even just falling felt good, and getting back up and doing a trick and landing it. But music was definitely… I could channel my thoughts and feelings and my emotions in the music. Because I was still making it. From like twelve and eleven years old I was still like writing and producing music. It might not have been of the best quality. But I was still doing that. But as far as like listening to it and being fans of certain artists and being inspired by other people, it helped a lot because it was like the most consistent thing in life, since birth, was music in my living room, whether my parents were there or not. It was very influential in my life as it is today. It became a best friend or a mother or father when that wasn’t available. It was more than just “la da di da” out the speaker."
About his song “The Ecology”
"It’s like a journal entry. It’s like me sitting out on my stairs looking out at my neighborhood. At the time that was First and Shields Avenue. It was really messed up at the time, still is to this day, but I really just wanted to show what it’s like as a 20 year old young man in Fresno, or in this world and the stuff that we deal with, and the environments and circumstances that we live in. That’s what “The Ecology” was about. It wasn’t just about the behavior, but what provokes that behavior. What mentality provokes these kind of behaviors. What households produce these kinds of men, that we call thugs or gangsters."
On how his music has changed over the years:
"It’s just evolved with me as a person. I used to like write graffiti, I used to sell… I used to be a “pharmacist” and do a lot of dumb stuff. As I became an influential person and I saw my influence on kids and people, that kind of changed me, it kind of helped me evolve to be more of the leader that I always said I was in my music. I really evolved and it kind of manifested in my life. I always said “I’m the general, I’m the leader, I’m the prophet, etcetera.” But as I grew older it really manifested and I became more conscious of what I spat out and even what I consumed with my eyes, with my ears with my mouth, everything. I just became a little more conscious with time, and I guess my music is just synonymous with that it changes with me, it evolves with me every other year."
About his song “This Generation” with the artist MURS:
"[It's] a song to fill this imaginary generational gap that’s between us, like between me and MURS, and my hip hop generation, and his hip hop generation, just everybody’s generation. Culturally, socially, you name it. Because it really doesn’t matter what year you were born or what year you die because, because we all are living in the now, and that’s this generation. Everyone is a part of it, old, new, black, white, yellow or brown. That’s really what the origin of the song was."
On wanting to be "more than an MC" and his interest in journalism:
"I did write for McLane High School’s newspaper, but yeah, if I wasn’t rappin’, if I wasn’t Fashawn, I’d be involved in all of that, because it’s just an extension of what I do as Fashawn. Like the journalistic side of what I do is going to research these concepts, actually going out and studying my topic of what I’m talking about. I think that’s really the journalistic side of what I do and how I feed it to my audience as information it’s not just entertainment, its information as well."
On what Fresno means, both good and bad:
"Well first of all it’s home to me. It’s where all my memories are, all my lessons and all my wisdom comes from, it’s the foundation for everything that I have now, and probably everything that I will be. It’s a really humble place. Economically, it’s economically deprived, but I don’t think it takes away from the richness of the people, the heart of soul of this particular city in the San Joaquin Valley."
"And when people call it a farm town, I don’t understand that. I don’t come from that Fresno. I didn’t grow up on a vineyard or a farm. I grew up smelling the vineyards on Shields Avenue. You can wake up early in the morning and you can smell the crushed grapes from the fields and stuff like that. But you can look out and see graffiti and crack heads and people on the corner panhandling and stuff like that. But the juxtaposition of the two, it makes it beautiful to me. That’s why I’m back here. You don’t get that feeling in LA or New York. This is home to me. It’s who I am. And I’m just a reflection of that. I’m a reflection of the town and everything this whole area has to offer. And I feel like I am the voice of the area."