December 12, 2009
Fashawn | Boy Meets World
THIS WEEK IN HIP HOP
For those of you on top of your hip-hop, you may want to hate on the fact that I’m writing about the debut album from Fresno CA rapper, Fashawn, well over a month since it was released by One Records. But I have to admit, I listened to Boy Meets World for the first time this week, and ever since, it’s pretty much been all I can think about. So I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather write about, either.
I’d read Fashawn’s name in a few blog headlines but didn’t really think anything of it. There are so many different rappers that the various websites are trying to push heavy, from Curren$y to Wiz Khalifa, that it’s impossible to follow them all, and more often than not they’re disappointing. Then this past Monday, I was on YouTube while at work, listening to some tracks off of Blu and Exile’s classic album Below The Heavens, and I noticed that in the comments section someone mentioned that Exile produced Boy Meets World, too. I’m a big fan of Exile, especially after Below The Heavens, which easily makes my top albums of the decade, so for that reason alone I decided that I had to give Fashawn another shot. Let’s just say that I couldn’t be happier that I did.
The thing that most stands out about Fashawn is the amount of self reflection and critical thought that he includes in his music. At times it almost seems impossible that a 20-year-old experiencing the world beyond his hometown for the first time could be so insightful. Yet at the same time, he infuses his lyrics with massive amounts of street knowledge and California pride, that, when combined with his straight-up famished-sounding delivery, prevents his music from getting becoming inaccessible, holier-than-thou backpack rap. Exile on the other hand is a sample based producer who digs deep into old jazzy records and creates beautiful and relaxing beats that make you want to lay in bed and contemplate life.
Initially I worried that Exile was too soft for Fashawn, and that Fashawn wasn’t contemplative enough for Exile, but it seems like the two bring the best out of each other. When Fashawn wants to rap about street life, like on “The Ecology” or “Freedom,” Exile manages to cook up some heat with much more grime and grit than I knew he was capable of. On the other hand, when Exile throws out a beat that is on the lighter end of the spectrum, such as “Why” or “Boy Meets World,” Fashawn comes with some deeply personal lyrics that fit the mood of the track. The best example of this is “Life As A Shorty.” I’ve been knocking this song nonstop for the past couple of days at work, in my car, when I’m at home…and right now god damn it! I think what grabs me is that the beat reminds me of childhood without being really corny, and Fashawn depicts these coming-of-age experiences in such an intimate way that the listener gets a vivid image of a thoughtful, perseverant, life-loving MC, which is rare.
While I am tempted to give Fashawn nothing but praise for his debut, Boy Meets World has some faults as well. Hooks are normally the weakest part of underground rap, and while a lot of the choruses on this album were of a surprisingly high caliber – such as on “When She Called” – there were others that fell way too short. For example, “Samsonite Man” is a pretty good song about the ups and downs of living life on the road, but as soon as Fashawn starts singing that he’s “a Samsonite man, yeah” I find myself cringing and looking for the skip button. It’s the type of chorus I would feel embarrassed to have come on while I was driving a car full of people. The other biggest disappointments are the features. None of the guests on Boy Meets World come close to matching Fashawn’s energy or desire. Evidence’s minimalist rhyming doesn’t stand up to Fashawn on “Our Way”, and although Mistah F.A.B. delivers a good verse on paper for “Sunny CA”, his voice sounds like it is recovering from a few weeks of yelling at the top of his lungs (aka performing, in his case) and thus lacks the charisma and flair that defines him as a rapper. Finally, I would have enjoyed a few more hardcore tracks as well. As I alluded to earlier, I am happy that both artists successfully expanded themselves to encompass each other’s styles, but at the end of the day I think Fashawn is best when he’s rhyming to a hardcore head knocker such as the “Intro” rather than light and fluffy tracks such as “Hey Young World.”
All in all, Boy Meets World is a rare amalgamation of aggression, boastfulness, street savvy, introspection, and overall high-quality music. A large part of its appeal is the energy and hunger that often only exists in the earliest tracks of an artist’s catalogue, but Fashawn provides so much more beyond that, that I will be looking forward to anything he has to offer in the future.
by Matt Moretti