Fresno, CA rapper Fashawn‘s solo debut, Boy Meets World, dropped a day after his 21st birthday. He already had several mixtapes under his belt, toured Europe and appeared on tracks with super producer The Alchemist (who produced Fashawn’s latest mixtape, The Antidote). A fatherless group home kid with a drug addict mother, he could have easily been led astray. Instead, Fashawn tempers his gritty lyrics with uplifting and hopeful messages.
Though he does refer to his past hustling in the streets, he doesn’t glorify it, or glamorize hood life like others in his situation. Instead he kicks facts with an honesty not often heard in mainstream hip-hop. On his single “Life as a Shorty,” he raps: “didn’t know how broke we was ’til I got older / never knew I had a father until he showed up.”
True, we’ve heard Fashawn’s something-from-nothing story a million times over, but ghetto youth vocalizing their stories is what made hip-hop meaningful in the first place. Turn on the radio and you won’t find that voice anymore.
Instead, you’ll hear Drake or Lil’ Wayne, or Drake and Lil’ Wayne together — whatever the case, they’re rapping about sex.
Understandably, it’s 2009 and we have enough takes on Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up.” But with an increase in poverty, a dose of reality next to your ” Boom Boom Pow” isn’t such a bad thing.
There’s no better waste of time than arguing about the state of hip-hop, but when the most celebrated new rapper is 23-year-old Drake, things aren’t right. There’s no denying Drake’s skill. He’s a talented rapper and singer with an infinite arsenal of witty punchlines, metaphors and similes, even at his most crass (“are any of y’all into girls like I am? Les-bi-honest“). He’s the new Kanye for a generation for whom Kanye is old-school. The kid’s got next and will certainly have more longevity than the “Ice Cream Paint Job” guy, which is why I’m singling Drake out.
In fact, I’m a fan. His latest and most praised mixtape, So Far Gone, was the soundtrack to my last Vegas vacation. Boozed up in a city of sin, singing along to the words “I want the money, money and the cars, cars and the clothes, the hoes” is only fitting. But real life isn’t a strip club, unless your name is Diamond and you have a closet full of clear-heeled platforms.
Everyday folks don’t live the rap life. Escapism is cool and all, but at the end of the day, Drake and his Young Money cohorts rapping about sleeping with every girl in the world does nothing for us, nor do lines like “I exchange V-cards with the retards” (a line from “Every Girl” by one of the guys on the song who isn’t Drake or Wayne).
Not that Drake is one-dimensional; he gets introspective on songs like “The Calm” and “Fear” and has some really solid R&B cuts. My beef isn’t with Drake, but with the platform that artists like him are given and the neglect of artists like Fashawn.
A star on Canadian teen drama series Degrassi: The Next Generation, Drake already had the industry access that so many struggling artists don’t. He raps because he can; Fashawn raps because it’s his only ticket out of the hood. Drake could do much more with his position, but has yet to add anything of value to the public discourse. Maybe that will change when his official debut, Thank Me Later, drops.
Fashawn is the complete opposite. He raps about overcoming poverty’s pitfalls. He’s hard and optimistic where Drake is smooth and boastful, the Nas to Drake’s Jay-Z. It’s not to say that everything that Fashawn raps about is “conscious” (listen to “Bo Jackson”); it’s just that we’d do right by adding a little Fashawn and similar voices into the public sphere, better yet to the Clear Channel-dominated airwaves.
Full of poignant lyricism, Boy Meets World opens with a skit where Fashawn turns down hustling in the streets for making music. Among its highlights are an examination of street life on “The Ecology,” a channeling of Slick Rick and Nas on “Hey Young World,” some Jadakiss-like thinking out loud on “Why?” and reflection on the title track.
It’s not a flawless record, but Fashawn shows the potential to be one of the greats, as does Drake. But if we’re going to place someone on a pedestal, he should have something meaningful to say. I hear a lot of substance from Fashawn, not so much from Drake.