Samsonite man

Fashawn's traveling hip-hop circus
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  July 6, 2010

IT TAKES A VILLAGE “For me, moving in with Evidence was like how in X-Men they have the school for the special kids.”

By his 20th birthday, two years ago, Fresno rhyme prodigy Fashawn didn't just have evidence that he would dent the rap establishment. Even better: he was roommates in Los Angeles with Dilated Peoples stalwart Evidence, who — along with other exalted guides including producer Exile — helped the West Coast Golden Child navigate the industry. It's not enough that Fashwan is nasty by nature — when nurturing hip-hop's next legend, it takes a village of veterans.

"For me, moving in with Evidence was like how in X-Men they have the school for the special kids," says Fashawn, who comes to the Western Front on Sunday. "And he would bring me around to spots like Alchemist's house, which is like Xavier's crib. Everyone you can imagine would just be there hanging out and chilling — one time, Raekwon was in the booth. I would just hop in the car with Evidence and go wherever he was going. Once I got there, I would do whatever to absorb the energy."

If he is indeed one of rap's next heroes — as was recently suggested by his making XXL magazine's "10 Freshmen" list — then Fashawn's superpowers run deeper than his acuminous lyrical armaments. In a game filled with shamelessly narcissistic children, he's so anomalously mature — both on record and in his off-stage demeanor — that he wouldn't even humor me by trashing the unworthy intellectual fruitcakes (like OJ da Juiceman) who also made the XXL compendium.

"When I got the news about the cover, I was shocked," he says. "The first thing I asked was, 'Who else is on that?' And I was glad to see a lot of those guys. We need balance — I'm a true believer in the yin and the yang. The transition in rap is that everybody is coming up with the wildest stuff — it's like a circus. Sometime I even feel like it's hard to compete when I'm just here telling stories."

Fashawn's breakout Exile-spun 2009 disc, Boy Meets World (One Records), confirms that his mind is older than his years, and that his tales alone are plenty entertaining. The intimate, subjective, intricately scripted narratives on such tracks as "The Ecology" and "When She Calls" showcase his ability to tap the ghetto news network; lighter enlightened fare like "Samsonite Man" and "Life As a Shorty" proves his worth as a potential commercial powerhouse.

Although he'd been dropping mixtapes and street albums since his mid teens in Fresno, it wasn't till after Boy Meets World that his provocative skills and universal æsthetic drew comparisons to a young Nas. The parallels were hard to chew at first, but after close consideration, he embraced the compliment, and this past month he even dropped an Ode to Illmatic mixtape to secure his role as God's Grandson.

"I was hesitant at first, but getting out there and giving people what they want is what will keep my career alive." Hip-hop's Samsonite Man continues: "I feel I need to use the same formula that Barack did. I have to go to every state in America — not just cities, and not just towns, but all throughout every last state — that's what makes the difference. It's the same reason that I left Fresno when I did to live with Evidence — you have to grow up, and sometimes that means moving around. If you're only talking about your hood, then you'll only reach the people on your block."

FASHAWN | Western Front, 343 Mass Ave, Cambridge | July 11 at 8 pm | $12 | 617.492.7772

Related: Fashawn | Boy Meets World, Ethiopiqued, Shedding his skin, More more >
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