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It’s been five years since Fashawn released his debut LP Boy Meets World, but two collaborative albums, an EP, and four mixtapes later, the “Guess Who’s Back” rapper released a soulful project titled The Ecology.

We caught up with the Cali emcee to chat about his relationship with rap legend Nas, personal growth, and the most important record on The Ecology. Fashawn also discussed how soul and funk music has influenced him over the years and his recent desire to mentor other new artists involved in the struggle.

You can catch Fashawn in living color on “The Ecology Tour” with SonReal, Exile, and Earth Gang.

Watch Fashawn’s intimate documentary and read our exclusive interview below.

GlobalGrind: I’ve noticed a lot of jazz, soul, and funk influences on the album.

Fashawn: I wanted to bring an authenticity back to hip-hop. I felt like this album was needed. Initially that was the thought, especially in the digital era. I feel like the soul has been taken out. I kinda wanted to bring that back.

When you were recording the album, did you ever stress about capturing the essence of these classic soul and funk records without creating an antiquated sound?

Yeah. I worked with people who I respect and people who make timeless music. And people who’ve survived eras in music. That’s what enabled me to jump out there. Couldn’t have done that without them.  

How did you form a relationship with Nas?

I’ve been doing my thing for a while, putting out mixtapes and stuff. I think I came up on his radar later on in my career at a time when I wasn’t putting out music. He spotted me doing my thing. He basically became a fan, and this was at the time when he was creating this business deal at Mass Appeal. One of the first guys he wanted to put on the roster for the record label was me. Soon as he reached out, I gladly accepted. He flew me out to Texas so we could officially shake hands and meet for the first time down at SXSW.

Nas is a pretty wise dude, what’s one thing he’s said to you that you really took to heart?

Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself, and don’t get distracted by all the things that’ll come my way. Just to stay focus and stay on course. 

It’s been five years since you graced XXL’s Freshmen cover. Can you take me back to that moment in your career? Did you feel a lot of pressure?

I felt good pressure, the kind of pressure that makes diamonds. The more people that wanted to talk to me so that I could explain my art, I actually found pleasure in it. It strengthened me.

What’s the most important record on The Ecology?

If I had to choose one?

Yeah.

That’s a hard one, but if I had to…[long pause] I’d say “Higher.” That song really expresses my growth since my first album. That song is the most definitive record on the whole project.

Boy Meets World dropped in 2009, it’s been five years since you released an LP. Tell me about your personal growth since then.

In the beginning, I didn’t have any expectations. I was just trying to make a living…a career out of this music thing. I really just gave that first album my all. I wasn’t living the plush artist life at the time. I was living the starving artist life. I was sleeping on you-name-its couch, in the studio, in cars. Fast forward now, I’m actually established. I can call this a career. It’s a lot different. I’m a father now and a mentor to some of these young guys coming up. I never thought I’d be here.

Were you ever worried about the five-year gap between your debut and your sophomore album? How it will be received by your fans?

Of course, anytime an artist is dealing with their sophomore album they have this black cloud over their head. The whole sophomore jinx thing. You want it to be better or equally as great as the first project. I definitely wrestled with those thoughts while making this album. Thank God for mixtapes. I still exercised my creative muscle, even when I was “off season.”

As an artist, how do you feel about the digital age?

I feel like there’s a detachment. I remember going to the record store, picking up an album, and ripping off the plastic. The whole spirit of that is gone. Kids don’t even know where the record store is these days, but on the other hand, our music is more accessible now. So that’s a blessing, but I got mixed emotions about it. It’s a good thing to an extent, but it also hinders the experience of connecting with an artist.

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