All true rap music fans know who Nasir Jones is. Nas and hip hop go hand in hand, like two peas in a pod. They’re almost synonymous with one another. What fans might not know is that the hall of fame emcee from Queens, New York just launched, in 2014, an indie hip hop label called Mass Appeal, which has origins and business ties with the magazine of the same name. The list of artists on the label is short but very noteworthy, including Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), Bishop Nehru, Boldy James, Dave East, and a highly skilled, worldly conscious Fresno, California emcee by the stage name of Fashawn (Santiago Leyva). A 2010 XXL Freshman, Fashawn made much noise early in his run with his 2009 debut LP, Boy Meets World (One Records), a masterful, underground rap benchmark of real, intelligent hip hop music. Fast forward a little over five years and Fashawn has done it again, with his sophomore LP, The Ecology, released by Mass Appeal and overseen by Nas himself in the executive producer’s chair.
The Ecology begins like gangbusters in “Guess Who’s Back” with Fashawn spitting heavy lyrics and athletic linguistics and bringing you that “real,” real strong in fact. “Confess” with its “I am the best”-chorus sample contains cool braggadocio again supported by quality lyricism and also Fashawn’s reworking of a classic quote from BDP’s “9mm Goes Bang” at the beginning of the song. A stylish Aloe Blacc and a sociopolitical Nas are guest-featured in the wondrous “Something To Believe.” Covering all his bases with a lot on his mind, Fashawn takes on many other areas in the ensuing remainder. He discusses living for a higher purpose, his antics-filled youth, Cali love, how bad things will always happen, his absent father, the bloated, unreasonably high expectations of people in the First World, his undying, unconditional love for his mother (baggage and all), love versus hate and how he has developed on his journey thus far through life.
Fashawn has added some nice tidbits, and the structural framework of The Ecology rests on a strong chassis. In “Higher,” you can hear Fashawn’s daughter’s tender voice on his answering machine, and it just might make a few strong guys out there shed a little tear. A big Busta Rhymes sample on the hook amps-up “Out The Trunk,” and Fashawn makes a very telling, very profound admission in “FTW” when he raps, “I found the truth when I lost my mind.” Good emphasis has been put on the choruses, making them diverse, memorable and ones you can easily sing or rap along with. Fashawn never goes slack with his wordplay, demonstrating plenty of range and versatility, and the beats supply a pleasing, upbeat atmosphere in which to take-in everything Fashawn gives us. The Ecology features a lot of bright piano sometimes crisp and frequently happy sounding and of course exciting hip hop drums. Emanon producer Exile, who produced all of Fashawn’s debut, also produces most of the tracks here with other work coming from Beewirks, DJ Khalil, Alchemist, Quincey Tones, Jo Caleb and ATG. The other guest vocalists are BJ The Chicago Kid, Dom Kennedy and Choosey.
Fashawn has taken great care in galvanizing all the elements, factors and personalities that have gone into making The Ecology. Why else should it take nearly six years to make an album anyway? The optimistic yet realistic Fashawn does both celebrating and pondering but also a good amount of reporting from the field. He has tried some different things here (even singing briefly in “Man Of The House”), and they’ve paid off. His mannerism reveal he’s taken a note or two from his guide, Nas, but not too many. The Ecology is good, traditional hip hop with enough spice to keep it different and interesting. It has a little bit of everything hip hop fans love, and Fashawn knows how to be eye-opening without being overly offensive.