It’s been a long six years since Fashawn‘s monumental (and arguably slept on) debut Boy Meets World introduced the Fresno rapper to the world. For most, six years would be a hiatus, too much time to really make a relevant comeback. But while other artists may see six years as a time to rest up, Fashawn has been steadily pumping out projects – mixtapes with The Alchemist, DJ Green Lantern, and others, as well as a collaborative album with Murs. He also managed to be one of the first signees to Nas‘ new Mass Appeal Records. He’s been to Rock the Bells and SXSW; he was named an XXL Freshman; he has pretty much worked non-stop between dropping his debut and releasing his long-awaited, highly-anticipated sophomore effort, The Ecology.
Exile handled the entirety of the production on Fash’s first album; this record sees a heavy Exile influence, but producers DJ Khalil, Alchemist, Beewirks and others make contributions. On the album, Exile distances himself from his signature quirky and obscure choppy samples in favor of many piano riffs, simpler head-nodding drums and a more sentimental atmosphere. The production captures a retrospective mood much deeper than that of Fashawn’s previous efforts, and it comes as a surprise from one of hip-hop’s more experimental samplers.
The album’s opener “Guess Who’s Back” is a major standout track as rolling drums, a grimy bassline and Fash’s epic re-arrival marks The Ecology‘s exciting introduction. The highly-anticipated collaboration with Aloe Blacc and Nas does not fall short of expectations. “Something to Believe In” is a song akin to Blacc’s hit “I’m The Man,” but with the Grizzly and Esco spitting bars on the dynamic instrumental, the energy of the track is skewed in a very hip-hop direction. That still does not take away from Aloe Blacc’s sought-after singing on the hook, however.
Other more sentimental tracks include “Higher,” “Place To Go,” “Man of the House,” and “Mother.” The majority of these tracks use softer sampling elements like piano keys and strings while Fashawn raps about achievement, his father and his mother and his life growing up. Despite this overarching theme of sentimentality, there are still songs that knock and incite that West coast energy the rapper is used to entertaining. “Confess” and “Out the Trunk” are the album’s bangers; “Letter F” samples the classic “Impeach the President” break, and “It’s A Good Thing” is one of the album’s many feel-good anthems.
Personally, I would have loved to see Blu make a return on a track with Fash after the single “Samsonite Man” showed the incredible chemistry these two have together. The same goes for Evidence, but I also appreciate Fashawn carrying the majority of the rhymes on his own. Other features include a verse from Dom Kennedy on the single “Golden State of Mind,” Choosey alongside the raps of Aloe Blacc, something that is becoming more and more rare nowadays with Aloe Blacc singing more often that spitting bars. Busta Rhymes‘ vocals are used as the hook on the gritty banger “Out the Trunk,” another single off of the album. But with minimal features, as I stated earlier, Fash really makes the effort to stand on his own throughout the project, imparting his own verses and signature melodic hooks.
The Ecology is a very mature record. After so many years of building a foundation, excelling in hip-hop as a former underdog and becoming an alternative voice in the explosive West coast hip-hop scene of today, Fashawn demonstrates his strengths on his sophomore effort with little filler and rarely a dull moment. The Dirty Science member holds his own on the record and takes the time to actively speak on life from before and after his gem of a debut. And while there’s less of a spark on this album as compared to its predecessor, Fashawn’s lyrical abilities have been sharpened and the elements of The Ecology are ripened to parallel a more seasoned artist than the one that burst onto the scene many years ago.
Few emcees have quite the come-up that Fashawn does, and that’s just part of Fashawn’s grace. From the storytelling to the down-to-earth demeanor, listeners can really hear Fash as if he’s telling you about himself directly. The toned-down production may be attributed to Nas’ involvement as executive producer, but for the rhymes and tales that Fashawn raps, the instrumentals fit well with the coming-of-age mood. The Ecology may only be the rapper’s second studio album, but by the sounds of it, Fashawn knows his voice well and has solidified his position in hip-hop.
1) Guess Who’s Back
3) Something to Believe In (feat. Nas & Aloe Blacc)
5) To Be Young (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)
6) Golden State of Mind (feat. Dom Kennedy)
7) Letter F
8) Place to Go
9) Man of the House
10) Out the Trunk
11) It’s A Good Thing (feat. Aloe Blacc & Choosey)