Fashawn Talks Introspective ‘Manna’ EP
Fashawn has been keeping a low profile. Since 2015′s The Ecology, the Fresno, California rapper born Santiago Leyva gave rapping a backseat as he grappled with paranoia and personal roadblocks. He then returned with the nine-track EP, Manna, on Friday (Aug. 11), which points a magnifying glass on this country’s injustices and his own inner contradictions.
Even after a red-eye flight from the West Coast to New York for a full day of press, his version of running on fumes is being attentive, thoughtful and well-spoken when it comes to his comeback project. No signs of fatigue are on his face, unless the subject turns to the perception of his native city or the harsh realities of being lack in America.
For Manna, Fashawn pulls from his faith and treats his regrets as lessons learned. He also makes room for education, like on the song “Proud,” to teach listeners about the revolutionary African-American people he considers heroes. Ask Fashawn and Manna, a nod to the promise God made to Israel in the Book of Exodus, is a “definitive project.” He says, “This is the music I should’ve been making my whole life. This is the epitome of what I do.”
A day before the project’s release (Aug. 10), the gritty lyricist goes deep about his latest endeavor and the importance of his melanin.
Why have you been quiet for the past two years? What’s been going on in your life?
My momma always told me if you didn’t have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. I didn’t really have anything positive to really express with everything going on in our society and our culture. I could at least have a perspective now. One or two years ago, I was just upset and would lash out in different ways over how I felt. It didn’t come through the music. It was just the other side of me that I don’t really like to indulge in.
What kind of mood were you in making this project? Did you feel like you had to prove something to the world?
I felt like there was some fans losing faith in the kid, some people in my corner that was like, “Do you even got another project in you?” The story of manna is God promised Moses and the children of Israel in the Book of Exodus he would bless them with manna and I promised my fans I’d give ‘em something. Manna was the perfect word that described my music at the time when I was making it. I never went into the studio with a particular direction. I didn’t get the title until the whole project was done.
Would you consider yourself super religious?
I would consider myself very spiritual not moreso than religious. I think religion has divided us more than it has unified us as human beings. Spirituality in a sense hasn’t. People who understand spirituality, I think we’re all connected in a weird, spiritual way.
You get to “Crack Amerikkka” and you say, “I don’t know if God is coming back or if he was even there.” What made you say that?
I guess losing certain people in my life that felt like they were immortal to me. Like thinking that this person could never go and then something just snatches them away off this planet. Or just feeling helpless, calling out to a higher being and clearly motherf–ker don’t hear you. Those prayers aren’t being realized and that’s when you wrestle with the thoughts like yo, who am I screaming at? Who am I talking to? Especially living in the ghetto. I’m not the most lucrative artist out here. I just do it ‘cause I love this shit.
What do you credit your laser focus to?
I could attribute that to growing up in a chaotic environment and still focusing on what I have to do. Even if there was bullets, gunshots and helicopters going on outside, I still could maintain the focus to read a book or write a sixteen-bar verse. Shit was crazy outside of my windows. There was a BBC documentary about my city. These people from Europe were like, “Fresno, California, the city addicted to crystal meth” and I’m like this can’t be what we’re known for. This is a total bad representation and it’s only sadder because it’s pretty much if you go to Fresno, you’ll see that. You’ll see the echoes of that whole [drug] era. Fresno is a story in itself as a city.
For the song “Afraid,” was that from personal fears? Conversation to yourself?
It was just a very personal record. Me just exploring my own paranoia. There was a point in my life where I felt naked without a gun on me like right now. Not knowing these New York n—as. I still carry that paranoia with me from my childhood. I just wanted to confront it and gain some understanding of it.
When did you start walking around without a piece?
When kids started running up to me and be like you’re my hero. I don’t want no kid to run up on me and a gun fall out and a stray bullet hits somebody. I’m like I need to stop rolling like this. You never know who gon’ come up to you and try to hug you or anything or try to rob you. That’s why it’s a touchy subject.
On a more positive note, you name-drop all these iconic black figures on “Proud.” Where did that pride come from?
Having a deeper understanding of what my melanin means to me and to this planet. Going back in history and seeing all these wonderful innovations by these beautiful black people that are not celebrated or not emphasized enough. They don’t put the magnifying glasses on [activist and founder of Five-Percent Nation] Clarence 13X like they did Martin Luther King or [South African singer] Miriam Makeba like they do Beyoncé. These are heroes, too. It’s like I’m still trying to bring you up to speed but I gotta give you the O.G.’s [perspective] like Vivien Thomas was the first heart surgeon, [Civil Rights activist] Stokely Carmichael, people who were heroes to me. I just wanted to celebrate my melanin for moment.
When were you first aware of the color of your skin?
I think the first time I was aware of it was… This white kid by the name of Keith I used to hang out with in our apartments and his mom had the most incredible collection of peanuts, almonds, pistachios, every kind of nut and they had this one particular kind of peanut that was really black and really misshaped. I said what do they call that over there? And [his mom] said, oh those are n—er toes. This was a completely white family. And I was like, I’ve heard that word before but could you explain it to me? “Like black people’s toes.” I’m like wow, I’m out of here. That’s when I was aware that my skin color was something to poke fun at or make fun of. I was 9. I knew I was black the first day I looked in the mirror. That’s for sure. But when I first realized what it meant, it was like a cold intro.
Snoop Dogg is a big fan of yours and you got him on “Pardon My G.” What are life conversations with him like?
Very chronic-infused. Just very game-infested because he’s been in the game so long and he soaked up so much wisdom. You wanna talk about longevity and staying relevant, that’s your guy. I pick his brain about everything. I grew up with his music so I’m like where was you at when you did this song? How old is Lil’ Half Dead now? Where’s Big Half Dead? What happened that time you and Kurupt was in the studio and he dissed all these guys? I’m just a genuine fan, a student and he don’t have no problems telling me what happened. He really treats me like his nephew.
For “Fashawn,” what kind of mindframe were you in for that one?
I feel like everybody deserves their own anthem. If you love yourself, you should write an anthem for yourself. It’s my form of self-love and giving y’all a little history about me through certain bars and shit. It’s just my life aside from the cameras.
On “Mother Amerikkka,” you reflect on the country’s injustices and say the new KKK is Kim, Kylie, and Kanye.
I don’t know why that line sticks out so much. Everybody wants to know what the f–k did you mean by that? For me, it was really just a play on the letters.
What does it say about pop culture in your eyes?
It’s like a triple entendre. These people are three of the most influential people in society right now. They got enough power to turn America upside down but what are they doing with their influence for young girls and young guys? All I know is I’m seeing the aftermath of it. All I see is the same girls purchasing the same body, all the dudes in Yeezys and all these girls with lips like Kylie. It’s like what are y’all doing with your influence? Let’s just have a dialogue about that.
I’m not saying these people are out here hanging people and being Klansmen but I feel like the influence is just as big or probably bigger than that on the minds of Americans and the influence they have. It was really like a salute. I wasn’t trying to give them a Nazi [salute]. None of those people are Nazi-like to me. I love all those guys. College Dropout, one of my favorite albums of all time.
But the past three years have been tumultuous for the country. You say Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s names.
It’s all real events. I’m just holding up a mirror to my country and letting her know I still love her. She’s still my mother, she still raised me and instilled all this shit in me that makes me this guy and makes me regurgitate all this stuff that I’ve consumed. I just wanted to hit the topic one time. I don’t really care for politics too much but when it hits that close to home… it was a point where I was more afraid of a cop pulling me over like a n—a riding up to me and blasting my brains out. I was more afraid of a cop just pulling me over and killing me for no reason. More afraid of them than n—as would consider real thugs out here and it was like I had to speak about that emotion at the time. I still feel that way, I got pulled over the other day and I was just happy cuffs was all I got. I was like thank you God. Rather jail than a graveyard.
What gives you hope these days?
It’s not hope, moreso faith in God and knowing that he got me. That’s why I don’t really walk around with a gun on me. I don’t need it. I got bigger security upstairs.
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