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An interview with Fashawn on his latest project, "Ode to Illmatic." Q: Talk about the attention it's been getting so far Fashawn: As far as the attention it's been getting, it's been pretty crazy. A lot of people have mixed emotions about it. A lot of people are holding it close to their heart, like it's sacred. Like it's the bible of hip hop and stuff And other people are like what is Illmatic? My youngest fans are like ‘What is Illmatic.’ I'm like, I can't believe you don't know what Illmatic is. It's all good. I'm just paying homage to Nas. That's one of my favorite MC's. My first album got a lot of comparisons to his first album... I couldn't find the “One Time For Your Mind” beat. Fans would come to the show when I was on tour, they would come with the “One Time For Your Mind” beat on a CD or disk drive, trying to help me finish the project. Q: Have you reached out to Nas or has Nas reached out to you? Is he aware of the project? Fashawn: I have no idea dude. I was on tour with Nas. I did Rock The Bells 2009. I was a special guest with Ev and Alchemist. I really didn't get a chance to meet him. Every time I did (have time to try and find him),he'd be on stage rocking. But I never got the chance to meet him. I don't even know if anyone got in his ear about what I'm doing. I have no idea. I've never met him. I never got introduced to him. But the ill thing is , Green Lantern (who hosted the “Ode To Illmatic” mixtape) is the DJ now with him and Damien Marley, so I think it's too close to his camp for him not to hear him. But other than that, you never know.
Q: There's gotta be a part of you that's seeking approval from him? Fashawn: Yeah, I just want him to tell me if it's dope or not. I don't care if it gets 200 views or 200,000 views or whatever, I just hope that the heads that really appreciate the album and what the album stands for, they give me a salute on that. I really took my time with it. A lot of people are saying, “Yo, they were four years old when the shit came out.” They didn't even know about that shit. I studied that shit thoroughly, I'm a student of it.
Q: I wanted to go track by track through some of the songs on the album. Start off with “NY State of Mind.” What does that song mean to you? Fashawn: That really painted the picture of what New York was like to me. What the projects was like in Queens and every borough. I think he was not just representing for his borough, but for all of New York. It was a state of mind. The imagery — you could smell what he was talking about. You could taste what he was talking about. That shit was super vivid, there was nothing like that to come before or after that. The beat was hard, dirty and feels like, aww man, it just feels like New York. It just reminded me of New York. Walking through Brooklyn or Queens. That's how it makes me feel. Now, after being to New York and traveling to New York, it's just crazy. The epitome of story telling and rhyme, metaphors, all that. Word play.
Q: Yeah, the word play on their is incredible. Fashawn: (raps a line from the song) I ran like a cheetah with thought of an assassin... You know what I'm saying? One ran, I made him back flip... You know what I'm saying? No one had that in their rhymes, and the rhyme forms was the same back and forth rhymes, like, “I come through the spot and something, something...” It was the same old rhythm back then. I think Nas really shook the game up when he came.
Q: Talk about your version of “Life's A Bitch” and getting Talib Kweli to contribute a verse. Fashawn: Man, when I approached it, I felt like I was just at that point in my life. I was 20 years old at the time. I wrote it on my birthday. I was just in that mood, man. But I told Kweli, first of all, he's from Brooklyn, and AZ was from Brooklyn, and I always thought (AZ) was from Queens, until I did my history. So I wanted somebody who rep Brooklyn, and Kweli is one of my favorite MC's from Brooklyn. I was honored by the fact he gave me the verse, because I initially wanted somebody from the west coast — I just wanted to keep it all west coast, the whole project, CA state of mind. And I still wanted to pay homage to the album, but still make it fresh with fresh voices and personalities to it. Yeah, it's one of my favorite songs ever.
Q: I saw you put the “Buck that bought a bottle coulda struck the lotto” line on the cover... Fashawn: That's my favorite line off the album. That song applies to life to me. It's like the decisions you make impacts your life.
Q: “Memory Lane.” That was my personal favorite song on the album. I was curious to know your take on that song Fashawn: Man, that one. I thought it would be the most difficult to create. The wordplay on that is impeccable. I didn't even know how I would do it. I didn't think I would be able to do it. I got the track done, and it's one of those songs that is solid. The scratches on there, it's just so nostalgic. It just takes you back to an earlier time in your life. It's just dope man. We added Planet Asia's (voice sample) on there, because you know how its says “Coming out of Queensbridge.” We took a sample from my man Planet Asia saying “Coming out of Fresno,” just to customize it, you know what I'm saying. That's my favorite song off that album, as well. Arguably my favorite song. And he just spazzed out on the verses. I don't even think there were 16 bars. I think he was going like 24 on the verses. He was just killing it. That's a stand out joint, for sure. That's the one I really want people to pay attention to on the project.
Q: “One Time For Your Mind,” you said that instrumental was hard to find... Fashawn: Yeah, that was the hardest one to get. The label had sent me probably eight of the instrumentals. Every one except that one. I was wondering “Wow, how come they didn't bring that?” And it was like I couldn't get it. All the ones that was out had vocals on them. It had Wiz at the beginning talking about “Uo Mas, kick that..” It had all the vocals on it. So I was losing my mind trying to get a clean version of the instrumental. I even hit Large Professor and he never got it to me, man. I don't know why. I think it was because that's his, you know what I'm saying. I totally respect that, and that's the man, the architect of that, so I'm not even going to bother him about that. I just took what I could get. Some fan came to the show in Birmingham, when I was on tour with Brother Ali, and brought me the disk drive and really chopped it up. Hopefully the people will like it, man. That's just like freestyle rhymes. You're a fan of the album, the whole attitude of that record was dope. He was like, yo, send this shorty to the store to cop my Phillies. At the beginning the opening rhyme, just some fly rhyme shit, have fun with it type shit. That's what I did, and I was glad it was the last record I had to do. It was a difficult process. It's not easy to complete a classic album like that. I know it's only 9 songs, still, the album, I really broke it down to a science, did all the history. I really broke it down. It's incredible. It's a lot of work. I could understand why it would take Nas 20 years to make an album like that. Word.
Q: Were you able to reach out to any of the other producers or artists from the original? Fashawn: I met Premier, but this was before the project was started. I didn't even tell him about it. It was just an idea in the back of my head. But as far as talking about the project, I haven't talked to any producers about it, except Large Professor. He was a big contribution to the album. Pete Rock, I was actually on stage with Pete Rock at Wu Tang in New York, at Rock The Bells 2009. And we was chipping it up. He was excited to work with me. He was like “We gonna make some magic.”
Q: If you were to attempt your own Illmatic and got five super producers the way Nas got to do his, who would you enlist? Fashawn: Yeah, I would get... Alchemist. I would get XL. I would get Black Milk. I would get DJ Babu, and, um, man... My fifth? Yo, man, I'm trying to make it totally different from his vibe... probably Madlib, yo. Yeah, I think, aww, aww, naw, man. I wish I could pick six. I would add Khalil in there. I swear to you (laughs). We would make some fish, man. Thanks for that question. I think I'm gonna reach out to all those guys on the next album.
Q: Just give me credit. Say a reporter from Monterey gave you the idea for this album... Fashawn: (laughs) No doubt. You A&R'd the project man.