In Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, a young shepherd, Santiago, attends seminary but longs to travel. He embarks on a quest to find a hidden treasure and ends up meeting an alchemist, who teaches him that the treasure really is the journey itself.
Fashawn once lived in a trailer behind a church and wanted to be a pastor. His first label, One, was owned by a Buddhist. He has a song called “Samsonite Man” about his yearning to travel. And of course, his real name is Santiago and one of his closest collaborators is the producer The Alchemist. “Your name has to do with your destiny, your whole existence,” Fashawn says, sitting on a Starbucks patio in Glendale's Little Armenia.
Born Santiago Leyva in Fresno, the 23-year-old rapper is, right now, high. He's an ideal poster boy for tomorrow's Cypress Hill Smokeout Festival in San Bernardino, even if his popularity lags behind other performers like Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y. In fact, seeing that he jokingly asking if Starbucks serves Jack Daniels, ruminates on the mystical qualities of a name, and looks like he's wearing house shoes, he's kind of like the Dude, man.
His belief in destiny has probably helped him along in the past two years. After releasing Boy Meets World — his first album, produced entirely by production wizard Exile — in late 2009, Fashawn was on the cover of XXL and named the “Most Artistic” of its new crop of freshmen. Though he caused a stir when he dropped Ode to Illmatic, his reworking of Nas' classic, his peers like Khalifa, J.Cole and Big Sean graduated from blog rappers to mainstream radio fixtures, while he drifted off most people's radars.
Fashawn wants to be a star, but not for the reasons rappers usually rap about. “I didn't even buy this chain I'm wearing. I don't buy chains,” he says. “I really want to bring awareness to certain things I care about — our community, politics. That's what celebrity status is for. It's a bigger purpose than being on the cover of magazines.”
The conversation turns to Fresno; it's not a pretty picture. According to a study published this year, it's the fifth-least literate big city in the country. In January, U.S. News & World Report placed it second on its list of worst cities to find a job, due to its 15.7% unemployment rate. And in 2010, Men's Health ranked Fresno near the top of almost every category in their “Drunkest Cities” poll.
“I'm surprised I made it out,” he says.
His mother, who used to Crip with gang co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Wilson III, originally left L.A. to escape that lifestyle. “She's a poet,” Fashawn says. “I get all my style from her.” But he's only had a few conversations in his life with his father. In fact, the last time they spoke, dad told his son he would be dead by the age of 21. “He thought he would die, and I guess he was just trying to push that shit on me, shape my destiny,” he says.
But if his journey so far has taught him anything, it's that there is nothing — and no one — to fear but God. “He gave life to me, He can take it from me. Nobody else can,” he says with finality. “I don't conform to what people want me to be.” Spoken like Santiago.