After seeing the brown Bart Simpson leaning on his skateboard on the cover of Fashawn’s Higher Learning 2, I felt visually compelled to give it a shot. I picked a track entitled “Manny Pacquiao” and Queen’s “We Are The Champions” comes blasting out of my weathered and weakened Macbook Pro speakers.
“Uh oh, this sounds like the kind of gimmicky sample employed to divert the listener’s attention from the tired verbal garbage that will surely accompany it.”
When the beat dropped, my body was assaulted by pangs of guilt for being so cynical. It’s 2:30 p.m. and I’m in the library under my headphones, rocking. Thankfully, the sample loses its connection to Queen and becomes the wailing voice behind one hell of a banger.
The production throughout the whole mixtape is very strong. With an old school feel intertwined with new school techniques, it feels fresh. “Nothin for the Radio,” produced by rapper J. Cole, features reliable funky guitar strumming and some dirty drums, complete with snare rolls and ghost hits that producers often cut away. Some airy flute threatens to take away from the lyrics, but Fashawn successfully keeps the focus on himself and softens up the track.
The content dips into dark waters at points, with Fashawn rapping “why is it me that this dark cloud follows? I’ll probably drown in these Belvedere bottles.” He generates a flow that remains confident yet insightful on songs like “Strange Fruit,” featuring Common and John Legend. “We used to hang from trees, now we wearing chains like a slave is the thing to be, damn. Strange fruit but my brothers ate it, bittersweet. We ate to live while they live to eat,” he says, over jazzy vibes and guitar soaked in blues which play through a wah-wah pedal.
“Strange Fruit” along with other tracks like “Catch Me When I Fall,” and “In the Rain,” fulfill the introspective portion of the album, but the rest is filled with the kind of songs that insist you bang your fucking head.
If you’ve been looking for the next track to blow your woofer to bits, you ought to throw “Do What I Gotta Do” on your iPod and take a drive (and turn the stereo up and open the windows at red lights if you must). Tracks like this make Fashawn succeed in a sea of both underground and commercial rappers.
He makes sure to avoid monotony, throwing melody and variation in his voice, and switching flow just as you’re ready for it. At no point does Fashawn sound lost on the track. In fact, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Jay Electronica on Reflection Eternal’s “Just Begun.”
He appeals to the commercial side with some of his rhyme schemes, throwing in a Drake punch line here and there. He features hooks that could be caught on the radio, and raps mostly about hustling, smoking weed and being better than everyone. However these aspects are totally forgiven from the other side, upon hearing his delivery and word choice.
The way Jay blends his words into one another and presents his visuals make him easy to compare to veterans Mos Def and Talib Kweli, also featured on the track. However, the sense of swag and importance behind the verse compares more to J. Cole, the then-newcomer, also on the track. What Jay does in one verse, Fashawn (with a refined touch of Billy Danze from MOP) does consistently throughout the mixtape, allowing each song a dual purpose for the listener.
It takes a mature rapper to string together various subgenres and seemingly unrelated beats to make something with flow, but Fashawn does it with a degree of finesse that many envy. What could have been sporadic and jumpy in-sound becomes a smooth and satisfying mixtape with a strong rapper at its center.
Make no mistake, this is the kind of mixtape you play in its entirety. There are underlying themes that bleed into each other and you’ll miss something if you don’t listen to the tracks consecutively. Keep your itching finger on the steering wheel because you don’t need to switch the track. They are all worth listening to.