It’s July 17, 2007 and the low-key Los Angeles rapper Blu is releasing his debut album Below The Heavens. It’s produced by Exile and it’s going to leave a lasting mark on his career, with every release not quite reaching the peak of his first LP. In the following years he’ll go into hiding, randomly release unfinished projects then delete them, put out actual projects, give away his long awaited NoYork! for free at concerts, and give us occasional reasons to debate his sanity. He made noise with a big release and now we follow his every move, which brings us to where we are now, wherever that really is.
Okay, now backtrack. It’s October 22, 2009 and another low-key rapper named Fashawn is about to catch his break, again courtesy of Exile. Boy Meets World is his debut album, boasting full production from the same producer as BTH. It’s a great album but doesn’t really make as much noise outside of the hip-hop community. In the years since, however, he’s given us a slew of quality mixtapes in the interim as he preps his next studio album Ecology.
Why the comparison? Both rappers started from a similar position. Blu has the stronger debut but has given us questionable output since. Fashawn had a similar debut on many levels, didn’t have the larger success of it’s predecessor, but has continued to deliver and grow as an emcee ever since. This brings us to Champange and Styrofoam Cups. It’s another solid addition to his steadily growing collection of mixtapes showcasing all the reasons why Fashawn might just turn out to be the right choice from the Exile-debut-album-bunch.
The Fresno spitter is well aware of what he came from with this release. The project boasts production from Exile, Jake One, and Evidence with Fash proving why he was such a promising artists from day 1. His retrospective bars over boom-pap production is clearly his strong point still, just look at the Nas-referencing “Dark Cloud” to reaffirm that though. This is where Fashawn came from and hopefully where he keeps his roots. He even has a whole mixtape dedicated to Illmatic, but it’s not the only space he occupies now.
As he’s expanded his name he’s begun to work with a larger variety of producers and rappers, clearly on display in this hodge-podge collection of tracks. Old school inspired jams sit side-by-side with the shimmering “Diamonds and Girls” and the 808s-era Kanye inspired “In Love With A Lie”. Fashawn enlisted the help of the maniacal Mr. Mothafuckin’ eXquire to deliver a fittingly mush mouthed double time appearance reminiscent of a lite version of his verse on El-P’s “Oh Hail No”.
Most notable on Champagne & Styrofoam Cups is the guest verse from rap superstar and Taylor Gang head honcho Wiz Khalifa. Spoiler alert: they rap about weed. It’s exactly what a Wiz Khalifa feature would sound like, but it’s a sign that Fashawn is really trying to reach a larger fan base. It’s not the best track on the album, but it could have gone a lot worse.
What Champagne & Styrofoam Cups leaves us with are a few conclusions. First, Fashawn has a lot of creative potential that he continues to show us; it’s better he get all the creative urges out in free 13-track mixtapes than on a schizophrenic studio album. Second, he’s starting to build a sound that could gain him larger recognition, just look to the Wiz Khalifa track. It’s no reason to cringe or turn away; maybe he can bring lyrical hip-hop to a larger audience too. Third, he’s still getting better; it isn’t his best release by any means, but there are flashes of an emcee that might be getting ready to release something genuinely great again.
All of this comes together to create a solid mixtape with undeniable highs and a few tracks that fall flat. Can you complain with a free release that’s short enough to be enjoyable regardless of miss or two? Ultimately, it’s a sign of an artists continuing to work and grow as he ages. Back to the original comparison, it’s panning out to be a race between an undeniably hard worker and the raw talent. Maybe in the long-run Fashawn is the one we should really be paying attention to, and hopefully Blu will finally figure out who the fuck Glue is.