Two hours south of my hometown of Modesto, Ca., is the city of Fresno. With a population just north of 500,000, it’s colloquially referred to as a “bigger Modesto.” The description is apt, as both cities share an agricultural heritage and both cities have fallen on economic hard times. Forbes has both cities ranked back-to-back as some of America’s Worst Cities For Jobs. And if that weren’t enough, a quick Google search has the neighboring cities on a wide array of unflattering lists.
But in the midst of Fresno’s bad press and negative connotations, there is Santiago Leyva, better known in the hip-hop community as Fashawn. Last year he released his highly anticipated sophomore album, The Ecology. Finally, Fresno is on the map for all the right reasons.
I’m jealous of Fashawn. Not because of the albums, the tutelage from Nas or the success. But rather I’m jealous because he was able to use his experiences and upbringing in Fresno to foster a sound and create material. I on the other hand, couldn’t contribute to Modesto the way I wanted to. I had returned home after my college graduation in 2010 with hopes of being part of the city’s fabric. I romanticized my homecoming and saw myself being part of the same community as my family and friends. But the harsh reality was that my goals and ambitions weren’t aligned with what my hometown had to offer. So after two frustrating years, I moved out once again, this time to the bay area. It’s interesting that two cities with a similar makeup could be so wildly different to two people.
As a fellow Central California native, I’m proud to see Fashawn in the spotlight. He’s the perfect ambassador for the region. As he told me last year;
“I have Cen-California tattooed on my fists…and I did that to be able to carry my region wherever I go.”
He’s a humble, quiet guy, almost as if he was oblivious to the fact that he was the first artist signed to Nas’s label, Mass Appeal. Rappers have long had love affairs with their hometowns. Jay Z gave us “Empire State of Mind”, Chris Martin helped Kanye West serenade Chicago on “Homecoming”. So Fashawn’s love of Fresno comes as no surprise. The surprise is that he comes from such a small city, relative to the hip-hop norm.
It’s refreshing to hear someone be so proud of where they come from, especially after they’ve made it. Often times you see those distance themselves from the places that believed in them. But Fashawn’s music, and style, is fueled by his rough upbringing, and his unconditional love for his hometown. One can hear the influence Fresno has on Fashawn’s music. As he said; “I want that to be respected and accepted. It’s a privilege and a responsibility. Especially coming from where I come from, where there aren’t too many role models or people of positive influence.”
I may not be one of the hottest rappers out. Yet. But Fashawn and I have the love of our hometowns in common. Although I no longer live in Modesto, I want to make the city proud. It was the city that raised me and gave me a set of values. Like Fresno, Modesto has a bad reputation. And like Fashawn, I hold myself to a higher standard because Modesto doesn’t have many role models. I’m not saying I am one, but I am saying that I need to be more aware of how I carry myself because of the negative connotation Modesto has. The city is full of wonderful, thoughtful individuals. And I want to do my bit to change the perception. It’s a small part, but it’s my responsibility.
In a way, coming from such a city forces me to work harder at becoming the best version of myself. Wherever I go, I have to be an ambassador for my hometown and show others the positive qualities of Modesto.
Relationships with hometowns, especially in our vast country, are tricky. Often times we have to move to another city to pursue our dreams and ambitions. Consider yourself lucky if you want to be an actor and grew up in Los Angeles or if you’re from the country and love farming. Others, like myself, have to leave the comfort and love of home to uncover the best version of ourselves. But whether you stay or go, it’s important to remember where we are from. For as challenging and as difficult as our upbringings were, those cities and towns are part of our fabric, of our DNA. And if you choose to make the best of the “material”, it will help on your journey, whether you’re making critically acclaimed albums or negotiating deals in South America.