Using the world “destiny” to describe Fashawn's trajectory toward a hip-hop career might be a bit much. He'd prefer to think of it as more of a calling. At 3 years old, Santiago Leyva wanted to be a preacher, having been raised in a trailer behind a church, which apparently isn't that extraordinary in his hometown of Fresno.
“There's one apartment building on First Street and maybe one building across the street, but the rest is just churches,” says Leyva. “I always found it odd when I had so much [negativity] going on and it felt like [there] was a dark cloud over my [housing] projects the whole time. I didn't understand how, exactly, it was possible to be surrounded by so much holiness.”
Today, the 23-year-old's success as a rapper is still on the right track. A steady slew of mixtapes presented his life story through a kaleidoscope of soulful beats and blunt-rolling braggadocio before his impressive full-length debut, 2009's Boy Meets World, served as an introduction to the masses. The next year, he proved to be more than an average backpack rapper, standing on the cover of XXL magazine's 2010 Freshman Class issue alongside such breakout stars as J.Cole, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean.
But few things hold as much importance to Fashawn as the first ounce of respect he got for his rhyme skills, which he won during an impromptu performance for friends back in his preteen days. The opening lines–“Yo, masculine type/Airtight/I shine like a light/Or a diamond that's bright”–weren't exactly the most earth-shattering, but his friends really dug it. They questioned he might've found them: Was it from something by underground Oakland rapper A-Plus? An old Biggie verse, perhaps? “That was really when I got the confidence, that moment right there,” he says. “When somebody [mistook] my verse for [a] legend's verse, I was like, 'I got this shit.'”