This album is why I still believe in the power of the record store.

I had never heard of Fashawn when I walked into a record store, looked around, and went over to the listening booth. After being disappointed by a few artists I already knew or had heard much hype about, I moved on to Fashawn. Much to my surprise, he was right up my alley. “Cheech Hop,” as my girlfriend likes to call it – Laid-back, funky soul samples with socially conscious lyrics. Not that I don’t like anything else, but “That’s my bread and butter, man.”

Nearly lost to a childhood that saw his father become incarcerated and his mom battle addiction until he got placed in a group home at the age of 12, Fashawn came out on the other side with music that is thought- provoking and positive. The first two emcees I was reminded of when I listened to this album were Talib Kweli and Nas.

However, there is also a distinctly California vibe to Fashawn. Maybe it’s the killer production from Exile, with the way the bass and drums fill up and echo on the album. Perhaps it’s the slant to Fashawn’s rhymes. I think it’s important to pay attention to Fashawn’s lyrics, which are so developed and assured for a debut album. For concrete examples, listen to the road-weary “Samsonite Man,” the reflections on male role models in “Father,” and the painful suicide note of “When She Calls.”

He has managed to give us an album that is sonically varied, covers a wide range of subject matter, well executed, lyrically cinematic, and not too preachy. This album makes me smile, bob my head, think, and feel. This is a rich listening experience that keeps rewarding. I can’t recommend this album enough.