FASHAWN
Boy Meets World
(One Records)

At a time when the game is dominated by 30-something rappers, we sometimes forget that hip-hop is the music of the youth.

Twenty-year-old Fashawn’s debut album, the Exile-produced Boy Meets World, represents that vital element, telling the story of a young man from Fresno, California, trying to avoid poverty’s pitfalls and rise above his circumstances. On “Intro,” the album’s opening skit, young ’Shawn turns down a chance to hustle for a shot at a rap career, before bragging about his ferocious flow (“I can turn a whole metropolis into a peninsula/Ink-pen emperor, slang remain infinite”) over Exile’s chopped-up organ and swollen bass groove.

Though he’s adept at boasting (see: “Bo Jackson”), Fashawn’s real strength is his ability to articulate the inner struggles of a good kid from a bad place. “Where I’m from, brothers die every day, sunny CA/Learn the ecology on how we behave,” he spits over Exile’s dramatic string sample on “Ecology.”

In sharp contrast to the album’s somber tone is “Hey Young World.” Here we have Fashawn, barely out of adolescence himself, reminding those younger than him that their dreams are within reach. Featuring requisite guest appearances from the likes of Blu (“Samsonite Man”), Evidence (“Our Way”) and Planet Asia (“The Score”), Boy Meets World is a strong debut from such a young MC, and it resonates a lot more than the work of some rappers decades his senior. –TIMMHOTEP AKU