Balance is something people have been clamoring for throughout recent years within the Hip Hop community. Emcees often lack balance in their work, focusing entire albums on clichés and formulaic beats or catering to very specific crowds, be it underground or otherwise. Boy Meets Word finds Fresno, California native and DXnext alum Fashawn [click to read] finding balance in his rhyme book, showcasing versatility, skill, intellect and that balance many have been hungry for but could rarely find. With the help of fellow Cali native Exile’s production, Fashawn delivers one of this year’s finest albums yet, hoping to supply food for thought for the new school while staying true to the culture’s roots, balancing the lyrical and street aspects of Hip Hop with one pen.

When I ride the drums, I outshine the sun,” he boldly exclaims over Exile’s blaring instrumentation to kick things off before noting, “Who knew I would maneuver through the manure and come out clean / Still, I’m just a kid with the world on a string.” Bouncing off nostalgia, more emcee bravado follows with the potent “Freedom,” before Fashawn springboards onto many thoughtful gems. “Hey Young World” channels Slick Rick’s classic and Nas’ “The World is Yours” with a hopeful spirit over piano keys and jazzy horns. Seamlessly flowing from this to a brief yet meaningful skit and then to “Stars,” shows an attention to detail that few pay. From there, we’re taken through several childhood memories full of joy and pain on single “Life As a Shorty” [click to listen], where he admits, “While my parents was out in the streets, I built my world on a blank sheet.” Proving he can flat out rhyme with the best of them, Fash uses “Ecology” for social commentary while vividly describing his surroundings with contemplative rhymes (“Deep inside, I know it’s time for a change / Wish I could reach ‘em / But I got both feet in the grave / And still sinkin’/ The environment will drive you insane / Flooded with demons / Their motive is to get in your brain / Make you a heathen”). Benefitting from an Evidence [click to read] verse, “Our Way” [click to listen] provides a healthy change of pace where the emcees trade bars to rep their hoods. This is trailed by the soulful “Why,” where ‘Shawn analyzes decisions he’s made in life and obstacles endured (“Took too many losses so I gotta win / Fatherless, soaking up knowledge from my mama’s friends / They all sold drugs and loved to puff weed / And angel dust couldn’t teach me how to succeed”). The inevitable Blu [click to read] collaboration “Samsonite Man” is an ode to the travels of an emcee before giving Fash the chance to speak on God (“Father”) in a creative and hopeful manner not often heard. Though the album takes a small downturn after this with Exile’s rhymes on “Bo Jackson,” ‘Shawn picks things back up soon after. Flexing his storytelling capabilities, Fash uses Ex’s samples to craft one of the album’s most gripping songs, a tale from different perspectives, tuning into teenage love with a dramatic and heart wrenching tone. The closer, “Boy Meets World” [click to listen], caps the album off with a profound narrative, exploring various facets of his life including death, religion, family, drug sales and time spent in a group home. Be it rapping to show off, preach, teach, represent his hood or profess love for a young lady (“Lupita”) a la “Passing Me By,” Fashawn shows us that balance can still be found in today’s lyricist.

In that way, perhaps the perfect beatsmith to accompany Fashawn is Exile. Both Californians mesh well with the other’s style, blending traditional Hip Hop with an updated flavor. The intricate chops on “Freedom” are expected positive points but the melodic sounds of “Hey Young World” really push this album to another level by ending the track with soothing sounds that bleed into the short skit and the following track “Stars.” Another brief skit is produced, this one leading us to the upbeat “Life as a Shorty.” In the same way, the sample-heavy “Ecology” sets the table for the head-knocking “Our Way,” where Exile also works with piano keys in a way that would make Dr. Dre proud, while scratching through the hook, taking a page from DJ Premier’s handbook. Going back to a soulful sound on “Why,” “Samsonite Man,” and “Father,” Ex shows how comfortable he is with samples, showing a growth since his stellar work on Blu’s Below the Heavens [click to read]. Displaying his own versatility, Ex gives the host and his guests Mistah F.A.B. [click to read] and Co$$ a beat that’ll knock from Los Angeles to San Francisco, though it may very well be one of his weakest efforts on the album, it’s still not bad. Going away from simply using wind instruments, Ex goes to work with an acoustic guitar on “Lupita,” giving Fash the perfect platform to spit to his Topanga. The haunting production on “When She Calls” is the score to ‘Shawn’s cinematic rhymes. Following the emcee’s progress, Exile also excels on “Boy Meets World,” the closing song, where he provides a near perfect ending to the album with smooth production and an extended piece worth listening to. 

If nothing else, Boy Meets World is the product of dutiful students of the culture and genre, students who soaked up the works of artists before them to create a new piece of art with a vintage sound. Be it rhyming about introspective topics or just spitting on the mic, Fashawn’s rhymes backed by Exile’s beats provide one of the year’s most solid and balanced efforts yet, an inspired album with only minor missteps. Giving us a proper introduction, Boy Meets World proves to be a good first impression.