Now for one of the most hyped and critically acclaimed debut albums in hip-hop history. That's right; I said history: Boy Meets World, by Fashawn & Exile.
The album is similar in formula to Blu's Below The Heavens, as Exile produces the entire project, and Blu, like Fashawn, possesses outstanding mic presence and exudes confidence in the booth. You should recall that in my Below The Heavens review, however, I stated that Exile's production was a bit bland and that that aspect detracted from the overall product. This is certainly not the case on Boy Meets World, as Exile's beats on this album are nothing short of spectacular.
The jury was out, however, on Fashawn's rapping abilities. Could he go through an entire LP without any major hiccups along the way? He had released numerous highly-praised mixtapes prior to his official debut, but, as we all know, an album is an entirely different animal. Thankfully for Fashawn, a 22-year old hailing from Fresno, California, Exile brought his "A" game to the table for Boy Meets World, unlike on Below The Heavens where Blu was forced to carry nearly the entire LP by himself, resulting in a (in my opinion) less-than-desirable project overall.
So, let's see why Boy Meets World, which has actually been compared to Nas' Illmatic (Fash actually put out a mixtape called Ode To Illmatic several months later, by the way), has become so revered in hip-hop circles. I mean, to draw comparisons to what many consider to be the best rap album ever, it must be pretty damn good, right?
I'm pretty sure I've expressed how much I dislike album intros in the past, but this one, unlike the good majority of other album intros out there, is actually a song, albeit a short one. Exile's beat bangs, and Fashawn displays that he is more than capable of putting on a show behind the mic, spitting: "Came out the womb in '88, landed on this planet, CA, the sunshine state, oblivious to the problems I'd soon face." I bet he was also oblivious to the fact that he would become a hip-hop legend overnight.
I guess you can call this the first "real" cut on the album. Using a sample of Black Star's "Definition" on the hook, the beat to this track is sick, as are Fashawn's opening lines: "My patterns is unmatched, I leave MC's hunchbacked with one rap, guaranteed no comeback, I run laps around 'em, roll like Dunlap tires, made a lot of niggas retire, I be ya highness." This album is off to a great start.
3. Hey Young World
And the phenomenal start continues. Exile comes through yet again, laying down a lighthearted, piano-driven beat for Fashawn and guest artists Aloe Blacc and Devoya Mayo (whose appearance toward the end of the cut is actually pretty useless, to tell you the truth). While a good portion of Boy Meets World is fairly, um, depressing, "Hey Young World" delivers a positive and upbeat message to its listeners, as Fashawn raps: "Who's to say, 5 years from now, where you'll end up, CEO of your own business, or, a movie star an award winner, gotta, go for it can't be timid, nah, live out the phrase the sky's the limit."
"Stars" packs yet another light, but extremely effective, beat by Exile, but while this song is four minutes and twenty-nine seconds long, Fashawn raps for less than half of it, as the remainder of the track consists of the instrumental with Aloe Blacc occasionally crooning the hook. Then, you just hear a bunch of people talking over the last 41 seconds. I really hate it when that happens. Nevertheless, Fashawn's two verses are solid, and the beat is very good.
5. Life As a Shorty
Fashawn essentially tells his life story over three verses on this track (which happens to be the album's lead single), first talking about growing up in a trailer, then about how insufficient he was in school, and, finally, about his first love who cheated on him. Exile's beat, while actually somewhat "cartoonish," if you understand where I'm coming from, is pretty good, and female singer J. Mitchell puts forth a solid performance on the hook. Nice track overall.
6. The Ecology
Dare I say that this record has a Wu feel to it? Exile lays down a banger of a beat backed by thumping kicks (the kicks and background shakers actually reminds me a bit of "Pearly Gates," and I think we all know how infatuated I am with that beat), and Fashawn paints a picture of what street life is like and how it can affect your life. "Those who took heed were the ones who succeeded, the ones who didn't wound up sharing showers, the strong move silent, the weak get devoured, too many fake hustlers, the drug game is sour, rather live like an animal than die like a coward," spits Fashawn. Really dig this cut.
7. Our Way
I'm not crazy about this track at all. I know that choppy beats are an Exile trademark, but "Our Way" takes that to another level, and it's not very flattering. Fashawn does not sound comfortable at all, as he has no choice but to pause between bars here and there to complement the beat. Evidence of Dilated Peoples drops by to rap a guest verse, but he adds nothing to this fairly weak song.
The album gets back on track here, as Exile lays down a simply incredible production for Fashawn, who ponders about all of his life decisions as well as those of others. "I do what I do, live how I live, it is what it is, but, I told my mama I would change, but it's clear I'll always be the same," he says on the hook. "Why" is definitely one of my favorite records off of Boy Meets World.
9. Samsonite Man
This is one of the album's most popular songs, and judging by its bouncy production (Exile, you did it again, homie) and upbeat feel, one can easily see why. "I go where the wind takes me, Samsonite bag full of clothes, like Jack hit the road, to the next city, fuck it, let’s travel the globe, luggage already packed, who knows when I’ll be back," raps Fashawn on his first verse. Blu makes a guest appearance and drops a solid verse of his own, but it's the production that truly carries this track.
Man; this song is phenomenal. Fashawn wonders about the pain and struggle involved in life and why God allows it, so he then has a conversation with God, and at the end of said conversation, he quietly says: "Now if the world should end tomorrow, Lord have mercy on me, and if the sky should fall and the walls come tumbling down, tumbling down." Introspective as hell. Love it.
11. Sunny CA
The beat is hot and Fashawn impresses, but the two guest appearances by Co$ and Mistah Fab make me want to shoot myself; not necessarily because of their lyrics, but because of their flow and voices. Co$ flows disturbingly similarly to Lil Wayne, and Mistah Fab's ridiculously hoarse voice is bordering on Young Jeezy territory (neither of those are good things, just to let you know).
12. Bo Jackson
I'm still wondering why Fashawn decided to name a song after Bo Jackson (who was a professional football and baseball player, for those of you who may not know), but whatever. Exile's beat is pretty solid, and Fashawn is spitting: "One rhyme, will stimulate your mentals, think for certain, ain't even heard the second verse yet." Oh, and Exile raps on this, and he's actually pretty good (his voice is pretty sick). Solid track overall.
This beat is so unusual and, at the same time, so ill. Fashawn raps about a girl named, um, Lupita, and he basically takes us all back to our middle school crush in the process (not that I actually want to relive that). The hook here is great, and the end of the track made me laugh a bit, as after all of Fashawn's fantasizing and love notes, Lupita ends up rejecting him. I have two problems with this cut, though: 1.) I'm pretty sure I've said this on this blog before, but, for God's sake, "conversate" is NOT A WORD, and two 2.) can someone please explain to me what the hell the last one minute and eight seconds of this record was supposed to accomplish (see: "Stars.")? If the idea was trying to work into the following track, "When She Calls," it wasn't very effective, because the two songs are completely unrelated.
14. When She Calls
Which brings us to the ultimate low and high point of Boy Meets World, low in that the subject matter is unbelievably depressing, and high in that this song is absolute genius and is, in my opinion, the best cut on the album. Let me start by saying that Exile's beat, which samples "Cosmia," by Joanna Newsom, is outstanding beyond belief. It will put you in a trance. Now, on to the track's content. On "When She Calls," Fashawn tells a story about his friend who committed suicide because his girlfriend cheated on him. The genius part, however, lies within the fact that the record contains three alternate endings. In Fashawn's first verse, he raps in first person, and at the end of the verse, he is prepared to slit his wrists, but his phone rings, so he drops the knife and answers. In the second verse, he spits in the form of third person, and just as the person whom he is talking about is about to kill himself, his mother calls and tells him to come home, and he reluctantly agrees. Finally, in Fash's third and final verse, he once again spits in third person, but this time, the person goes through with killing himself, as his girlfriend wakes up to the news the following day. Now if you have a tendency to get into very fragile emotional states and have experienced this sort of thing before, I can honestly tell you that it is probably best to not listen to "When She Calls," because it seems all too real (it actually was a true story) and is severely depressing. Otherwise, "When She Calls" is an absolute classic and is certainly one of the best tracks I heard in 2009.
15. Boy Meets World
If you have the patience to sit and listen to a 10-minute song, that's your prerogative, but I don't, as good as this song is. That said, you can just listen up until the 5:07 mark, as at that point, Fashawn just talks for the remainder of the cut. It's not like you'll hear anything new, though, as "Boy Meets World" essentially sounds like a repeat of "Life As a Shorty," as Fash is describing his upbringing. As per usual, the beat by Exile is very good.
16. The Score
"The Score" is the first of three bonus cuts on the album. Although Exile's production here might seem to be a bit "busy," it's still pretty good. "I maintain with a brain so brolic I could benchpress a train through the knowledge, I came and I conquered," raps Fashawn. Planet Asia raps a guest verse, and he holds his own. Good song overall.
Someone needs to tell Exile that using a sample of a country song as the hook of a hip-hop song is never a good idea. Overall, the beat to "Breathe" is sick, clearly one of the best on Boy Meets World, and the "breathe" adlibs from said country singer throughout the track actually add a great touch, but my God; the hook is overdoing it. It's just annoying. Anyway, a dude named Bravo makes a guest appearance and, for the only time on the album, actually murders Fashawn on his own ish. His entire verse is ridiculous, especially his delivery on said verse, and is one of the best verses on Boy Meets World, bar none.
18. The Outer City
The kicks on this track are nice, but the rest of the beat is fairly bland. Fash's flow on it is nice, but other than that, meh.
Although it is still far too early to rank this album up there with Illmatic, Boy Meets World is an incredible, incredible project. Unlike on Below The Heavens, Exile's production here is astonishingly good, and Fashawn, with his varying subject matter and likeable demeanor, does a much better job of holding the listener's attention than Blu.
Do people get a bit carried away with how good this album is? Maybe. I think a fairly significant flaw that Fashawn has is that he has virtually no vocal variety whatsoever; his voice sounds the same on every track, regardless of the content. Obviously, this is a correctable problem, but whether or not Fash actually does fix it is the question.
I am not going to question Fashawn's capability as a lyricist, however. He has clearly mastered his craft in that area, and his flow and delivery is also top-notch. You rarely find an artist who possesses both good lyrical skill and impressive delivery, but Fash is blessed with both qualities.
Another aspect of Boy Meets World that I really like is Fashawn's ability to look at life from every side of the spectrum. While some of the songs (a la "When She Calls") contain depressing and melancholic subject matter, others are simply introspective ("Why," "Father"), and the remainder of them are positive and uplifting ("Hey Young World," "Freedom").
Boy Meets World has definitive replay value and is a very enjoyable listen all the way through every time. Go ahead and give this a listen if you haven't yet; I doubt you'll be disappointed.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. When She Calls