August Alsina proves why he's one of the most exciting stars in contemporary R&B on this major-label debut. The New Orleans musician's talents are manifold, from his scuffed-up tenor to his slinking flow. Yet it's Alsina's ability to relate tales of his hardscrabble upbringing—"I had to face it that my daddy was addicted," he sings on the opener, "Testify"—that distinguishes him from his peers. Though he's not averse to waxing romantic ("Kissin on my Tattoos"), it's tracks like "Right There" and "Make It Home" that tie Alsina to a legacy of down-on-their-luck crooners, even if his beats are fluttering contemporary trap-n-B. On "Mama," Alsina sings proudly, "I coulda been locked up/I coulda been gunned down/But I found my own way/I ain't gonna stop now."

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