Raashan Ahmad 

For What You've Lost

It's hard not to like Raashan Ahmad after giving his latest a few spins. The Bay Area rapper expresses his love for life with a smooth, laidback flow, impressing listeners with a charm and style that's instantly engaging.

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"Sunshine" is about sunny days and barbecues, and "Just Cool" covers the importance of relaxing from stress. Both are easy to relate to and appreciate, because who doesn't like the sun and chilling out? But the real diamonds here are the tracks with pointed social commentary, like "My Imagination," where Ahmad raps about the gentrification of a neighborhood he lived in, and the struggles of getting by as an artist. "Beautiful Ugly" is another gem, and features juxtaposed rhymes about natural beauty, drug addiction and genocide.

A stellar cast of guest MCs, including the Gift of Gab, backs up the effort, which is musically steeped in the sounds of funk, soul and jazz. It's got an older hip-hop feel, but the tight and varied lyrical content—and overall positive vibe—makes everything feel fresh.

Raashan Ahmad plays the Top Hat Friday, Dec. 17, at 10 PM with Coolzey, The Chicharones, Shaymlusly Elliterate and Black Mask. $7.

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