I’m not a lyrics-first listener. By that I mean that while lyrics are undeniably important to music, and most of my favorite musicians are also incredible lyricists, the initial thing I listen for when putting on a piece of music for the first time is, well, the music. So when I put on Philly rapper / producer ReeK Da Rookie‘s debut mixtape F.a.n.T.a.s.Y. for the first time, I was struck by the way he structured the songs, the way he paced the album. The way he mixed highly accessible pop with seriously introspective rhymes, the sentimental in-between-track samples of children and families, the general sense of warmth as he explored themes of dreams and aspirations, the challenges of life, and personal identity. As the album faded down in my headphones, I thought “Wow, this reminds me so much of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

The next time through, the point of listening when lyrics usually begin jumping out at me, I noticed a line on the opening title track that I had not heard on the first go-round: “With Lauryn Hill’s ‘Zion’ on repeat I can’t thank you enough for not deciding to retreat.” My read was right; he pretty much spelled it out for me and I didn’t realize.

The song in question is a major shoutout to ReeK’s mom, who he tells us supported him and encouraged him to pursue music. “My mother was never the person who was like ‘okay, you have to do things this way,'” he says. “She was more ‘It’s okay, you do things your way. Just make sure you get them done.’ I feel like that’s a lost art in parenting.” You can see a depiction of that tender relationship in ReeK’s debut video for “Cloud 9,” which we brought you just about a year ago. The album fleshes out the story in that video, presenting pretty much a story of ReeK’s life so far; his dreams of being a musician and producer and then his hard work to make it happen. Flash forward to today: in addition to this mixtape, he’s also worked on tracks with Chill Moody, Tiani Victoria, Kuf Knotz and other names in the Philadelphia hip-hop scene. In this week’s Key Studio Session, we get a lively introduction to ReeK with live in-studio performances of three songs from F.a.n.T.a.s.Y. – in addition to the title track, there’s the revved up and poppy “Race CaRRR” and the contemplative “Wake Up” – plus a bonus freestyle that’s pretty fun in its own right.

Listen and download below, and keep your eyes and ears open for more from ReeK, whether he’s in the spotlight or behind the scenes.