It’s always refreshing to see the growth of an artist right before your eyes and experience their personal and musical journey with them. On James Fortune & Fiya’s latest release “Identity,” they enlisted wide array of producers, writers and a whose who of special guests all with a specific sound of their own, but still honing in on who James Fortune & Fiya is, moving them one step closer to pinpointing their “Identity.”

Unlike so many other projects released in 2011, “Identity” being of the most anticipated CD’s of 2012, is full of hits that years from now will sound just as good today. With songs like the self-reflective title track “Identity” to the churchy testimonial “It Could Be Worse ft. Le’Andria Johnson & Zacardi Cortez,” to the emotionally transparent “What If” written and produced by husband and wife super duo, Gerald and Tammi Haddon, you would think that’s all the CD had to offer. But NO, that’s only the first half of the project.

And if you’re concerned about this project being filled with a bunch of slow ballads, it’s not! It has a great balance of both, which is one of things I have always appreciated about James Fortune. His up-tempo songs are always as good as the ballads. With grooves like the extremely catchy “Greatest Days,” “Make A Sound ft. Nikki Ross,” the J. Drew mid-tempo banger “My God” and the urban proclamation “Forward ft. Eric Dawkins,” you never have the opportunity to get bored. “Throw My Hands” produced by PAJAM fell all the way short for me, so much so, I wish it had been left off the project.

I would be remised if I didn’t mention the two-standout tracks, “Hold On ft. Monica and Fred Hammond and “The Curse Is Broken.” I would have never thought of putting Fred Hammond and Monica on a song together, but it was a genius idea that offered a brilliant element of surprise. The old school, cruising feel of this song, just made everything right! In regards to the latter, “The Curse Is Broken” is just an all around great song, but specifically on the vamp featuring Todd Galberth, he sends this one into the stratosphere with his adlibs. Other tracks to be mentioned are “Help Me,” “With You ft. Kim Burrell,Revealed” and the lead single “Still Able.”

Now I know what you’re thinking, this CD has an uncanny similar sound to the biggest Gospel artist in the industry, Kirk Franklin. Of course I heard it and of course it can’t be ignored. I will even go as far as to say that on some of the song songs, if Fortune weren’t talking, I would think I was listening to Kirk. But, I also understand how it’s hard not to emulate someone who you view as your mentor and are also a huge fan of their work. But to me, if that’s the worst thing someone can say about your CD, then you’re on the right track. And this is just my opinion, but I’ll take finding my “identity” over saying “hello fear” any day!

I know it may seem a little early to predict this, since the year just started, but I’m going to say it anyway.  “Identity” will go down as one of the best projects of 2012. Everything about this project from top to bottom is just stellar. No CRICKETS for James Fortune & Fiya’s “Identity.” This is a must have!!!