Breaking: Mayer Hawthorne

October 21, 2009 2:56 PM ET

Who: Michigan singer/multi-instrumentalist/producer whose month-old debut of retro-soul gems, A Strange Arrangement, is earning him fans like Justin Timberlake, Mark Ronson and John Mayer, who ­Tweeted, "Record of the year goes to Mayer Hawthorne," and then invited the rookie to open for him on New Year's Eve.

Sounds Like: Hawthorne's self-produced tunes are an eerily accurate homage to the Motown hit machine: Think Funk Brothers-style grooves, luxuriant harmonies, Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting chops and sweetly naive vocals that recall Smokey Robinson and the Chi-Lites. "I always tell people, 'It's not a soul revival, it's a good-songwriting revival,' " says the 30-year-old. "I try to write timeless material, so hopefully kids will be digging my albums 30 years from now like I'm digging Lamont Dozier right now."

Street Cred: Hawthorne got his start in the Nineties Michigan rap crew Athletic Mic League — he was known as DJ Haircut then — and played on a bill with a pre-Interscope Eminem. "I'm a much better DJ than I am a singer," he says. "I've been DJ'ing for 12 years and singing for one."

Back Story: After moving to L.A. with a hip-hop group, Hawthorne made two soul tracks in his apartment on a whim — playing nearly all of the instruments himself and recording the vocals through headphones (he didn't own a good microphone). The songs had such a convincingly vintage feel, they fooled his rec­ord label. "They thought it was an old record I dug up," recalls Hawthorne. "They were like, 'What is this? Do you have permission to reissue it?'"

Style Points: To match the music's clean-cut vibe — "No cussing," he points out — Hawthorne rocks an in-your-face version of nerd chic: Buddy Holly glasses, bow ties and argyle sweaters, all with sneakers. "I keep it classy," he says. "I shopped at J. Crew in high school, I studied computer science. I was a nerd nerd, now I'm a music nerd."

Get It Now: Click the video above to watch Hawthorne running down his favorite Motown tunes.

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