"Now welcome everybody to the revolution volume one
Still holding it down
Still pro-Black and Brown
Still elevating my knowledge and elevating my sound
You heard me in the one
You mighta said he's just having fun
You hear me in the O-six
You know there's no gimmicks, you tricks
'cause I'm repping for a people
I'm repping for a nation of faces that ain't complacent
It's time to change shit
So fuck ya played out shirts with the cliché quotes
Democracy extends further than the right to vote
'cause look at our options
A bunch of politicians spitting racist nonsense
That's freedom, nigga?"
I was both jazzed and, I admit, a little hesitant while listening to A-Train's opening salvo, delivered passionately over a crunching beat to start his independently-released but nonetheless beautifully polished full-length "Welcome to the Revolution." Combine that spirit of passionate yet largely non-vivid opener with the slightly-generic album title and Che/Malcolm/"Do the Right Thing" cover art, and I had a sneaking suspicion that I may be in for an album that had anger without the insight, passion without direction, or knowledge of politics without knowledge of good Hip-Hop. Fortunately, A-Train eased my fears early on, and as the platter unfolded, his music only grew fresher and more complex. Ladies and gentlemen, even though you've all heard similar claims before, welcome once again to a dope revolution.
My reticence early on was both helped and hurt by "For the Comrades," the second joint, as the title makes it clear where A's political sentiments lie. But he proves not to be a blindly revolutionary MC like, say, Immortal Technique (who all too often loses focus by spitting about any and all injustice, however unconnected, sometimes even in a single verse). A-Train fits more in the dead prez mold, as his music is at turns focused, active, defiant, confident and equipped with enough truth to counteract 100 bullshit politicians, but equally able to straight kill pretenders with battle raps. He's equally aware of Malcolm, Che, Zinn, Assata Shakur, and Farrakhan, but also P.E., 'Pac and Parliament. In other words, he never forgets that without music to shake your ass and bob your dome to, the revolution won't ever get off the ground. Every song here is a highlight for one reason or another, whether it's "Get to Poppin' Freestyle" with its beat that really does pop, a beat both hard and funky on "Sofrito Mama," or the following infectious cockiness on "You Still Ain't Listenin' (The '06 Fix Up)":
"I'm saying open your eyes
The problem's more than just black and white
We gotta fight (yea!)
This year I'm coming back with a vengeance
Y'all dummies gonna really learn your lesson (ha!)
And this ain't about the sales or the tales that you fabricate
I don't have to fake (no!)
'Cause I could give a fuck if we sell
I know I'm the shit
Minus the color and bad smell
But on the real
Y'all shouldn't go against us
Lyrically drops bombs on you like that idiot president from Texas"
With over a decade of experience as a DJ, A-Train knows how to construct beats too. The album features gems both fresh and varied, usually featuring one or two unique flourishes (flute loops, piano riffs), while still feeling unified as a complete product (all have upbeat, crisp rhythms and funky staccato drums). The featured guests Frazz and Maestro Styles are featured multiple times but don't overstay their welcome. They jump in and out, leaving tracks covered with dust without overshadowing the main attraction. And it's obvious these aren't cameos done to gain new fans—these cats are on the same political and artistic wavelengths—making the collaborations sound organic rather than forced.
Abounding with seemingly effortless and clever turns of the tongue, epic and funky beats, and the swagger and knowledge of Ali in his prime, "Welcome to the Revolution" is pure uncut dope on tape. Small wonder then that no labels have signed someone so fresh and challenging. Because it is a self-released product, the album occasionally feels a little rough, in a mixtape kind of way, which can even be beneficial. The packaging is straight off the color copier, and some of the songs seem to fade out too early, as if this were a sampler. All in all though, those are minor gripes. To end one song, A-Train repeats the mantra that, "if you ain't bouncing, then you ain't listening." It sounds to me like a '06 version of P-Funk's famous "free your mind and your ass will follow." Like all the best radical artists, A-Train knows enough about both politics and music to give 'em a revolution they can dance to. Count me in.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: September 12, 2006