From the moment I put “RE:Evolution” on, I was immediately struck by A-Train’s immense talent. He’s got all the tools: a strong voice, good lyrics, and an immense presence. You don’t need much more to be put in the rare category of great rappers. Combine that with the approach “RE:Evolution” takes, liberally sampling whatever hip hop hits A-Train wants to flow over, and this should be an amazing, captivating album.
Remarkably, “RE:Evolution” doesn’t even come close. Despite having raw ability oozing out of this album, the whole package doesn’t quite measure up. In the album’s standout track, “August 4th,” he rails against those who “claim to be intelligent, but something is missing.” Ironically, this fits A-Train perfectly, a rapper who can rap circles around most MC’s, but stumbles and falls on this one.
The reason for this is almost sad: with every hip hop beat in history at his disposal, he picked the ones least suitable for him to flow over. Marco Polo’s “Nostalgia” is incredible, but A-Train’s “Stay Tuned” just treads water, with the rapper’s flow pounding away while Masta Ace’s finesse fits like a glove. He’s been blessed with an unbelievably strong voice, one meant for pounding, banging beats. Instead, he chooses a jazzy, laid back sound, and they go together like oil and water.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad, just awkward. A-Train as stated is a good lyricist, and the times where he stands out make the CD worth a listen. He tackles concepts and themes as well as any rapper, whether exercising his wordplay on “The Dash” with celebrity names or reflecting on street life on “Dreaming in the Day.” The aforementioned song, “August 4th,” is the rare occurrence where the beat is just ominous enough to fit A-Train, and he immediately creates magic:
“There are certain things that I believe in
Conviction to spit, son
I don’t skip church, turn around and claim I’m Christian or Catholic
Wackness, you people think it’s just for fun
Screaming “Let’s Get Free,” wearing Air Force Ones
With the blood of a child on the tongue
I don’t know if you’re confused, or you’re just plain dumb
I won’t baptize my kids just because of tradition
You claim to be intelligent, but something is missing…”
If you don’t have a pressing reason to pick this up, it’s probably not worth the effort. A-Train is good, but he’s at the beginning of his development as an artist. When he learns to pick beats that fit him better, he’ll be something special. Until then, he’s a good rapper, but a mediocre artist that only shows flashes of being a great one.