Singer-songwriter Antonio Delgado (aka AD The Voice) is a firm advocate of the motto "Believe In Your Power." His debut album Painfully Free, released by Statik Entertainment, a company that he co-owns with his record producer Tom Kim ("TK"), is a reflection of Antonio’s willpower to rise above the hurt from societal injustices and prejudices. Antonio’s lyrics have social and political significance while his music is a complementary mixture of chamber-pop with hip hop and urban soul. His songs have commercial appeal and deep personal meaning as he addresses topics like the war in Iraq, the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the history behind African-Americans and rejoicing about life and cherishing those who are important to you. His music is aid for those who feel neglected and incites them to rise above their plight.
The loose dance-funk grooves on the title track and "I Want" have a gospel verve embedded in the gentle melodics of the synth ruffles. The embers of AD’s vocals are prominent in tracks like "Ready Or Not" and "Way Up" which display some boxing action with fierce uppercuts and agile bobbing and weaving moves. The use of celestial-toned acoustic strings on "Slave Child" produce a succor effect, while the hardness in the vocal overdubs on "So Bad" and "Dead Presidents Can’t" give the songs a steely grip reminiscent of Jay-Z and Floetry.
AD’s voice takes on a conversational approach on numbers like "Celebrate" and "Life Is Hard" which portray them in a reflective pictorial. The handclapping beats on songs like "Thangs Is Changin’" and "S.O.S." incite the listener to be a part of the music. Equally the lyrics incite the listener as well to take a stand as "S.O.S" relates to America’s neglect of the Hurricane Katrina victims and "Thangs Is Changin’" is about making a difference. Background vocalist Betty Roze induces a sensual R&B touch on numbers like "Thangs," "Life Is Hard," and "Way Up," which gives these tunes a satiny feel contrasting AD’s rugged-hewn vocal timbres.
AD’s lyrics have a toughness to match his vocals like in "Venom" when he rolls out, "Float like I’m superfly/ Spit and sting with venomous lines/ I’m like Ali in his prime, I shine/ Keep speaking my mind on the grind/ Not gonna stop until I see the Divine/ The light in your eyes just like that burning star when it rise/ Energize, personify the truth and all things aligned with the masses not the classes up in these critical times." His words come out in a stream of consciousness. One line leads to another until the song forms a complete collage that is multi-faceted and deeply integrated. His words are inspired by his surroundings and present luminaries.
AD provides a quote in the liner notes by inspirational writer Marianne Williamson from her poem "Our Greatest Fear" which is found in her book Reflections On A Course In Miracles. The quote was recited by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 Inaugural speech and was part of AD’s impetus for this album. He quotes, "Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that frightens us.... You are a child of God. You playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not in just some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Antonio Delgado’s debut album touches on controversial topics, but they are also very much real. His words don’t speak about fiction, but about the world he is living in today. It is the world that everyone who is reading this review lives in as well. His album is not only a benchmark for hip hop, but also for gospel and urban soul outlets. His music and words are inspirational as much as they are factual, framed with dance-funk grooves, swirling strings and entangling synth ruffles. AD The Voice represents a new narrative in hip hop/urban soul and writes lyrics with a lasting power.