The mythology of Heavyweight Dub Champion’s sophomore album, Rise of the Champion Nation, is the sequel that picks up where their 2002 debut, Survival Guide to the End of Time, left off. Champion uses socially conscience and spiritual weapons of words to tell a story whose central plot leads to a philosophical and spiritual revival and a genuine awakening of the human spirit. Each track unfolds as a new chapter as the San Francisco-based collective adds to their elaborate mission first laid out in Survival Guide’s extensive 70-page Last Champion Manifesto liner notes.
Anchored by the stalwart cross-fire rhymes of emcees KRS-One and A.P.O.S.T.L.E., Champion Nation has the drama of an epic end-of-days film that gradually develops as of a character over the span of 15 tracks. The central character is the Last Champion, a protagonist who we follow through various philosophical and spiritual explorations and transformations. Using live and electronic instruments, the production team — Resurrector, Patch, and Totter Todd — mix together dub, ragga, electronica, and subtle colorings of turntablistic trip-hop and rock guitar to create an apocalyptic and epic cinematic soundtrack. It’s this sonic scenery that makes the warrior’s journey and his fist-in-the-sky message bearable and believable. The collective whole of Heavyweight Dub’s revolving cast of collaborating songwriters and emcees — Killah Priest, Stereo Lion, Dr. Israel, MC Azeem — adds the essential elements of character, emotion and uniqueness to each track, providing all the necessary ingredients — hope, anger, rage — for revolution.
From the detailed album artwork and liner notes to the intricate rhymed storylines, Champion Nation is a concept album with direction. But it does drift and confuse at times. And like all epic stories, it has peaks and valleys. One of the few frustrating lows is “Destroy the Industry”. It’s sad to hear such worthy production wasted on lyrics that are determined, but sadly, dated and dismissible.
But it’s the several payoff tracks that make the journey worth it. The redeeming “Trouble”, a spiritual ballad carried by the steady, soulful, and soothing croon of Lady K; Dr. Israel’s nimble and fiery “Rise”; and the adversarial interlude “Villain’s Impasse” keep the momentum going. On “King of the Mountain”, one of three KRS-One appearances, the Blastmaster sets the lyrical benchmark and personifies the righteous m.o. of the Last Champion.
Carrying the rest of the lyrical weight is emcee A.P.O.S.T.L.E. Over percussive break beats on “Warrior Divination”, he rhymes abstract, but still, his spiritual syncopations speak directly and clearly to the heart. He puts his philosophical message into plain English, breaking down the science of spoken word breath by breath, right down to each last firing neuron and dendrite. His style is a swirling and supernatural ethos mixing Eldrige Cleaver, Malcom X, a laid back Chuck D, and a slightly more aggressive Bob Marley. Song to song, his message isn’t pigeon-holed by race or culture, but instead tethered on the theme of universal revelation.
The approach of Heavyweight Dub Champion is a sort of a relaxed aggressive and careful coup. At times, what they’re trying to say is difficult to understand as it shifts between clear motives and ambiguous mysticism. But when it resonates, the mystic ambiguity becomes its greatest strength.
There are plenty of beats, rhymes, and rhythms to soak up as a spectator. But like all inspirational and revolution-style concept albums, The Rise of the Last Champion ultimately puts the responsibility back into the ears and hands of the listener. In the end, Heavyweight Dub Champion has given the listener a soundtrack for their own internal revolution to become the Last Champion — and what you do with the message is entirely up to you.