July 1, 2008

Chino XL - Here To Save You All (April 9, 1996)


Chino XL (of the New Jersey XLs) is one of those underground rappers that probably would have made for a mean-spirited-yet-funny stand-up comedian, or possibly a mean-spirited-yet-jealous celebrity blogger, had he not discovered music. This music thing was destined to be, though: his uncle is Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic, so it could be said that creating music was in his DNA. I'm not sure that battle rapping was, but here we are.

Chino XL co-founded the group Art Of Origin, whose music, honestly, I have never heard even one note of. The critical response had to have been encouraging, though, since Chino quickly went solo, aided and abetted by Rick Rubin, who signed him at a young age to his American Records imprint, putting him in the company of the likes of Johnny Cash and The Nonce: credibility like that you just cannot buy.

Chno XL molded his punchlines and metaphors, sprinkled in a dash of intelligence (as of this writing, he's the only rapper I know that's an active member of Mensa), and released his solo debut Here To Save You All in 1996. The first time I had even read the name Chino XL in print was in the Fat Tape section of The Source, where his first single "No Complex" was listed as one of their monthly must-hears. Back in those olden days, you couldn't just look up any song you wanted to hear on the Interweb, so I reserved myself to the fact that I would never hear it and moved on. However, "No Complex" actually did get some airplay around my way. (Note to Chino XL's promotion team: I don't know how you got that song on the radio, but that was an impressive feat. Folks who have heard of the song prior to reading this post will know what I'm talking about.) And then, his video was played regularly on BET. Chino XL consciousness was at an all-time high.

And then nobody actually bought Here To Save You All, and Chino XL seemingly disappeared for several years, supporting himself by making sporadic cameos on the albums of fellow artists and deejays. He wouldn't release a second solo album until after Warner Bros. decided that he didn't fit the image of what American Records was aiming for (i.e., he didn't move units).

So what happened, exactly? What went wrong? I'll tell you in the form of an album write-up.

1. HERE TO SAVE YOU ALL
Yet another self-important rap album intro, this time featuring spoken word poetry, which I love. And by love, I mean this is fucking pretentious.

2. DELIVER
Chino XL jumps right into the album with punchlines that aren't as hard-hitting as I remember, but given the fact that this is the most boring Kutmaster Kurt instrumental I have ever heard, I assume that, if given better music, this song might have worked.

3. NO COMPLEX
As I mentioned above, I first heard this song on the radio. This track put Chino XL on the map, which is currently available at Barnes & Noble. This one song, which still sounds pretty good today, features more punchlines than Lloyd Banks's entire catalog, and they're delivered in a way that would put most battle rappers to shame. I'm still wondering who had chlamydia, though, since Warner Bros. felt it necessary to censor that portion of the song: anyone? Bueller?

4. PARTNER TO SWING
At this point, listeners will be immune to the punchlines spit by Chino, no matter how vile and funny they are, so your attention will shift toward the other song elements. If this beat doesn't put you to sleep first, the hook, one of the worst I have ever heard from a freestyle rapper with considerable skill, will force you to hit the skip button. The only other word I can come up with for describing the hook is "embarrassing".

5. IT'S ALL BAD
Despite the easy target that its title provides for me, I found this track to be pretty decent, if only because I liked Chino's observation that "time slips away like pop singles on the radio". I'm pretty certain that he constructed this missive specifically to get played on the radio, although that plan didn't work: Chino XL essentially lost all of his promotional backing after "No Complex" and "Kreep" failed to move units of Here To Save You All. (I'm thinking there were a couple more singles, but those are the only two songs I remember there being videos for.)

6. FREESTYLE RHYMES
A hit-and-miss freestyle-slash-stand up routine, with a simple drumbeat and some utter bullshit that serves as the unnecessary chorus. Would have sounded better as one long verse: not every single song has to follow the verse-hook-verse-hook-verse structure. Are you paying attention, record labels?

7. RIIIOT! (FEAT RAS KASS)
Ras Kass just barely outshines Chino here, but you won't notice or care, since the beat sucks as much as most of the other shit Rassy chooses to spit over, and besides, you'll have already moved on to "Waiting To Exhale".

8. WAITING TO EXHALE (FEAT GRAVITATION)
Gravitation is apparently the name of a short-lived crew that Chino XL formed with rapper/producer B-Wiz (who also produced the majority of Here To Save You All) and Raggedy Man, which is just a hilarious name. However, unlike most weed-carrier-heavy misfires, this song is actually pretty good. Chino is obviously the best rapper here, but this song proves that a dash of Chino can go a long way. Thank God the beat switches up completely before the rappers tear shit down.

9. WHAT AM I?
When Chino focuses on a specific topic (such as his internal struggle with racial identity, being half black and half Puerto Rican while living in a predominantly white neighborhood), he's pretty fucking enjoyable to listen to. This song, as a result, is pretty good, except for the female voice that occasionally pops up to finish Chino's sentences, which is just an annoying effect.

10. FEELIN' EVIL AGAIN
The beat sounds like some happy-go-lucky shit, contrasting poorly with Chino's punchlines. He alienates so many random targets in the entertainment industry that it's not surprising that the last time I saw him working was in an episode of Reno 911, playing an inmate.

11. THOUSANDS
I don't know how many times I can complain about the beats on Here To Save You All, but here's another one: the beat just doesn't match the artist. Chino's weak attempt at what passes for a chorus also hurts my head. As he was probably forced by his label to create "songs" instead of setting a bunch of freestyles to music, you would think they might have hired someone to help him write some hooks.

12. KREEP
The song itself is very bland, but at least there's one guy in hip hop that's listened to Radiohead since their early days. (Another rapper that hearts Radiohead would be Bun-B, of UGK. I really have to find a UGK album, dammit.) I remember the video version of this song being completely different from what I'm hearing right now. While not actually better, it was at least different.

13. MANY DIFFERENT WAYS
"I'm knocking n----z out as if they were homosexual boxers"? That simile doesn't even make sense. The beat is more than decent, with its low-grade bass and thumping drums, but, on this track, what passes for a hook is some Z-grade DJ Premier-imitation scratching that beats the song to death.

14. THE SHABBA-DOO CONSPIRACY (FEAT KOOL KEITH)
This is one of the most bizarre collaborations I have ever heard. From the beats to the rhymes, it's obvious that this is, without question, a Kool Keith song that happens to feature a hapless Chino XL, who spends the duration of the song trying to keep up with the random shit that Keith manages to make sound like verses. Chino does alright for himself in the end, but Keith, who is my favorite rapper that makes no sense (even Ghostface Killah's songs make sense most of the time), doesn't even bother to rhyme his lines, and as a result, walks away with what is ultimately a terrible song.

15. GHETTO VAMPIRE
What starts off as a ridiculous monologue about Chino XL being an immortal turns into a not-so-scathing indictment of everything that sucks the life out of humanity (the media, drug dealers, Paris Hilton). The metaphor doesn't work, but I appreciate the concept that Chino was aiming for: illustrating that his character indeed lives forever by spitting each verse to a completely different beat, with the second one winning the race.

16. RISE
Chino tries to say something socially conscious to end his debut album, but the song itself is so fucking dull that I'm going to dismiss the entire five-minute-plus song with one word. My two readers will know which word I am referring to.

If you allow the CD to play beyond track sixteen, then you are rewarded (tortured?) with a bonus skit at track sixty.

60. HIDDEN TRACK
Some tasteless jokes at the expense of Nicole Brown Simpson round out the album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Here To Save You All suffers from the dreaded Ras Kass disease, which is why I suppose it makes sense that he pops up on here. (As for the Kool Keith cameo...maybe Chino XL really is a vampire and the only man that can protect us is an alien gynecologist who specializes in cross-breeding mammals and insects. Or maybe they're just good friends, I don't know.) Chino has obvious lyrical talent but hasn't developed a musical ear just yet: freestyle rapping can only take you so far when it comes to creating a successful album. The most interesting songs on here are easily the ones where he focuses on a topic. Alas, even if he didn't specialize in punchline rhymes, the beats betray his every intention, which will cause you to look elsewhere.

BUY OR BURN? There isn't any real reason to own this album. If you're a fan of punchline rapping and would rather punch Lloyd Banks in the face than listen to his shitty CDs, you may want to burn this disc, but otherwise, life is too short.

BEST TRACKS: "What Am I?"; "No Complex"; "Waiting To Exhale"

-Max

17 comments:

  1. Fuck dat shit! This album is worth the fucking buy! Go fuck yourself in the ass with a chainsaw, bitch!

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  2. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 01, 2008

    Sorry, Max. Fukyoo with the best comment ever.

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  3. This album is more than "alright", Max. Back in '96 it sounded very dark and rough, although some beats where a little bit slow. Chino Xl is one of the sharpest lyricists I know and he proved it from the start.

    -Kay-

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  4. Chino is one of the best 'go for the jugular' rappers ever and that album is very entertaining lyrically. His only misfortune is that he puts so many punchlines into each song and of course the so-so production. I can't imagine a youngster today listening to this and paying attention because it's like 5 albums worth of material in one record. Chino had too much on his mind and wanted to get it all out. It's definitely worth a purchase based on lyrics alone. It's like a punchline clinic and I'll bet a million (if i had it) that Eminem studied that album word for word.

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

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  5. Max, you are starting off July with a bang. I also must recommend a purchase of this album. Simply because it was a part of that 1996 blast of East Coast hip hop in which just about every east coast rapper stepped up their game and released some really good music (Foxy excluded right?). I am looking forward to the next review.

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  6. AnonymousJuly 02, 2008

    Yo thanks for listening fam and reviewing the album. Even though I disagree with some of the things you said... Thousands and Shabba Doo Complex are the worst songs hands down thou

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  7. tommy gunn is the referenced boxer?
    SHABBA-DOO was the character from breakin, i thought the song dealt with selling out?

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  8. I think i read that they blurred out Monie Love in that No Complex chylamidia reference. I'm not sure what association there is with Monie Love and some STD...

    Knocking niggaz out like as if they were homosexual boxers. The boxing reference is pretty clear with the KO. They are homosexual because when people finally admit they are gay, they are coming "out".

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  9. wow fuck you, you needa learn what hip hop is

    fuckin amateur, this album is classic

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  10. Worst reviews with the most ignorant opinions on hip hop I've ever read.

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  11. Worst reviews with the most ignorant opinions on hip hop I've ever read.

    Agreed....christ

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  12. Chino xl is thee most gifted M.C in undergruond music.His Metorphors are off the charts......he is too dope.....dont hate!!!!!!....he is the best

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  13. AnonymousJuly 25, 2010

    i think that some beats here are good, this album is worth listening to if you are a fan who's willing to overlook the beat choices and focus on the rhyme skills displayed

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  14. Can't believe anyone could think this about this album. It is hands down one of the best albums I have ever heard, you must have been on some fucked up shit to write this review. Seriously what the fuck is wrong with you?

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  15. chino xl is the best lyricist ever. im gonna buy this album before next month cuz his earlier stuff was better. max you gotta be on some tough stuff with these suck reviews

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  16. at this point i wonder why u even sign off ur reviews as Max.
    everytime we read an ignorant-ass, skeptical ,whack, bullshitty, hating review we KNOW ur dumb ass wrote it....seriously
    u should just sign off as -CockSucker

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