Artist: Chino XL
Album: I Told You So
Rating: 7 / 10
Standing alongside Ras Kass in the overlooked lyricists’ club is Chino XL, leaning casually on his first LP, the near-classic “Here To Save You All”, while the whole club is still cast in the Roc-a-fella/Aftermath shadow. At a time where Dr. Dre is the still only name you need know to have a hit song, and big budget productions are all the rage, there are only a few ‘independent’ artists left who value content over their paycheques. And so, 5 years in the making, Chino has released his sophomore album, anticipated ever since his debut blew our minds with its simply breathtaking wordplay and self-dubbed “punch-rhymes.”
Following the inane intro, the first actual track ‘What You Got’ gets things off to a good start with a dope Primo-like beat and Chino’s customary fierce battle rhymes. The subject matter is a constant one throughout the album; he is basically just boasting about what he has, and this, to be honest can be a little dull, especially through the increasingly dire skits. I must be sounding like a broken record, but what is the function of skits? Really? They add nothing to the albums and in this case are so bad that they almost make me want to stop lsitening all together. Stop it. Now.
The next track, however, ‘Nunca’, is vintage Chino, as he spits “like Ming the Merciless” over a sparse, violin based beat which fits the lyrical content perfectly. This track would fit perfectly into his debut, and that is praise indeed. Following another awful skit, we get a very strange track, ‘Beef’, which suffers from a poor beat and is just a below average song all round really. The hook is terrible and the lyrics, while fairly decent, just don’t fit the track at all.
After this however, ‘That Would Be Me’, ‘Last Laugh’ and ‘Let ‘Em Live’ put the album back on track and are probably 3 of the best tracks on the whole album, the latter two featuring impressive guest spots from B-Real and Kool G Rap, respectively. The beats fit Chino’s voice perfectly, with eerie keys, strings and horns on the first two, and pounding drums on ‘Let ‘Em Live’.
As is customary these days, it seems, “I Told You So” also has a track which samples William Bell’s ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’, used most memorably by Killah Priest and Dilated Peoples. Here, it is used slightly differently on ‘Sorry’, a more laid back track and a first for Chino as he trades verses with female MC, Shaunta. By now, the sample has lost some of its impact but it still makes for an excellent track.
Elsewhere on the album, there are only two weaker tracks, the title track and ‘Don’t Say a Word’, which would sound more at home on a Talib Kweli project. Here, the beats do not simply work and it becomes clear that, although a lyricist first and foremost, quality of beats are still important for Chino XL, something which Ras Kass could also do with realising. ‘Its My World’ and the superbly named ‘Chianardo Di Caprio’ are probably the album’s standout tracks and they come right at the end, (w)rapping up the album nicely, but stay tuned for two nice bonus tracks, which are actually better than a few of the named songs. The only real disappointment is the absence of a song called ‘Water’ which circulated around the album’s release. One song does not make an album, but it would’ve helped make “I Told You So” as memorable as Chino’s first release. While solid, the problem with this album is really just the lack of that immortal ‘X-factor’ which divides the good and the inspired; “Here To Save You All” had it, but sadly, this does not. Better than average, but not quite tight enough to deserve 8/10. Without the skits and a couple of the weaker tracks, “I Told You So” would be a different album: 13 tracks long and maybe even worthy of full marks.