Chino XL is a Bronx born, New Jersey bred emcee, known for his provocative punchlines and metaphors. He started his rap career in the early nineties as one half of the duo, Art Of Origin, which consisted of himself and his partner/producer, Kaoz. The group would sign to Rick Rubin’s label, Def American Recordings (later changed to American Recordings) but would wind up disbanding before things ever really got started. Even though the group was finito, Rick Rubin was still interested in Chino, which would lead to Rubin giving Chino a shot as a solo artist. In 1996, Chino would release his debut solo album, Here To Save You All, that I’ll simply refer to as HTSYA for the rest of this post, because that’s just too many damn characters to keep typing repeatedly.
Chino would rely on B Wiz (rip) to produce most of HTSYA, with a few other hands handling a few loosies on the album as well. HTSYA wasn’t a commercial success, but it did produce a number one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Billboard Charts (more on that later) and receive positive reviews from most of the critics. HTSYA would be the only album Chino would release on the American Recordings imprint, and it would be another five years before he would release another album.
On the outside of the cd jewel case of HTSYA, there’s a sticker with a quote from The Source that reads: “Despite the controversial overtones of many rappers, few have had the potential to shake up both the rap industry and society in general. Chino XL has that potential.” Needless to say, he didn’t live up to that hype. But nevertheless, lets walk through the album together, shall we?
Here To Save You All – The album opens with paranormal musical vibes and aggressive drums that Rosalin “Wild Child” Harris uses as the canvas to share a spoken word poem, introducing the world to Chino and the album.
Deliver – B Wiz slides Chino a dope James Bond dipped backdrop, as our host commences to entertain with “shock jock” metaphors, showing mercy to absolutely no one. Eazy E, Daryl Strawberry, Larry Holmes, Ice Cube, Dru Down, Craig Mack, Miles Davis, Will Smith (speaking of Will Smith, do you think he would have smacked the shit out of Chino if he made the same joke that Chris Rock made at the Oscars? I highly doubt it, but if he did, Chino definitely would have responded differently than Chris did), Everlast, Sister Souljah, Russell Simmons, and the entire Jackson Family, all catch a shot at the expensive of Chino’s punchlines on this opening track (my personal favorite line is when Chino says he’s “fuckin’ up lives like teenage pregnancy” …. hi-larious!). Chino’s energetic flow and humorous rhymes sound great over this potent instrumental, which makes for a great opening track.
No Complex – Chino picks up where he left off at on the previous track, with lines like “You blew up like Rosanne’s belly, your style’s too old to do me like Aaliyah and R. Kelly” (Who would have known twenty-five years later Robert would be locked up for his underage antics? Time is truly, illmatic) and “The whole games like Richie Valens, it should never take flight”. But the crowning punchline of this song: “My company is fuckin’ me, like Arsenio does Eddie Murphy”. Wow. Like the previous song, Chino’s punchlines will grab your attention and entertain, but this instrumental is a bit underwhelming.
Partner To Swing – Over a subpar instrumental, Chino’s up to the same antics as the previous two songs. The Adam Walsh line was super inappropriate, though.
It’s All Bad – After a short snippet from the legendary Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show plays, B Wiz’ mid-tempo bop (built around elements of Marvin Gaye’s “After The Dance (Instrumental)”) drops and Chino shares a few of the curveballs life’s thrown his way (including a failed movie and the tragic loss of his infant daughter), leaving him depressed and struggling to stay optimistic about life. Even in the mist of his dark and gloomy content, Chino manages to slip in a little comic relief, with lines like “Surrounded by more white girls than a Rakim video” (if that line is over your head, go check out the “Don’t Sweat The Technique” video and you’ll immediately start laughing out loud). He also makes a small lyrical blunder when he spits “I can’t get no, no satisfaction, like being blind and watching a movie with no closed caption”, because obviously, closed caption would serve no purpose to a blind person, but whatever. It was nice to hear Chino temporarily, get away from his shock jock rhymes and show some vulnerability while sharing his story and misfortune. But why did TJ Swan have to catch a shot, though?
Freestyle Rhymes – See “Partner To Swing”, but remove Adam Walsh and add Len Bias, Christopher Reeves and Gloria Estefan to the “super inappropriate” list.
Riiiot! – Ras Kass stops by and joins Chino for this duet, as the duo exchange quick witted bars like two wordsmiths sparring over the dark and haunting production. Chino’s “I’m trying not to get fucked like 2pac in jail” line would be the one that earned him a “fuck you” on 2pac’s infamous east coast diss record, “Hit ‘Em Up”, but that bar is light compared to a few of his other lines, where he takes callous digs at the murder of Michael Jordan’s father and Oprah Winfred being molested as a child. At least Ras Kass keeps things classy, as he slightly out rhymes his host and gets off the strongest bars on this record: “Once the secret within my esophagus, is discovered like Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, I got niggas looking for Webster’s like George Papadopolis.” Shoutout to Emmanuel Lewis. Despite a few tasteless and cringe worthy bars from Chino, I enjoyed the wordplay and chemistry between these two talented emcees. With a stronger instrumental backing them, this could have been epic.
Waiting To Exhale – Chino is joined by the duo, Gravitation on this one, as the three take turns punching on Wiz’s gully production with lukewarm results.
What Am I? – Chino uses this one to talk about coming up as light skin Black Puerto Rican kid and all the ridicule he faced from White kids for being too dark, and Black kids for being too light. It’s ironic that the least empathetic human on earth would pen a song looking for empathy from the listener, but whatever. Chino’s content is cool, and the airy production scheme grows on me the more I listen to this record.
Feelin’ Evil Again – Chino spits decent bars on this one, but Wiz’s instrumental leaves a lot to be desired. There is a Phife vocal snippet imbedded in the hook, so at least I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.
Thousands – DJ Homicide hooks up a creamy smooth backdrop for Chino to discuss the never-ending pursuit of the dollar bill by any means necessary and outlines a few different schemes people use to get it. Chino’s rhymes were solid, but the instrumental is the true star of this one.
Kreep – This was the Billboard number one that I mentioned in the intro and the only song from HTSYA that I remember from back in the day. Eric Romero creates a beautifully melancholic canvas for Chino to pour out his heart and soul about a love lost, borrowing the hook from Radiohead’s song of the same name (but spelled “Creep”) for the refrain. Chino waxes poetic, expressing a full gamut of emotions after losing the lady that he thought he would spend the rest of his life with, and now that she’s moved on, he’s sad, angry, depressed, suicidal, and apparently, homicidal: “In my arena, should I fight or just leave her, catch amnesia, it’s enough to make me catch a seizure, catch a breather, Chino, do you even need her? Should I take the three-eighty, assassinate her like Selena?” The Selena reference seems a bit too soon, considering she was killed the year prior to this record coming out, but would you expect anything less from Chino? Regardless, this song is brilliant. Easily the best song on the album and possibly the magnus opus of Chino’s career.
Many Different Ways – Chubb Rock, Heavy D, Bone Thugs, Greg Louganis and Arthur Ash are amongst the innocent bystanders who catch strays from Chino’s verbal firearm on this one. Speaking of strays, he also takes another shot at Pac (“Not number five, like caps bust inside of 2pac’s side”) and gets off two of my personal favorite Chino bars: “You got your contract now you dissin’ me, when you barely on yourself like the Evans family’s electricity” and “Be a man like Me’Shell Ndegeocello, receive your ass beating, I perform in front of more sellout crowds than a NAACP meeting”. The instrumental sounds like shit, but Chino raps his ass off on this one.
The Shabba-Doo Conspiracy – Speaking of shitty instrumentals, this one sounds like the internal noise I imagine your stomach makes when it’s digesting your last meal and getting ready to push it out your ass. Chino does what he can with it, but Kool Keith (who by this point in his career was overly abstract) matches the backdrop in shittiness. And what the hell is a Shabba-Doo Conspiracy?
Ghetto Vampire – This one begins with a short prelude that has a female criticizing Chino for “taking these metaphors and just butchering icons in the urban community.” Then sinister chords come in and Chino explains how he used to sit at the right hand of God in heaven before his jealously and envy of God got him kicked out and vanished to earth to dwell as a vampire. During the next couple of verses, the song goes from Chino sharing his own dastardly deeds as a vampire to pointing the finger at other entities of society that suck the blood out of the masses (like churches, crooked cops, media and drug dealers). Props to Chino for the unique idea, but it’s way too late in the album’s sequencing to have to sort through all the intricate details of this storyline; and all the music changes along the way didn’t help matters, either.
Rise – I have no idea what Chino is talking about on this song, but I enjoyed the tribal-like drums in Dan Charnas’ instrumental.
My Hero – And just when you thought Chino couldn’t get more despicable, he ends HTSYA with a hidden track that would make Felonious Gru’s bald head turn red. Snippets of Nicole Simpson’s 911 calls and audio from the O.J. trial play, while a laugh track and Chino crack up, making jokes about Simpson’s murder. It’s a little uncomfortable to listen to, but a fitting ending to all the controversial content he’s spit throughout the album.
Let me start by saying, Chino XL is going to hell with a golden ticket. Even though the rhymes on this album are over twenty-five years old, I don’t believe there is a repentance available for some of the cold, callous and heartless shit that he spews on Here To Save You All. With that said, Chino’s a very talented emcee, who proves a few times on HTSYA that he doesn’t need to rely on provocative metaphors to entertain (see “It’s All Bad”, “Thousands” and “Kreep”). But let’s be brutally honest. A lot of his shit is hi-lariously entertaining and will leave you feeling guilty for finding it amusing. On “A Partner To Swing”, Chino professes he doesn’t “write punchlines”, he “writes punch rhymes” and he walks what he talks throughout HTSYA, consistently landing lyrical haymakers to the chin of all your favorite pop-culture icons. Unfortunately, the production doesn’t pack the same punch as Chino’s bars and misses way more than it hits; and the seventeen-track length is way too long, as Chino’s antics on the mic start to sound redundant the longer the show goes on. HTSYA is a decent album from a dynamic emcee, but it’s far from a heroic effort.