Chino XL: “I’d S**t On Shakespeare”

After a short hiatus from the industry, the return of Chino XL is nearly upon us. As “twisted and mystic” as ever, the Puerto Rican rhyme slayer is ready to give Hip-Hop a piece of his mind once again. Rearmed with some of his sharpest lyrical ammunition and a free agent at last, Chino is aiming to release his next offering The RICANstruction in the first quarter of 2010. Contrary to earlier reports, the album, which he hopes will be his masterwork, will be put out through his own joint venture CPR/Universal.

For Chino, getting into the “label situation” was not an option this time. “The relationships I’ve made in the business over the years are pretty much invaluable, explains the Hip-Hop veteran. “I’d be remiss, to a certain extent, to not activate them in my own best interest.”

It has been thirteen long years since his debut Here To Save You All dropped back in 1996 and in that time Chino has not only achieved an awful lot but also learned many invaluable lessons about this industry. Hardly the type to play victim, he is not going to let the “middle man corrupt and abuse” the relationships and respect that he has grafted hard to gain and maintain for well over a decade.

The RICANstruction may be to Hip-Hop what U.S. President Barack Obama represents in politics, if Chino has his way.

He proudly explains, “It is my take on how things need to change.” In fact change is very much the concept behind this album, which is so aptly entitled to demonstrate both his lyrical prowess and desire to return to the roots of the culture he so avidly represents.

“Well the [title] is obviously a play on words, with the word reconstruction, meaning to rebuild something, and Rican, as in the suffix for Puerto Rican as well.” Having always “chosen to take the road less traveled,” the wordsmith is hoping to once again cause a stir in an industry, which has become so homogenized and diluted of late.

Highlighting the gap in the market for music of substance, he states “There’s a bunch of people who just need something for their minds. They want to be somewhat challenged and stimulated by the wordplay and thought of an artist’s work.”

“We all think differently; the mind is like a snowflake but my snowflake just has a little bit of blood and membrane on it.”

-Chino XL

This void in lyrical Hip-Hop, however, is not one that he intends to fill single-handedly. The RICANstruction will provide a wealth of collaborations from the likes of Crooked I, Immortal Technique, Tech N9ne, Bun B, Ras Kass and even rock rapper Travis Barker.

The project, which is assisted by production from DJ Khalil and Focus, will also contain a track featuring the legendary Big Pun and an unreleased collaboration with Proof. Although it is his homage to his Latino identity that really provides a break from the status quo.

“I have a ‘Latinos Stand Up remix’ that has a plethora of Latin artists on it, including Big Lou, Nino Bless, Kid Frost and Tony Touch. It’s got Latino artists from all genres, so you’ll have Thirstin Howl III rhyming right before Baby Bash,” he says. “It’s crazy, but everybody is represented on there from T-Weaponz to B-Real to Baby Bash.”

Chino XL – “90 Bars Of Intervention”

It becomes immediately clear when talking to him about this project, that Chino is a great believer in not only the sanctity of art also Hip-Hop’s status as an art form. Having also tried his hand successfully in acting, he feels that his experiences have only helped enriched his music. He explains that the ability to achieve a certain frame of mind transgresses artistic borders.

“Art is art and art in its purest form is for you to capture what in acting they call ‘the day of.’” This theory is demonstrated perfectly in the latest track to surface from The RICANstruction; the piece simultaneously shows Chino in his most poetic and aggressive states to devastating effect. “When I did ‘Nahh!,’ that is what was coursing through my veins at that time. There was no way in hell for me to amp myself up to be in that state of mind. The delivery wouldn’t even be right.”

‘Nahh!’ is laced with metaphors and other imagery, which is delivered so aggressively, perhaps even to an almost paradoxical degree. In fact, it seems totally incongruent to label a man who is capable of such impressive wordplay as a “savage.” In a perfect situation, he feels that this imagery should still be considered an important aspect of Hip-Hop lyricism.

“I would like somebody to be able to imagine the fragrance, if I’m describing it,” he says. “I would like for my passion to come across to where it can bring the hairs [up] on the back of your neck.” After all, as he explains Hip-Hop is a form of literature and an extremely powerful one at that. “As per literature, we have to study a lot of past authors. We’ve got to study Shakespeare, Mark Twain and these people. I’m not trying to s**t on what it is that they’ve done, because obviously they’re great to last this long but as a person that is part of Hip-Hop, which is literature at base, I basically challenge that material.”

“If Shakespeare was alive today, I’d s**t on any work he had and it would all rhyme and it would all make sense; it would be a complete story in 16 bars..”

-Chino XL

Clearly impassioned about the subject, Chino explains the true power of the Hip-Hop lyric. “There are things in Shakespeare, like ‘no because I am too much in the sun’ when [Hamlet’s] father was killed, where he has a few metaphors, a few entendres, a few similes,” he clarifies.

“A 16 bar verse or a 30 bar verse of mine (or most artists) has more metaphors, entendres and similes than half of the chapters of these books have.” By this token, if you were to look at Hip-Hop verses in the same light, “it could completely change the curriculum for these young people that don’t think that what they can write can ever be as great as the things they have to study.”

In fact, a child of the Hip-Hop movement, Chino firmly believes that in today’s world, a well-written rap lyric could have more impact than the work of great writers of the past. “If Shakespeare was alive today, I’d s**t on any work he had and it would all rhyme and it would all make sense; it would be a complete story in 16 bars, which at the normal beats per minute, translates to a minute! So you’re going to give me a minute to rock 16 bars and he has a whole book?” So imagine the cultural impact that Hip-Hop could have if it were to be considered along the same lines as one of these iconic plays.

As the Chino maintains, this is not a unique talent or responsibility, but one that should be embraced by Hip-Hop as a collective. “Now I’m not saying that I’m the only one, I’m talking about it as a Hip-Hop village. I just don’t think that we should take it as lightly, what we’re doing,” he says. In this “microwave generation,” surely it is not too much to ask that “at this point it needs to be taken as seriously as the literature that has come before us.”

Whilst many feel that the digital age has had only negative repercussions on the quality of the music, Chino disagrees. “[People] can really pick and choose, they can get the music as soon as they want it and they can communicate with the artist,” he explains. “I think that there’s a certain amount of that that’s going to help rebuild the music fiber.”

Between social networking websites and platforms like iTunes and Napster, the “culture of people, who really don’t want their art distorted” are increasingly apparent and able to articulate the desire for music that breaks with industry conventions. “The records that have lasted the test of time, have been records that no-one else could write. We’re not talking about walking around and trying to figure out what the catchphrase of the day was,” says Chino. “We’re talking about a song from a person’s heart that only they could write.”

Chino XL “Nahh” – produced by Focus

Even his critics would probably agree that description fits Chino perfectly, as is completely evident throughout his musical catalogue. Songs like “Nahh!” not only ooze bloody metaphors but also personality in abundance. His lyrics, although admittedly at times rather violent, often stand out for their poetic merit and originality. “We all think differently; the mind is like a snowflake but my snowflake just has a little bit of blood and membrane on it,” he jokes.

His music is not the product of embellishment and exaggeration but rather of raw and unadulterated artistic vision and talent. “Half of the time, there’s no structure or form. I’m like a medium with a spirit just moving through me at the time and it just comes out the way it comes out.”

Few rappers have the honor of being able to chart their contribution to a culture, but Chino XL is a worthy recipient. “I can phonetically, pentameter-wise and syllabically show you the ground that I broke,” he explains proudly.

He is quick to add, however, that his work is far from over, as there is an entirely new generation of Hip-Hop fans surfacing that he is yet to conquer, though he seems more than ready and willing to try.

“Not only do I think lyrically I’m completely in the time of my life, but mentally I’m definitely more stable, more focused and have a hell of a lot of support from a lot of artists that make a difference. If after all these years, I can still have that many bars and that many quotables and that much wordplay, then there is no excuse for anybody else!” he claims. “As time goes on, I’m starting to see where I fit into the Hip-Hop culture…my piece of the puzzle is being a lover of words and just injecting as much passion as humanly possible.”

So with Chino having lyrically slaughtered the competition, the murder scene may well be grizzly as promised in “Nahh!” but at least a RICANstruction is on the horizon – here to save us all once again.

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