In the early 90’s, young rappers were all the rage. You could throw a rock from a tall office building and hit some random kiddie-rap group. Kriss Kross enjoyed the most commercial success, but groups like Illegal, Da Youngsta’s, and Quo had their share of hit singles and long-forgotten LP’s. However, out of this glut of young talent, a solo young rapper named Chi-Ali made a name for himself.
Of all the pre-pubescent hip-hoppers, Chi-Ali seemed to have the most solid foundation. Debuting in 1991, he was affiliated with the Native Tongues family, which was at its peak, encompassing De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, and Black Sheep. Chi-Ali turned a few heads with his verses on Black Sheep’s debut LP, but few knew what to expect from the 13-year-old rapper. Then the mega-hit “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” dropped.
The Mr. Lawnge-produced “Age Ain’tâ€¦” single blew up overnight. Chi’s lyrics about macking older women paired with Lawnge’s typically fat beat made this an overnight success. Chi seemed prepared for stardom as he warned all potential goldiggers “Stay out of my pocket and everything will be splendid/I make my money, so I will spend it.” Next up was an LP from hip-hop’s flavor of the month.
“The Fabulous Chi-Ali” full-length dropped spring 1992, and was notable for two reasons: first, it would be the only LP Chi-Ali would ever release, and secondly, it marked the debut of the Beatnuts as a dominant production force. The highlights of “The Fabulous” are simple: the Beatnuts provide a hot beat, and Chi-Ali spits some hilariously high-pitched lyrics. Check out “Maniac Psycho” where Chi is a “14 year old lord on a skateboard/strangling suckers with mic chords” or the bordering-on-illegal ode to preteen sex on “In My Room.” In fact, the Beatnuts don’t drop a subpar track on here; from the slow thump of “Check My Record” to the spacey funk of “Roadrunner,” the beats make Chi’s squeaky lyrics tolerable.
The standout of this album is easily “Let the Horns Blow,” where Chi, Dove, Phife Dawg, and Fashion represent over a sinister groove. The experienced Native Toungers run laps around Chi-Ali, exposing the lyrical limitations of this LP. However, this song produced two additional hit singles, “Roadrunner” and “Funky Lemonade” (and 12″ remixes by A Tribe Called Quest and the Beatnuts, respectively) which seemed to bode well for Chi. But these singles were the last songs ever to be released by Chi-Ali.
Like many groups, Chi was never able to release a follow-up LP. The rap world moved on, and people weren’t checking for Chi-Ali’s style anymore. Unfortunately, Chi’s personal fortunes followed his rap career. After a series of dead-end jobs, Chi-Ali is accused of murdering a man in the Bronx in a dispute over $300 on February 14th, 2000.
It’s hard to believe Chi-Ali, dancing happily in his videos, would end up a murderer. But before he joined Steady B as the butt of many jokes, Chi dropped a solid album, gained the adoration of thousands of preteen girls, and helped put the Beatnuts on. Ultimately, the latter was his greatest contribution to hip-hop.