Chino XL albums are full of bold statements, so let’s start this review off with one of my own. Chino XL is one of the greatest rappers of all time. Still here? Good. “RICANstruction” is the best double album in hip-hop. OK, that one might be a push, but after revisiting his catalog in preparation for this, Chino’s long-awaited sixth LP (including the Playalitical album – R.I.P.), I’m convinced he’s better than he’s given credit for. And this guy is one of the most respected emcees in the game. It’s easy to overlook the musclebound metaphor machine as a one-dimensional emcee known for using over-the-top similes, but he’s proven over the last three decades that he’s capable of more than just lyrical party tricks. Some of his best work lies in storytelling songs like “Can’t Change Me” (2005), the horror trip “Ghetto Vampire” (1996), and the vulnerable “Father’s Day” (2012). This weapon in Chino’s arsenal re-emerges on “Remind You”, as he downs tools and opens his soul to address heartbreak. It’s something I always admire – the ability to transform from invincible rhyme warrior into mere mortal without compromising either side of his personality.
It’s something “God’s Carpenter” could have done with more of. The rest of the album is essentially what you’d expect. Chino XL on the warpath over a selection of tough Stu Bangas instrumentals. The first song on the album is uncharacteristically messy; almost too busy for its own good. I love the hook (something Chino rarely gets credit for) but just found the hyperactive delivery loses some of the flow in order to pile words atop words. “AMBImonsterous” possesses M.O.P. swagger, as Chino belittles anyone and everyone in his way, admitting there were nights where he prayed to be less talented. It’s obscene, excessive, and at times, hilarious, but in the same ways a battle rap can be.
Few things make me happier than hearing how good Chino is at rapping, as he makes outlandish claims about his abilities, but I’ll admit there’s not the same balance earlier albums possessed to prevent it becoming a test of the listener’s endurance, even at forty minutes in length. I’m a sucker for the sheer menace of “Who Told You”, delivered with all the schizophrenic intensity of a Busta Rhymes track. The second verse even goes down the tongue-twisting tunnel where you have to shift from screwface to straight-up concentrating with a frown on. It’s not the strongest offering, but much like anything Chino XL puts his pen to, you’re rewarded upon repeated listens. “D.X.P.S.” is a reminder that rappers can’t start a verse correctly anymore, as he grabs you with the line “My birth certificate is an apology letter” before proving his supremity with a whole raft of quotables:
“I partially decided retirement but y’all always ask for more
I’m thinking that I may be indecisive, but I’m not sure
Name you like my family members that I don’t want to speak to
And I’m jealous of whoever had the pleasantness to never have to meet you
Puerto Rico, the read on my cerebral’s a cathedral to convince angels and people transparency and be believable, God be like “I swear to Chino”
Sign sealed to deliver with a straight razor, the face breaker
Farmers hire me, everything I’ve ever created is a haymaker
Even if my voice was hoarse, unstable, and shaking
Lines that I’ve made famous could feed an equestrian fleet spanning a thousand acres
Your lacerations and disfigurement’s just for light cappin’
And your mirror-mirror-on-the-wall reflection asking “what the fuck happened?”
Linguistically remove the word “Chino” from your tonsil and mandible
And fuck sign language, keep my name out of your hands too“
“Miracles Opposite”, much like 2005’s “Beastin’” with Killah Priest, is otherworldly, full of memorable one-liners and breath control that befits the superhero body that’s been chiseled in a gym. Chino XL defines the term discipline, and his rhymes feel like other rappers are being disciplined. It’s got everything in Chino’s locker – the excessive abuse, the relentless alliteration, the gradually increasing energy levels before explosively returning to regular human talking before the cycle begins again. The metaphors are wildly creative and provide imagery I don’t think anyone else can really deliver so convincingly, yet always include a line that will have you thinking:
Fair play to Vinnie Paz for accepting the only guest appearance, and he quickly steps aside on the appropriately titled “Murder Rhyme Kill” to let Chino run rampant. It’s at this point I realized that rapping at this elite level is both a blessing and a curse because it completely dominates any track. It’s like he’s collaborating with himself, as each verse contains the content of multiple rappers, utilizing various skill sets. The only collaboration that really worked well was 2001’s “Let ‘Em Live” with Kool G. Rap, but that’s because G Rap and Chino operate on such a high echelon together it’s difficult to imagine who else could match up. Eminem? Cambatta? Ultimately, it’s irrelevant, because Chino is the main attraction on any track he appears on, but it’s worth stressing that “God’s Carpenter” is likely to not please everyone. It’s the type of record you’d describe as a lyricist’s choice, for those that know and appreciate both the art of rap, and the talent it takes to deliver such advanced techniques. 90% of it is glorified braggadocio, but it’s so damn entertaining and creatively constructed that I can’t help but recommend it. I was impressed by Nas, Tragedy Khadafi, and Kool G Rap, who continue to rap in their fifties at such a high level, but this is different. Chino is sharper than ever, and at times he lives up to his lofty claims. If anyone “wrote rhymes on their potty that will body your life’s work”, it’s Chino XL.