411 Music Interview: Chino XL
Posted by Bill Wannop on 08.31.2012
When it comes to lyricism, few artists have done as much for their craft as Chino XL. In this exclusive interview, Chino XL speaks on his upcoming album, RICANstruction, gives his thoughts on hip hop, his past trials and tribulations in the industry and much more!
When it comes to lyricism, few artists have done as much for their craft as Chino XL. Many would say that he was far and above ahead of his time, with his debut in 1996 Here To Save You All consisting of punchlines, wordplay and pop culture references that had not been heard before in rap music. It is fair to say that many of today's great rappers owe some form of their great lyricism to Chino XL. It is also safe to say that Chino XL has not gotten the respect or due that he is rightfully owed by fans or the hip hop community in general. Chino has held strong to his belief that lyrics matter and that he would not water down his art form for the masses. He has turned down major label record deals to stay true to his ideals.
Chino hopes to finally make his mark in hip hop history with his latest album, RICANstruction: The Black Rosary. This marks the first solo album from Chino XL in 6 years, and his first double album. We had a chance to sit down with Chino XL to discuss the record, as well as the state of hip hop.
Your new album is titled RICANstruction: The Black Rosary, tell us a little about the album.
Chino XL: Well, the album is very emotionally draining. I talked about a lot of stuff, unbottled a lot of stuff on this record. I cover a lot of stuff and a lot of subjects that I think people can relate to, just in everyday life, just going through very tumultuous situations. The title, RICAN obviously from my Puerto Rican heritage, its like a play on words, like the reconstruction of hip hop over 35 songs, and under close examination I think I did that.
The album has gone through some changes over the years, including the title and concept. How much of this album, represents those previous versions or titles you have worked on?
Chino XL: I kind of scrapped it a few times and started over. You know, you get it on the drawing board you look at it and you think, well that's not it. Like parts didn't fit. In this point in my music career I feel like I need to love it to release it, because the commerce isn't there like it was. I never felt the economic pressure to get it done, I don't know if it was a labour of love but it wasn't where I wanted it to be, so I kind of scrapped it.
Why did you decide to make it a double album?
Chino XL: I just felt like the music went together. It felt like the songs were a family that should not have been broken apart. I just wanted to give my fans a longer experience. It will have a longer life as a double album. If you were to break it down, this album has those emotional songs, those serious songs, you have songs that have more topics, then songs that have straight 90's hip hop sounds to them, that was all of the different complexities that I wanted to convey on this record. In order to accomplish that I needed to make this a double album, 35 tracks deep.
Are there any differences between the two discs on the album, such as concepts or themes?
Chino XL: They all flow together but I have them broken into two different ‘chapters'. When you get the hard copy there is one that called the (inaudible) and one that's called the chapel.
The album has been on the verge of release for awhile, do you have a confirmed release date now?
Chino XL: September 25th for sure locked and loaded.
What has caused the album delays or why have you decided to hold back the release?
Chino XL: Going on the road kind of got in the way a lot, because you set up a date by which you want everything mixed, and then everybody's schedule does not go with yours. When your on the road and you want everything by a specific date, you know, your engineer or a producers file... a lot of things somewhat got in the way for it, or something came up. Nothing major, just small things, did not allow it to get where it should be and to have the focus that it should have.
Is the album being released on Viper Records?
Chino XL: Yes, it is. Well obviously I am a member of the Rebel Armz family, with Immortal Technique and we have been on the road and are just so close. With the hard copies, the way they do it its kind of like a lost art.
You and Immortal Tech seem to have this certain bond. How did you two become so close?
Chino XL: As strange as this might be, our bond was almost instant. We had been talking back and forth, we wired certain things, so we started hanging with each other 5 years ago. It was such a similar view, especially musically kind of we are the non conformists. I knew our bond was really strong when we started hanging out with each others family.
On the album RICANstruction, you get very personal on a lot of tracks. Tracks like "Silent Art Child", "Mama Told Me", "Sleep In Scarlet", "Reguarding Elizabeth (Save Me)", you speak on topics such as the abuse you suffered as a child, a previous suicide attempt, you discuss you aborted child. You get very personal on "Fathers Day", where you talk about your daughters battle with cancer. Why did you get personal on this album?
Chino XL: It wasn't planned, it was just the result of things, you know the music starts speaking to you and you are in different places. You just let you hand flow; let the pen flow where it wants to flow. I have always had personal songs, you know "Skin", "Water", "Wordsmyth", but it was always like one or two, but I think this is the most I have ever done where there is more then one. It just became a constant theme, about the past, and I really want to get rid of that, you want to keep the past as the past and move forward and I think that my own creative system was trying to get all of this out, therapeutically, then I will not have to deal it anymore. Those issues became music, not really your emotion anymore, one of the songs on the album. It somewhat gives me amnesia, as the music helped me get that out, instead of letting the past bog me down.
Who do you have on the album in terms of guests?
Chino XL: I have... there is a lot people... you have to forgive me if I forget any. There is Tech N9ne, Immortal Tech, Psycho Realm Sick Jacken, I have B-Real Roc Marciano, Rakka from Dilated Peoples, the Horseshoe Gang, Bun B, Travis Barker.
You mentioned before about a track with Big Pun, did that track make the album?
Chino XL: Ya its a song called "Kings", its an accapella that he did years ago, even before his Loud album, I put the verse over a Focus beat, and it works really well and it was an honor to have something like that.
The recording was before his Loud album, so there were no issues of clearing the verse. I reached out and all royalties from the song will be going to Nicole's (Pun sister) "Hugs for Pun Foundation". I was honored they put him on there.
You mentioned Focus, but who else did production on the album?
Chino XL: Ya focus did a lot, Apollo brown did a whole lot, DJ E-Swift of Alkaholiks, Soul Professor, DJ Khalil, Wildfire, Oh No, Exile. I got a really, really diverse musical producers, but it all meshes.
You have released a some singles from the album already, the latest being "Buried in Vocabulary" featuring the Horseshoe Gang. Do you plan on releasing anything else before the album is released on September 25?
Chino XL: I want to, I got a joint that DJ Houseshoes did called "Eye" and I really want to figure out the best way to release that before the album, I really think I am going to release a couple of joints in the next couple of weeks, shoot videos and stuff like that.
This is your first release since 2008's Something Sacred, why has there been such a delay, over 4 years, between releases?
Chino XL: I have been doing a whole lot of touring and whole lot of guest appearances, and constantly writing, and re-writing and for me just to actually release a project for the world, it is so much more then ‘here is just my presentation for 6 months'. It really should be an encapsulation of your life and what you're going through, for me. When you get a Marvin Gaye album, you can see what he was going through; you can tell what was going on. You listen to some of the classics, and they have their opinions, but you knew what the author was going through. I just didn't fell like I was ready to tell those stories or I was ready to ... it wasn't ready for the world to hear it or it wasn't a complete piece. Poison Pen came out you could tell what was going on, Here To Save You All came out you could tell what was going on, I want the same feeling with RICANstruction. I just didn't feel it was the complete time capsule until now.
Back in 2007, you released some mixtapes as well as planned on releasing a commercial album on Sway and Tech's label Bolo Entertainment. The album never was released and you parted ways with the label. What happened?
Chino XL: I think our timeline of what we wanted to accomplish at the time.... we were just going through a lot of changes. We came out with the single "Don't Run From Me" with Snoop on it. It did really, really well. It was somewhat the commercialism.... and the situation they were signed to became a different thing... its still all love and we will always be friends forever ... the timing just wasn't there for everything for me to release an album.
Can we ever expect to see Chino XL in a BET Cipher?
Chino XL: DJ Premier was tweeting about it last year, so let's see what happens...
Who would you want to be in the Cipher with you?
Chino XL: You know what I would like? I think it would be dope to have a Latino Cipher. One that included Joell Ortiz, myself, Immortal Technique, Terminology, the list can just go on and on. I think that a Latino Cipher could be dope.
You always say that your lyrical ability is both a blessing and a curse. Do you think the lyricism and complexity of some of your lyrics has hurt your mainstream appeal?
Chino XL: Completely. I don't say that as a crutch or with sour grapes at all, because I have made a really good living and my family is cool, so, I'm not saying it like complaining. I am intelligent enough to know what the demographics are for certain music. I think from commercial appeal, lets not even say lyric complexity, I mean for the most part you know there is a certain way that masses want their music to come. Whether it is party music or they want music that they can feel good even when they don't. I think I am one of those artists that... more then lyric complexity and the language I use, it can also be the tone. I mean, a lot of people couldn't maybe relate to Alanis Morsette Uninvited, they wanted something that was more poppyier, so differently ya.
You have mentioned how you always get props from mainstream artists, who say they love your music and your lyrics. However these same artists never seem to get a Chino XL verse for their album. Do you think that they may be somewhat intimidated to put you on a verse with them?
Chino XL: I don't think anybodies intimidated. I am proud to be on the albums that I have been on. I was on Bun B's Trill album, I was on Tech N9ne's Sickology album that was dope, I have worked with a lot of greats. I wouldn't really say they are intimidated. I may not be on their radar, demographically they are probably looking for more mainstream artists and that wouldn't be me.
There has been a lot of talk of supergroups and collab albums recently, especially with the Slaughterhouse record just being released. Have you been approached or have you thought about doing a collab album?
Chino XL: I have. I think they are great when they are working, but whenever you put a bunch of personalities in a room, to try and get everyone on the same page musically its hard. It has to like Slaughterhouse, where they are having a good time while they are doing it. I think that translates in the music. There is something that I have in the works right now, I don't really want to speak on it, its bad luck to talk about something that is still in motion, but I definitely have something in the works along the lines of a collaboration album.
It was rumoured that you were working on a collab album with Necro called Damage Inc. Is that happening?
Chino XL: It was an idea Necro threw out... an idea with Mr. Hyde and Necro. We were thinking that it would get going once Necro drops that project with G Rap. There hasn't been any talk about it not happening.....
In addition to music you also work a lot in movies and TV, both acting and writing. Do you have anything coming up at the moment?
Chino XL: As far as the acting goes, I am kind of being a lot more selective on what I want to do. I want to do some more meaningful projects, I have been sorting through and looking for the right projects.
When you are on set as an actor does everyone know about your rap career?
Chino XL: hahaha, they know right away. I am always amazed that people know who I am and recognize my face. My lyric skills also helps for improve on set. The give me a scene and tell what they want the tone of the scene to be, and I can help paint the scene with words. It's kind of cool to have that tool. If anyone is a lyricist, just know that your skills with lyrics and writing, really are wanted and extremely appreciated in the world of TV and movies.
You have been around since 1996, before the internet, when two artists would have to be physically in the same studio to make a collab. Do you think the music has lost something with artists being able to simply email verses back and forth?
Chino XL: Great question. There is nothing like two artists being in the studio together. When I was doing I Told You So, and I did "Let Them Live" with Kool G Rap. I was sitting there in awe of writing with my idol in the room. Or when me and Ras did "Riot", we were going back and forth going over each others lines. When I worked with J Dilla, I went to Detroit to make the record. There is a different thing that it conveys when the artists actually have a collaboration in the same room. I do miss those days. I think it was a different time. With the internet though as far as deadlines and needing to get it done real fast, you can't turn away from the technology. Technology helps getting it done. I'm not shaking a stick with either one, but if you have the opportunity to get in the studio with somebody, my advice would be to do it.
Thanks for all your time and good luck on the album release.
Chino XL: Thanks for all your support.
For more information on Chino XL, or to purchase the album follow Chino XL on twitter, @chinoxl or visit Viper Records.
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