Chino XL

Here to Save You All

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Years before Eminem began outraging parents and pop stars alike with his brutally funny lyrics, New Jersey's Chino XL was already making the musical world safe for brainy, tasteless battle-rappers with his enormously promising but little-remembered debut, 1996's Here to Save You All. As might be expected from a rapper who boasts about his SAT scores, Chino is both smart and eccentric, and like Eminem, he uses his razor-sharp wit to lyrically dismember everyone from Will Smith to Magic Johnson to Chubb Rock. Considering the similarities between Detroit's most notorious native son and Chino XL, it's no wonder Eminem-basher Evidence of Dilated Peoples has decried the sometimes Slim Shady as a "fake Chino XL." It's not an entirely fair criticism, but it does contain a grain of truth, particularly since, like Eminem, Chino has a tendency to alternate between gleefully mean-spirited black comedy with tortured, self-deprecating introspection. "It's All Bad" is undoubtedly the album's most elaborate, ambitious, and unusual song, beginning like a typical rags-to-riches narrative but taking a detour into a surreal theoretical universe where Chino's a huge, coke-addled mega-star whose career and life are both falling apart before his eyes. "Who Am I" smartly and sensitively addresses the complexities, frustrations, and ambiguities of Chino's mixed-race heritage, while "Kreep" borrows the chorus of Radiohead's breakthrough hit in dramatizing the ins and outs of a dysfunctional relationship. The same overbearing force of personality that makes Chino a hero to some will undoubtedly turn off others, but for the most part, Here to Save You All is one of the most distinctive and underrated debuts in hip-hop history.

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