Saturday, December 16, 2017

Chino XL vs. Kool G Rap

Alrighty.  This 12" has been high on my "to write about" list since I started this blog over ten years ago.  But I just keep putting it off and pushing it back in favor of something else.  Why?  Because I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this record that I've still never fully settled.  And if you can't tell from the picture, I'm talking about Chino XL's "Let 'Em Live" featuring the great Kool G Rap, a 12" single from 2000 on Warner Bros.  After his time on Ill/ Def American, Chino was very briefly signed to Warner Bros.  There was the white label of "Last Laugh" and this 12", both singles for his upcoming album I Told You So.  But he was already dropped by the time album came out, which wound up being a CD-only release on a little label called Metro Records.  So mainstream audiences that weren't copping promo vinyl wouldn't have even seen it, but there was a hot second when he was on Warners.

So we've basically just got the one version of the one song on here, which is the same as what wound up on the album.  I mean, yeah, we get Instrumental, Acapella (which is why there's so many amateur remixes of this song on Youtube) and all that.  But just the one set of vocals over basic instrumental, produced by Nick Wiz.  And the beat is... ummm... not amazing.  I like Nick Wiz.  Hell, everybody likes Nick Wiz.  And on one hand, I do like this track.  It suits the high energy battle rap style these guys are kicking, and it's got some dark atmosphere I know both of these MCs like.  But it's also that kind of sample-free, stock sound effect, big horn stab track that you expect to hear terrible rappers use in a Youtube battle.  Wiz is talented enough to lay some nice touches underneath it all to hold everything together and blend the vocals to the track.  So it pulls you into the lyrics, which is great.  But this is never a song you'd play because you want to hear that instrumental.  So yeah, I'm a little conflicted about it.  I guess, at the end of the day, it's a track I'd concede in any debate isn't very good, but I still kinda like it.

But that isn't the half of the conflict I feel over the record that's made me keep pushing it off.  It's the lyrics.  Kool G Rap unquestionably kills it on here.  I mean, I know some people are sick of the gangster topic from him, and in that regard, this is absolutely more of the same.  He raps about a mugging, gang warfare and the glittery drug life.  I get it if you've had enough of that.  But if it doesn't matter that he does it spectacularly well, I don't know what to tell ya.  On a technical level, on a delivery level, in terms of cleverness... I could listen to his half of the song all day.

Unfortunately, he's only on half, or even slightly less, of the track.  And that brings be to Chino XL's part.  I've been a fan of his, too; and a hardcore battle rap track over a Nick Wiz beat?  That's his home court right there.  But god, his punchlines can make you cringe.  "keep shit in a bag like a colostomy; I'm pro, you're junior varsity," "you'll retire like Seinfeld, waiting on titles that I've held.  Rock and roll like Dennis Leary, blastin' assassins sent to kill me," "more Colt 45 than Billy D collectin' disability, I'll shoot out with Bill and Hillary, still won't run out of artillery."  Those are just a couple of examples from a single song ("Nunca," also off I Told You So).  I don't even get that last one.  Is there any reason to throw in the Clintons' names besides the fact that they're in the zeitgeist and Hillary rhymes with artillery?  At least Jerry Seinfeld had recently retired from his show at the time.

G Rap's verses are very clever in terms of grammar and construction, but they never get corny like that, full of gags and arbitrary pop culture similes.  To be fair, though, I was grabbing examples from another song because I think Chino realized you don't get that jokey on a duet with Kool G Rap.  And when it comes to sick wordplay, Chino can spit with the best of them.  Here's a little taste of his actual bars on "Let 'Em Live:"

"Universally disperse a cursed verse, controversial;
Illest on earth so,
Out of this world like Captain Kirk's ho.
Get Patty Hearst dough;
Commit you to the dirt slow.
Even worse, though,
High yellow Chino'll leave you needing what a nurse know."

Okay, wait.  There's like three jokes and two celebrity name drops in there, too.  But all those lines at least kinda work, and the fact that they're embedded in a wild rhyme pattern really helps sell them.  But compare that to G Rap's material, where his rhyme scheme is just as mind blowing, coming up with ingenious ways to rephrase ideas we've heard in a million other rap songs to make them fresh, and yet none of the shtick:

"I spit my shit like a flame thrower,
The frame blower.
Came with the brain exploder
Inside the Range Rover.
Load the six-stain holder;
Lay you and your dame over.
Banging your main soldier
'Till my aim strain my shoulder."

And those are just from his quick introductory bars.  Also, just as a fun fact, it's also not his only reference to Range Rovers in the song.  I guess he just likes the way the phrase sounds over this beat, because he also has the line, "one hundred and twenty five grains rearrange your Rover."  And sorry to go off on a tangent mid-point, but that brings me to something else about this song: they're hard to catch.  I looked up the lyrics on OHHLA, and it's chock full of errors, most of which I think I'll be happily able to correct for you today (fairly certain it's not, "one hundred and twenty five grange we arrange the rover").  Rap Genius's take is barely any better (they clearly scraped OHHLA), and the only other version I found was even worse, but I won't link it 'cause I think English wasn't their first language anyway.

So like, Chino's line in his first verse should probably be, "start kneelin' and pissin' in bed" not "start nailing and pissing in bed," and in the chorus, I'm sure he says, "you'd be holding your breath forever tongue kissing a fish," not "your fist."  And I've got some other corrections I'm dropping in the quoted verses.  But it's tough.  For the life of me, I can't figure out what the last line of G Rap's first verse is, though I'm sure it's not, "nigga trade ya rover for the redrum stains you sober."  So if anybody can figure that one out, please post a comment.  It's been driving me nuts for years.  Oh, and the only other line I can't quite figure is Chino's, "blow dinero like Ferrigino?"  There's a reference I'm not getting, but I'm sure it's not "blow Deniro like oregano," as was previously guessed.  I'm certain he's bragging about spending money, not giving sloppy oregano-flavored oral sex to the star of Meet the Fockers.  😂

So where was I?  Oh yeah, so Chino spits pretty hard, but doesn't quite manage to avoid the one-liners.  And to be fair, that's what he's known for, and a lot of his fans would be disappointed if he left them out.  And I'm not mad at all of them.  I'm good with "the best MC's always float to the top unlike the son of John F. Kennedy," because it's just so cold.  I respect that.  His closer, I'm more of two minds about: "catch a L in the circle like a fuckin' Lexus logo."  Like, that's really clever, and I know it's one of his more popular lines.  I wouldn't've ever come up with it.  But it's still pretty contrived.  At the end of the day, I'll take it, but you can see why half the time I could just listen to an edit of this song with just the G Rap parts, right?  You have to be in a certain mood to play a song where the MC suddenly sings, "Dah da na na na - watch me change to Super Niggaro!"  But you don't have to be in any particular mood to be blown away by G Rap's verses:

"Yo, don't fight the heist if you treasure your life,
'cause my trife is measured in ice;
Put your wife at the edge of my knife.
And it'll be my pleasure to slice;
The bitch'll be forever with Christ;
Get hit twice with this real nice
Berretta device,
Nickel plates to your North Face
Put feathers in flight;
Let my lead strike and sever your life,
Leaving you red and wet in the night;
Head bright from infrared sight;
Cock back, squeeze and let it ignite.
Placing your body where the bedbugs bite.
Baby you thug, right?
A slug might open your mug like
I'm checking your blood type.
The drug life,
We hop in the Rolls,
Shoppin' for clothes,
Rockin' our foes,
Put you in a coffin with the top of it closed, you know?
Put a fuckin' glock to your nose!
Run up in your spot for the O's of blow;
Shove cock in your ho.
We 'bout to blow,
Nothing stopping the dough;
Most popular flow;
Like ice, I'm at the top of the globe."

And seeing them typed out doesn't even begin to do justice to the way he says them.  Like, when he comes back to, "put feathers in flight" you're like, holy cow, is he still knocking out that first multi?  He never lets up.  It's almost always a bummer when MCs recycle their own material and spit the same verses on more than one song.  We've heard guys like Common and Krs-One do that, and it's disappointing when you bought a record 'cause they're on it only to realize you already own those raps.  But in this case, I really wish G Rap would take what he wrote for this collaboration and flesh it out into a full song.  Because that shit would be incredible and I'd always be in the mood to hear it.

But that said, I'll always keep this record.  Because sometimes I definitely do want to hear what all three of them - Chino, G Rap and Nick Wiz - created on this record.  And since I Told You So turned into a CD only once it went indie, this 12" is a great way to have it on vinyl.  Comes in a sticker cover to boot, and since Warners made it, you know they pressed a ton and you can cop it dirt cheap.  You can even use the acapella and make your own remix.  Although, after having just gone on a jag listening to about twenty of them on Youtube, I'll advise you right now, don't mix your main sample so loud it overshadows the vocals.  Just about all of those cats did that, and it's wack.  Really, if you want to appreciate Nick Wiz's work a little better, just listen to everybody else fail to make the track work like he did.  Although, admittedly, some of the weirder ones, like the G-Funk remix, were dubious ideas that I think were doomed to fail from the start.

Anyway, that's "Let 'Em Live."


  1. Maybe I'm way off here, but it sounds to me like G Rap is saying "'fore the redrum stains ya sober". The joke being that while real rum will get you drunk, murder will stain you red and leave you dead... sober. I know that's a stretch, but G Rap has been known to take some pretty weird stretches in his rhymes. Remember that "she's mixed Spanish and Latin" thing? What the hell was that?

    1. Yeah, I think you're definitely on the right track. I had "'fore," as in "before" written down, too, before I gave up. And you're probably right about the rum/ sober pun being mixed in there. I wonder if he's saying something other than "stain," though? Because it feels like a line that isn't quite clicking into sense. But that's definitely getting us closer to it at least.