J.I.L.S. ~ Chino XL & Playalitical – “Something Sacred” album review.

Welcome to the first installment of Journeys in Liquidation Sales. In this ongoing series, I’ll be reviewing CDs I’ve acquired over the past year at any number of music store “Everything Must Go!” sales. With the collapse of the physical music industry eminent, these sales have become fairly frequent and seeing as present-day New York rap consumers only really seem to care about present-day New York rappers, it allowed someone like me to really clean up once things hit the 70-80% off mark and I could get entire artist discographies for under five bucks. Not only was I able to fill the gaps in my collection, but once the discount hit 90% at Circuit City and Virgin Megastore locations, I was able to take chances on artists I had never heard that were recommended to me, as well as things that just looked interesting.

Something Sacred...not so much.

"Something Sacred"...not so much.

Setting this party into motion is the latest release from an all time favorite of mine, rapper Chino XL. On Something Sacred, he is joined by Denver rapper/producer Playalitical (real name Dustin Robbins, which I think would have worked just as well, if not better as a rap moniker) for a mostly uneven collaborative album that sees Playalitical behind the boards for all but one track, and Chino absent from a full third of the album’s tracks. At first glance, the album reeks of a shoddy cash-in designed to lure one of rap’s most dedicated niche audiences into throwing money towards anything with Chino on it. The art work seems like a hastily-thrown together random assortment of pictures of Chino at an Affliction photo shoot, and the back cover’s track listing includes a, given the situation of my purchase, tragically ironic advertisement for the album itself now being available on iTunes.

But less than desirable marketing conditions are, sadly, nothing new for Chino. In 1996, after making a name for himself as one-half of rap group Art of Origin with darkly comedic punchlines that ran through pop culture references with the barbed wit of an insult comic (“Your career’s like George Burns, I can’t believe it ain’t dead yet”) he found himself signed to Rick Rubin’s American Records for the release of his debut Here to Save You All. It’s this approach that made him two major enemies in the music industry – Tupac Shakur and Whitney Houston. As a result, promotion for the album got pulled and while it was released, it quickly went out of print a few short years later. Chino returned in 2001 with an oft-delayed release I Told You So on Metro Records which seized creative control from him and released the project with an inaccurate track listing and faulty packaging, resulting in numerous scratched CDs. The album also suffered from being released on September 11th, 2001. Some guys just have the worst luck.

But Chino continued with 2006’s Poison Pen, an album that, not unlike its predecessors, featured numerous noteworthy collaborations but suffered from no distribution or marketing. Not that this particularly stifled Chino’s career as he spent the meantime joining the cast of Reno: 911 and appearing in the Rob Reiner film Alex & Emma. Despite this raised profile, Something Sacred arrives with anything but fanfare on the Select-o-Hits label, which does nothing but make the man label-mates with Jimmy Buffet.

As for the album itself, certain elements are better than I expected. Playalitical is not only a capable producer, but a good rapper in his own right. While Chino’s presence seems mainly to elevate Playalitical’s own status, it’s his solo tracks like the haunting “Things to Do in Denver When Your (sic) Dead,” and the album’s closer “Smoke Screen” that make him worth listening to. His voice falls somewhere between Saafir and Ja Rule, and his subtle storytelling adds to the bleak soundscape of his production.

Which is largely why this album doesn’t work. Why any rapper would want to do (or promote his album as) a collaborative album with Chino XL is puzzling enough when you know you’re targeting a fanbase that won’t want to hear you is puzzling enough, but on the tracks where both appear Playalitical shifts his style to match Chino’s punchline-oriented lyrics and, more often than not, can’t keep up. Likewise, Chino neglects the introspective side he showcased on 1996’s “What Am I,” one of the best racial identity songs ever committed to wax, for nothing but his punchline affair, save his final appearance on the album “Be With You” where his waxing poetic about missing his daughters is outshined by troubled Bone Thugz N Harmony member Bizzy Bone’s continued complete insanity.

Something Sacred suffers from not satisfying any audience with the shadow of what it could have been. While it succeeded in tipping me to Playalitical’s existence and the reminder on Chino solo tracks like “Stay in the Lines” that he’s still the king of “what did he just say?” punchline rappers, most of the production is a poor fit for him. His flow is better than ever, but with his 16-bar verse chopped into 8 bar fragments on a handful of his appearance, you would never be able to tell. For the solo tracks, I’d recommend it for a solid $2.00 Liquidation purchase. Otherwise, Chino fans are better off waiting for next year’s Ricanstruction.

We give it a 2 out of 5

Suggested tracks – “Stay in the Lines,” “Be With You,” “Smoke Screen.”

Until next time, let’s agree to agree!

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