Tuesday, May 24, 2011

'Far From Review': A Review of "Chino"

As I’ve said in the past, there is absolutely nothing worse in the entire world than AVERAGE DANCEHALL MUSIC - something which has haunted me and millions of others around the globe throughout the years, I'm sure. There's just something so terrible about a clearly somewhat talented artist who just CONSISTENTLY pushes material which is less than their finest and so woefully unremarkable that it literally does absolutely nothing. This is coming from someone who has suffered through the prime years and prime years of prolificacy of performers such as Bling Dawg, Danny English, Alozade and others who just elicit no prevailing emotion, for better or for worst. I’d much rather subject myself to PHYSICAL PAIN than listen to average and mediocre output in a genre which, historically, has been my very favourite and, if you haven't figured it out, I'd even rather listen to bad Dancehall music - really hopeless and nasty shit - than the music in that middle, emotionless and template-like ground. Now, with that being said, proving oneself to be average is really tedious work and it takes quite awhile to establish. Still, I've 'traditionally' (whatever that means) been very quick to place, in my mind, artists in this category who’ve shown themselves to POTENTIALLY be average. People like Kiprich (more on him in just a second), the individual members of T.O.K and New Kidz are good examples of performers who’ve demonstrated that they are, in fact, not only much more skillful, but are more capable of displaying their actual talent levels than I initially suspected and I look forward to be proven wrong in such situations. So the latest artist of note who is apparently trying to make a fool of me is the very popular Chino. His is a slightly different case than most because, to be completely honest, I never really gave his music the biggest chance to impress me as the first few tunes that I heard from him didn't strike me as too great in any way so, over the better part of the last few years or so (when he’s enjoyed his greatest successes) I just haven’t been paying any attention whatsoever. As I said, however, everyone else has been and strictly in terms of name value, one would be hard-pressed to come up with nine currently more well known Dancehall acts than Chino, so I was well aware that EVENTUALLY I’d dust off some Chino tune and have another listen. To expedite the process a bit, the DJ has done something which was sure to hurry me along - an album.

When I started doing research on this album, I was somewhat surprised to see that my 'history' with Chino went back further than I thought as he was the rapper formerly named Cappuccino who did a couple of tunes with Kiprich more than a decade ago (one of them, 'Leggo Di Boy', was a hit, despite being truly terrible in my opinion) (and the other came across the Wappy Back Riddim, which also featured the producer of this album at nine or ten years old) (and had you told me that more than ten years later I’d be reviewing an album for either one of them, I probably would have thought you a damn fool). However, the biggest set of 'history' behind Chino is well discussed heritage (which I won‘t spend too much time on hopefully). The son of one of the greatest to ever do it, the captain of the Big Ship, Freddie McGregor and the elder brother of one of the greatest to do it now, Stephen 'Di Genius' McGregor, Chino definitely comes Reggae musical class and, from that point of view, his own successes shouldn't be very much of a surprise.


To date one of his greatest pieces of accomplishment definitely comes on the album side as he has mashed up Japan over the course of two different albums, "Unstoppable" from 2007 and "Never Change" of just last year. The latter was reportedly one of the biggest albums, regardless of genre, in the Land of the Rising Sun (which isn’t all too surprising considering the fact that Japanese people love Reggae about as much as they love watching Koki Kameda lose). To follow that up, Chino has FINALLY linked up with VP Records and just as Voicemail (another one . . .) had done a few years back after having successful stretches in the Far East, brought to the rest of us -- his official international debut album, "Chino: The Autobiography of Daniel McGregor". The album’s existence seems somewhat overdue as Chino is someone who would, ostensibly, fit DIRECTLY into VP's plans and image (already as a Jamaican spokesperson of some of the biggest companies in the entire world, including Coca Cola) and I've actually long wondered why the big label didn’t do more work with the McGregors as Stephen (who is ~ twenty-one years old) would seem to be a most logical choice to reenergize the once mighty Riddim Driven series as well (and it would also, selfishly, get me closer to a debut album from Bramma), so hopefully this is just the first step in a long relationship. With that said, however, the album still has a very fresh feel to it and while I'm no authority on the situation because I haven't been paying attention, from what I can tell the lion’s share of the material on this album is at least relatively fresh. The album also appears likely to receive the full weight of what is STILL the biggest consistent promotion to be had in Reggae music today on an album, from VP, and with that occurring in such a way it should have the opportunity to give Chino every bit of opportunity to do so, should he have 'mainstream aspirations' of any kind with this album (and he does according to materials we've read), those doors are going to be as opened as they possibly can be for this project. The question is only how it will all sound if/when he walks through? Well, it'll be different, it'll be a little strange and it will be much better than I EVER thought it would be. Let’s take a listen.

'Never Change'/'Pon Your Head'

Obviously it’s Chino's aforementioned younger brother, Stephen 'Di Genius' McGregor (who I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see have his own debut album, as a vocalist, someday) who helms the boards behind this album. My neglect of listening to much of Chino’s work also coincided with me not listening to much of Big Ship's/Di Genius Productions' riddims, but that’s changed as of late (enjoying the Wildlife Riddim these days) because recently, 'Di Genius' has been BREATHING FIRE and serving up some of the only AUTHENTIC Dancehall riddims around. That isn't the focus on Chino’s brand new self-titled album as he goes across the board with the vibes here. The album gets going with the very popular and bubbly 'Never Change [From Mawning]'. I'll tell you that I've NEVER listened to this tune from beginning to end until we got this album and while I'm by no means blown away by what I hear, it’s the first glimpse of a talent that I would have never attributed to the DJ in any grand way, making its first appearance - Chino definitely has lyrics and the last time I was listening to him, I can’t say that he did. He REALLY makes me look like a damn fool on the next track, 'Protected', which is my favourite on the album.

“Hear weh dem seh -
‘Him only buss because him ride offa di boss name’
When mi just ah bust mi neva [advertise mi last name], eh eh
Mi nuh inna music fi no hype
No false fame
Dem no plant no corn and waan fi reap up every last grain
Nuff a dem sell out fi try live life inna di fast lane
Si seh dem no firm, dem weaker than mi Gucci glass frame
Mi si right tru dem - Is like dem have a glass frame
Try fi bruk mi meds, but tell mi no have no glass brain”

I typically don’t find myself enjoying these type of songs - the somewhat random and curiously BROAD slaps at 'haters' (I hate that word) (did you catch that???) - but this one works strictly because the wordplay is SO impressive and it's something which I wouldn't have thought Chino capable of as recently as a few days ago, even though this is one of the oldest and most well known songs on the album (told you . . . No attention). The final song from the opening batch is another good one and one which I have actually heard, the well spun 'Pon Your Head', which finds Chino espousing on the advice he received from his Mother - to not make a woman the center of ones life. As someone who has done more than his (and yours and everyone else's) fair share of dumb shit for women throughout my woefully long years, I agree . . . To a degree (biggup my wife). I do actually like this song in some ways, particularly as it goes a bit and the very colourful riddim underpins it well. Incidentally, all three of these tunes were on the second Japanese album and as they're three of his biggest hits in recent years, it is to no surprise.

'Before Dem Gone'

Throughout "Chino", as I alluded to, the music is all over the place and while I'm most partial and would LOVE if Chino and Stephen had hammered it down as a strictly Reggae & Dancehall project - who cares what I think? And I will say that Chino’s 'sudden' (to me) lyrical prowess makes ALL of the songs on the album interesting, even if you aren't completely in love with a particular one. Chino does R&B. Check the stirring and GORGEOUS and STIRRING 'Before Dem Gone' which is a song I most wholeheartedly agree with because what he says is to tell people what you have to tell them "before dem gone" because people are fragile and we aren't made to stick around too long.

“Biggup wi real friend dem weh did deh deh tru di strom
Craig Dennis did know wi love him from before him gone
Memories live on pon dem memories dem, wi holding on
But mi know Jah Jah guide him pon di new road him on
Real friend ah tell you right, when dem know you wrong
Real weh trod it from when you inna uniform
Some man seh dem a friend, and sell you out fi grand
Di cycle keeps going on!”

“If you have somebody weh yu rate, don’t wait til it late
Seh yuh fi tell dem right now
And if you have somebody weh yuh love
Forget bout di grudge and tell dem right now”
And if you have somebody weh ya check fa -
Talk that ya mouth mek fa
Tell dem right now
Tell dem before dem gone
Mi seh tell dem before dem gone”

The song is along the same line of thinking that I use by largely focusing on current artists, because I feel that it’s so important to tell them how great (or shitty if it applies) you think they are while they're still alive and able to appreciate it (or do something about it, if they care) and it‘s nearly spectacular. There's also the COOL and romantic 'Ruff It Up' which is probably missing an accompanying singer of some kind to make it even SMOOTHER, but it’s decent and, again, the wordplay is, at times, fantastic. 'Mus Come Back' is a similar track (and you can imagine the premise of the song) and the flow on that one may be even more impressive in spots. Things get somewhat Poppish on the album’s big sounding closer, 'Work', which seems to be an inspirational type of song and a MOODY one as well (at times, it seems like Chino is 'threatening' to break out into a full Soca tune). I do like the pacing of the song and although it isn’t the greatest lyrical performance here, it's still pretty good. Both 'Badness' and 'My Soul' come in with this kind of larger than life and electric type of vibe and they're two at least decent tunes. The former is clearly the better of the pair - It is an agitated social commentary of sorts - while the rocky latter is somewhat strange because if you were to take it and place it one something as straight forward as a one-drop it might actually be an excellent track, but here we have Reggae-centric and Reggae-normative ideology on a Rock track which is definitely different. Oh and the second verse is brilliant!

“Alright, some man sell out and mi see it
Sell out dem soul and nah go collect receipt
Dem sell out fi cheap
Ah wonder wah mek dem dweet
Some a dem ah pree
Nuff ah sell out as wi speak
Nuff ah dem -
Full of deceit
Sell out dem friend no matta how much food you mek dem eat
So mi tell dem seh -
Ah dem, Fadda God ahgo beat
Dats why mi stay far when mi si dem in di streets
Dem love sweets but -
Nah go sell out mi soul . . . !”

And speaking of Rock, you can also check 'God Nah Sleep [Rise and Fall Story]', which is exactly what it sounds like it is from the title. This one definitely brings up mixed opinions because it kind of has this dusty old school Rock/Alternative track behind it, which I certainly don’t like, but lyrically it’s about as strong as anything on the whole of "Chino". Also, it appears to be a kind of a ‘concept song’ and checking it at five minutes long it's one on which clearly there a great deal amount of time spent and minus the riddim I suppose (in my opinion), it was well worth it. BRILLIANT. And, incidentally, that EPIC tune follows one which is considerably less full (at less than ninety seconds), but DAMN exciting, 'Build A Vibe [Freestyle Skit]', which may be one of the most intense I've ever heard of its kind and is, again, at times so wonderfully impressive lyrically.

“No tek wi fi no simple guys
Wid fool wi nah sympathize
All ah who neva hip to di Ship before get familiarize
Who nah like si di Ship a strive can kindly mek a river dive”

Hmmm. Perhaps he meant someone like me.

'Leaving [Seal The Link]'

At the times when Chino does go back into what is more typically the arena of Reggae and Dancehall, he continues to impress and do so with a bit of a twist. NONE so more dramatic than when he channels circa 1989 with the lovely Denyque also on board with 'Driving Me Insane'. The tune is an update of Shabba Ranking’s immortal 'Mr. Loverman' and I’m pretty sure I don't like this one, but I can’t help but smile and laugh every time I hear it. Well done and keep an ear (and an eye) out for Denyque as well. There’s also 'Leaving [Seal The Link]' which also makes you smile because it brings in a SWEET piece of a riddim and is one of my favourite songs on the album. You'll likely hear this tune and think the same as I did when I first heard it (and this song, I have heard previously) - Freddie McGregor on this track would have made it even better, but as it is, it's very strong and a real highlight here. And finally we have a couple of songs which are very exciting. One is 'Yeah Yeah', which we dealt with on the BIG Peppa Riddim, from a little while back. I probably don't like this one as much as I did from before and listening to it compared to some of these other tunes has drained it a bit, but every time I hear that riddim I love it more and more and I’m nearly to the point where I don't give a damn whose voicing it, but it is by no means a bad track. And then there’s the positively ridiculous and funny 'I Am' which has a riddim which sounds like the Masterpiece from Lenky. I like ridiculous and I like funny and while this one doesn’t bring in any grand significance or anything like that, it’s just a big fun time and probably the most fun to be had here.

'I Am'

Overall, yeah, I'm convinced. This album is by no means a favourite of mind, in full, however, when I listen to it from a strictly lyrical point of view, it may just be one of the best albums of the year and one of the best Dancehall-ish that I've heard in quite some time. Also, I feel compelled to point out that in 2011 (just as in pretty much most recent years), you don't have too many big name Dancehall based performers doing full blown albums, so this is surely a boost to the subgenre, in general. What I think that I missed out in listening to Chino over the past few years or so wasn't actually that he had suddenly developed ability that he didn't previously have, but that he had the CAPACITY to do so and my prior very lukewarm and mundane feelings towards his vibes. As evidenced by this album, Chino may just be one of the most lyrically proficient acts in a Dancehall (or whatever you’d like to call it) which is severely lacking in that area. I'm still not a fan, but I'm much more likely to pay attention to what he does next. I was wrong - He's better than I thought.

Rated: 4/5
VP Records
CD + Digital
Chino @ Twitter
Chino @ Facebook

{Note: CD reportedly releases on May 31}

No comments:

Post a Comment