Whereas Chino XL’s début album Here To Save You All was a relative success due to magazines like The Source and TV shows like Yo! MTV Raps plugging it, his follow-up album I Told You So unfortunately went without any fanfare and recognition. That was very unfortunate because Chino’s second LP was in many ways a more rounded album. If you don’t know who Chino XL is or haven’t heard any of his music, I’d recommend listening to I Told You So rather than Here To Save You All as it contains some of his most-accessible work.
From the intro “Rude Awakening” onward, Chino XL does what he does best; complex rhyme schemes laced with braggadocio and witty punchlines. From the first song to the last, Chino brings his unrelenting wordplay and flawless delivery song after song, and despite there being a few lacklustre tracks, this album is more good than bad.
Production-wise, I Told You So wavers between songs with both credibility and cross-over appeal (“What You Got” and “Don’t Say A Word”) and more stereotypically “underground” sounds (the mean, bassy beat in “That Would Be Me” for example). There’s also the use of vocals to create a melody (the haunting, cathedral-like singing in “Last Laugh” or the one-word sample in “Nunca”). The title track although simplistic, is a very satisfying song, and the sexy vocals during the chorus turns the bare production into something memorable.
There are however a few instances of mediocrity when it comes to the production, for instance “Baby Momma”, “Chino XL”, and the corny-as-hell “Be Here”. There’s also a few songs where the listenable production is let down by the chorus (“Sorry” with its sentimental content for example). And since this album was released in 2001, there’s of course some late-90s-early-00s Hip-Pop sounds (the slightly radio-friendly style of “You Don’t Want It”, the slightly mediocre chorus in “It’s My World”, and a Nate-Dogg-like chorus by Saafir in “How It Goes”).
Lyrically, there’s not much wrong with this LP. When it comes to comedic punchlines, Chino XL is of course the master, and they are present in pretty much every track. In “What You Got” (which contains a line from Viggo Mortensen’s character in Carlito’s Way during the chorus) there’s lines like “Don’t start me, you’ll be the only entertainer with less groupies than Biz Markie”.
There’s of course many instances of celebrity dissing such as the simile “Black when it’s convenient like Mariah’s ethnicity” in “You Don’t Want It”. In “That Would Be Me” there’s the stereotype-reinforcing line “I’m Puerto Rican, I got enough relatives to buy me Platinum living with me” and there’s also some race-based commentary in “I Told You So” “Battling Chino is like Africa, yeah niggas talk about it but they don’t really wanna go there”. There’s also some music industry politics such as “I been rhyming since 1986, when R&B wasn’t feeling us. No rap on Soul Train, motherfuck Don Cornelius” in “Don’t Say A Word”.
Chino also manages to blend controversial or slightly offensive comedy into his lyrics. In “Last Laugh” (featuring B Real of Cypress Hill) there’s the celebrity news referencing line “I’m hungrier than chicks tied up in Rick James’ basement” as well as “Take beef personally to your villa steps like Versace” in “Nunca” and “Always float to the top unlike the son of John F. Kennedy” in “Let ‘Em Live”. And speaking of controversy, there’s “Chianardo DiCaprio”, a song which contains heaps of misogyny but misogyny done with flair. With lines like this you can easily argue sexism but for me it’s more of a case of egotism and exaggerated conceitedness; “Chicks asked to touch my hair, seduction[s] what the game is, I intimidate ’em ’cause I’m prettier that they is. And in bed I’m gifted, and I assume every woman’s in love with me ’till they tell me different”. When it comes to ego and vanity, and sexual self-worth, Chino XL brings it in spades. In “How It Goes” he raps “I got women fingering themselves thinking of women fingering themselves that are thinking of me”.
Aside from comedy, sex, and controversy, there’s also examples of Chino’s lyrical complexity on this LP. The track “Nunca” (which translates to “Never”) has a chorus that contains a slight anaphora (“Never love my enemy, You could never take my history, You could never block my destiny, Never did love follow me, and I’ll never return to poverty, Never fooled by Satan’s jealousy, until my heaven inherits me”). This song is an example of Chino’s lyrical excellence; his flow, delivery, wordplay are second to none and along with a head-nodding beat and classical sample this is a perfect song.
The song “Let ‘Em Live” featuring Kool G Rap (and which therefore features two of the all-time great rappers together) is somewhat disappointing. Given that two of the most lyrically-gifted MCs are present on one song, I expected something more impressive. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a decent song but it’s not the best example of either rappers’ skills (especially G Rap’s). And whilst on the topic of disappointing songs, the song “Sorry” featuring Shaunta, is like a feud but without resolution or point, and “Be Here” is simply corny Hip-Pop, turning a sample of Rhythm’s “The World Is A Place” into an embarrassing Pop track especially with its singing hook. This song is so bad it single-handedly almost drops this LP’s rating down to a 7/10.
There’s a track titled “Water” that didn’t make it to the finished album because of “copyright issues” with the Prince song “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)”. This is no loss however, this average song was best left off the album. On a side note, the CD version of I Told You So which I own contains slightly different track names compared to the version now available to buy or stream (“Concert Skit” is now called “A$$hole Intro”, “Beef” is now called “A$$hole”, and “Outro is now called “Skit”) but I guess that doesn’t matter too much.
There are a few problems with this album, the main and most obvious thing is that there’s too many skits, you could also argue that there’s also too many tracks. Chino delivers his unrelenting lyrics again and again, and in some ways that itself becomes a slight problem – it gets a little repetitive after a while – at times it feels like the songs don’t vary enough in terms of content. Of course this could have easily been fixed, if the weaker songs were taken out of the tracklist, the album wouldn’t feel so long and the monotony of content would therefore be unnoticeable. If all of the unnecessary skits were removed (all of them except for Chinophone parts 1 & 2), if disappointing tracks like “Baby Momma”, “Chino XL”, “Beef”, and “Be Here” were also cut, this would easily result in a better album. That being said, I Told You So is well worth listening to, it contains such impressive rapping that you can easily ignore its shortcomings. When multisyllabic rapping is done right as it is here, it’s worth copping the LP just to witness flawless rapping.
Ignoring the album for a bit, I have to say that Chino XL is a grossly underrated MC. As many people in the underground Hip-Hop community have noted, he pre-empted the style that is wrongly attributed to Eminem; comedic punchlines, comedic disses, celebrity name-dropping, multisyllabic delivery and high-pitched vocal tone. If you listen to Chino’s first two albums it’s easy to hear that he’s the originator of this style, and in my opinion he easily surpasses Marshall Mathers in terms of skill and the quality of his witticism (but of course, you’ll never hear this acknowledged by mainstream rap fans or by the mainstream media). So forget what you’re told, forget what you’ve been taught, listen to Chino XL yourself and you’ll instantly hear who’s superior.
I Told You He Told You So.