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Chino XL - Return of the Poison Pen
10/12/08 - exclusive interview by Dante



Chino XL picture

Love him or hate him, few will deny the lyrical prowess of the Afro-Latin MC known as Chino XL. From the projects of Jersey, to world tours with the biggest names in Hip Hop, the heavily respected lyricist prepares for the Fall release of what he considers his best album ever, "The Secret."

After earning his stripes in Jersey talent shows, Chino's demos eventually caught the ear of Def Jam founder Rick Rubin, who immediately signed Chino to Def American Records.

His debut album “Here To Save You All” had an instant impact on the Hip Hop charts, and solidified his image as an MC who gave no second thought to speaking his mind.  We speak with the legendary Latin rapper on his new album, Latinos in Hip Hop and much more in this exclusive interview. The Secret drops this Fall, what can you tell me about it?

It's for sure, is musically, sonically and texture and hook-wise, my best piece of work for sure.

So who did the production?

It's predominantly focused on DJ Khalil

Who are some of your guest features?

Man, I could start naming the people that I worked with on this album, but as time winds down, you don't know what's going to clear and what's not going to clear. I'll just tell you that I worked with Akon, Snoop, Pitbull, Chamillionaire. Obviously I worked with Bun B, Immortal Technique, Psycho Realm, MC Magic from Arizona.

MC Magic from NB Ridaz.

Yeah yeah, he did a hook on this song that's amazing. With the talkbox, Roger Troutman s**t. I feel like I might be leaving something out, and if I am, I apologize to whoever. But pretty much those are the songs that I have to choose from, I'm really excited about it. It's different than a lot of my other releases also because I'm running while it comes out.


You know me, me and you got a personal relationship, no homo, we've known each other for years, you know I've had all these periods of inactivity or whatever. So this release was kind of like my 100% focus, it's a big focus of mine, but I'm moving and doing guest appearances and shows. It's like a different thing for me, I'm really really excited about this happening, but looking forward to the next one coming out after it also.

You mentioned the inactivity. Here To Save You All dropped in 1996, I Told You So in 2001, Poison Pen in 2006. You had a five year hiatus between those first three albums, what was the story behind that?

Essentially it was me being disenfranchised with a lot of things that were going on lyrically, politics in the game, me raising my little girls. It had a lot to do with a lot of different stuff. I started in the game as a child. To quote KRS-One, one time I was having a conversation with him, and he said "Chino, you thought you just had to be the best MC and that's all it took, right?" And I said, "Yup", and he said "Me Too." And once that illusion is dead, it takes a while to really come to grips with that, you know.

You say that this will be your best album, so how is it different from Here to Save You All and Told you So?

Some of it is from a different frame of mind. It's postmodern in a different way. Where my other albums were postmodern in using references, it's postmodern in a sense that you can tell that I was making it during the time period that it was released in.


It's really made to come out pretty much right now with where I am, I'm telling the part of my history that's relevant to who I am now. And opening and closing a lot of doors that mattered to my career now. Explaining a lot of things that I've discovered about my career that I may have not known.

Machete Music is the juggernaut of the reggaeton industry, but they've been picking up artists like you and Malverde -

Oh yeah, Mal's on my album too. Sinful's on my album as well.

Sinful from the Mexikanz. The label also has artists like Mala Rodriguez, so what connected you to Machete in the first place?

Gus [Lopez] and Jehovah that was working for the label at the time, the heavy promo guy on the West coast, they used to come to my rehearsals, and they're really cool with my close dudes and my entourage. They would come to my shows and hang out, and Gus would always be like, "Man, I wish I could get you over to the label, but it doesn't make sense." There was a lot of stuff going on with my career at the time.


I was around Gus, we started to notice that as far as Latino media goes, which I'm sure you know your stuff, it's a different age where there's a cross section that are Latin Americans that are Latino, but they don't want their media in Spanish. They want their media in English, you know, so it creates that hybrid channels like Mun2, and MTV Tr3s, and what you do, it's a whole 'nother level of what I do. It was really the timing, you have a Latino station here in L.A. that plays reggaeton, then 50 Cent.


So it's kind of like, where's the artist that transcends most of the things that we're talking about. It was a show of strength for the label, it was a good thing for them to pick me up.

You've also been working with Viper Records and Immortal Technique.

Yeah yeah. One of my homegirls in Chicago calls Immortal Technique my evil twin brother, and she says sometimes when she talks to him, she calls me his evil twin brother. We really have this strange symbiance where what we do meets. We're very alike personally, we got a lot of the same views as far as hip hop goes, historically and as far as lyricism goes. Just kind of my dude, he holds me down and I hold him down. It's a good thing, that's my dude, we make records together, it shocks people, a hell of a lot of testosterone over a beat.

Speaking of lyricism, ask hip hop fans to name the top lyricists, and your name often comes up. Only that shine isn't reflected in the media, why do you think that is?

I just did this One Nation on Mun2 and Frankie Needles was asking me that. He's like, "Man I was talking to Nas, and Nas was talking about Latin MCs and he mentioned you. How were you so amiss as far as the mainstream goes?" The only thing I can say is when I meet people and how I've affected people is magnanimous, I wouldn't change it for the world.


I have no sour grapes about my career, because I still pick up a pen after all these years and can cause damage with the best of them, if not the most damage. If I was to have been overexposed any other time before now and in the next four years, I think some of the people who they bracket me with, no disrespect, I would have to be coming from a place of trying to make a different kind of comeback, or trying to convince people in a different way. So in a weird way, I still have such a humongous feeling, even though I have a weird legendary status to a certain ilk, I'm not coming out of a certain era, do you know what I mean?

I still have an ability to make new fans. I'll do shows, and they'll be 18 year old Zune, gothic, hip hop slash generation dudes that are like, "Yo that Poison Pen thing is the most phenomenal thing I ever heard." I was in Arizona, I had a show in Phoenix the other day, and this dude was like, "Yo son, I been following you for the last four years, yo, and I got crazy respect for you son." He thinks that I came out when Back to Basics Came out.


Now, you know for somebody like you or some other people that I walked with, they may be like, "Are you crazy, this kid been around forever," But look at the amazing blessing that is, for him to not think that I'm some old grandfather coming out of an old folks home, trying to give my view of how Hip Hop is. To him, I still am relevant, I still have a fresh new voice. Instead of paying attention to the negative thing of why haven't I achieved certain things that people would have assumed I would have achieved. I look at it like in God's plan, I'm supposed to have a certain longevity that transcends more than one generation in Hip Hop, and I'm thankful for that.

If given the choice between a Platinum plaque or flawless reviews for an album in the Source and XXL, which would you prefer?

Can I modify the multiple choice a little bit? I would rather be able to look somebody like yourself in the eye, I'd like to be able to be in Queens and look at G-Rap in the eye, and go back to my hometown in Jersey and see the old heads that have been rooting from me from the sideline and be able to look them in the eye. And do shows with Immortal Technique at Rock the Bells and the real hip hoppers and the revolutionaries and the Latinos are like, "Yeah, that's Chino XL, he never bowed down."


I created this thing for myself, kind of like how I can do a lot of things. If I want to act, okay, as long as I keep the lyrics real. If I want to try a little bit of a radio record, people will still let me do that too, as long as I give them a couple of lines or whatever.


So essentially, I wouldn't change my position with the true Hip Hop audience for all the money in the world as long as my children are eating. If I was a Russian gang member, I would be able to tattoo those stars on my knees, because I have never bowed down. 'Cause reviews, I learned from Rick Rubin, a review sometimes is one man's opinion.

Rick Rubin brought you over to Def America, back when you were 16 or so?


Between 2002 and 2004 you were doing all the TV and movie appearances, it seems like the music took a backseat. Do you still have aspirations as an actor?

I'm very picky and choosy about that. I had this thing where I wanted to build a resume that didn't lean on music. I'd audition like regular, I wanted to hit the whole gamut. You have a romantic comedy, soap operas, underground movies, you've got regular TV, you've got a movie in Sundance, independent films.


I acquired in a short time, through blessings, a really tight resume of work. Certain things I want to do, and don't want to do. But I think while I have this whole God has blown this life into my lungs to really take my rightful place in history, I'm gonna keep focusing on that until that's achieved.

Let's get off the music for a minute. Tell me something that most of your fans wouldn't know about you.

Hmmm. Wow, that's a good one. I don't know. That I go see every new children's movie that comes out, that I go see with my daughter. For the most part, I'm probably not always that serious as they may think, you know, that's the conversation that me and Immortal have a lot.


I have a sense of humor, you might find me laughing about something, I'm not always that heavy and serious as probably my music and even the TV that I do for the most part. I like to laugh and joke like the next person, crack on ni**as, know what I mean.

Who are some of the artists you bump in your ride?

For sure the Third Word, Immortal Technique. Bun B's album, Trill 2. He's like, are you going to name anything you're not on? We're going to try to do that. I've been listening to a lot of Radiohead, and She Wants Revenge. Sometimes when I'm creating, I really want to listen to any new Hip Hop. As far as Hip Hop goes, I've been listening to a lot of Old OC.


I'm starting to get a new phylum, where it's like, Smooth Tha Hustla - Broken Language, OC - Times Up, Chino XL - No Complex. Like Wow, you can see the waves that was coming out of how people felt.

Broken Language was a song that woke people up.

Let me tell you something, people ask me about Lil Wayne, like "What do you think about Lil Wayne being the greatest rapper, and saying that he's the greatest rapper that ever lived. They expect for me to have that, what would Chino think , Well Chino would say this about Lil Wayne, which is not true at all. He's one of the few MCs that I'm not sure what they're gonna say. From studying the game and being in the game for quite while myself and being heavy in the lyrics.


Most of the time, I know what a person is gonna say or do from the title of the song, or the cadence that they have, you know Lil Wayne will say something to throw you a curveball. Like wow, that's some other s**t, his thought process is from a different place.

Since we're talking about Broken Language That was one of the first records that I had heard before then or since, that I was really like F**K, why didn't I think of that (laughs). I was listening to it today, I forget what that part of speech is called, what they did, but that is an amazing record, yo. And Times Up, too, he meant that. With every part in his body, he meant that. I had to do a radio drop for one of the stations out here, and they gave me all of this modern music that they wanted me to rock over. And I did it to OC's Time's Up, and everyone was like, "What was that? Wow" (laughs).

With Broken Language, you've got production by DR Period, one of the more underrated producers. He only surfaces once in a while, but if he drops something, it's hot. I'm surprised we never heard Chino over a DR Period beat.

You know what, I tried, when I was making I told You So, we reached out to him. We reached out to him around the same time, executive producer at the time, Dan Charnas, big ups to him, when we were fielding for music, we reached out to him, simultaneously when I reached out to Jay Dee. We were making the album in Jersey and in L.A. at the time, we were either gonna go to New York to work with him, or to Detroit to work with Jay Dee, and We ended up working with J Dilla. He didn't really respond. Maybe he wasn't really interested in working with Chino XL, it's all good. 'Cause I was impressed with the Artifacts album he did.

He's also done some things for Dip Set, one of those producers to look out for.

Yeah, him and Bucwild can be gone for a long time, or you don't hear from them, and come back just as current and dope, an updated version of what we all love.

You being Puerto Rican, how does being Latino fit into your music?

It's so funny how it's an involuntary thing in your music, like you don't even know. Communication is what it is now, with the internet and whatever, I've been talking to everyone from my hometown. This resurgence of my graduating class. When people see the pictures all the way from fourth grade, they're like "Yo dude, you was like the only Latino in the whole town."


Except for there was one other family, but in my school, yo, there was only like me and two broads that were Latin. Still and all, you know, I am half black, but still and all, the first line that the world really heard from me was "You know the term Chino's Latin but I got Black soul". Always was in the music, I always mentioned it. It's almost like they say about God, you take one step towards it, and it takes two steps towards you. Once I really started to explore that side of my heritage, they were like, "Dog, when you were doing freestyles on Where My Latinos At, rocking with Sondoobiest and B-Real and all that, yo you've been repping for us for a really really long time."


And I've really just looked at myself as an MC, and being Latin was just a bonus to be able to rep for a people that weren't as represented. But now, I swing the banner on a whole 'nother level. The only chance I get, I'm the only Latin dude on Bun B's album. Since I have that moment, I'm gonna say that this is Latin history in the making. I'm gonna make sure I mention Pun in that verse.


So any time that I'm heard by some seven or eight year old Latino that only gets to hear a certain kind of rap from a certain type individual and doesn't get to hear himself represented in the purest form, they always get to hear me and be like, "Yo, that's my dude right there." And big ups to people on the other side, Sinful, a lot of dudes that are dope.

Sinful is very underrated as far as Latin MCs go.

I tell you man, anywhere we are, we do Latinos Stand Up, it's ridiculous. We did it at Unity and I brought Immortal to do the last verse, July 4th me Jack [Sick Jacken] and Sinful did it, it's like, an anthem, and I will do it anywhere. When I was in France, there was not no other Latino in there, matter fact OC was on that bill, and I still did that song and people responded.

Speaking of Technique, he's Peruvian but with a Black grandfather, so you and him may have a lot more in common as far as the evil twin thing goes.


Anything you want to mention to readers?

The only thing that I've been harping on a little bit, a lot of people have a lot of artists that are their favorite artists. We have a Zune, iPod, downloading, filesharing generation which, I cannot complain about, 'cause I don't know where I would be without them.


During my periods of inactivity, they were internet driven my calling to come back. Warner Brothers couldn't put a press release out about a movie without all the posters being like, what's up with Chino's new record. I met you through that media, we've been friends going on maybe six or seven years now. I don't want to knock it. What I am saying is that when an artist comes out, and you really really feel them, whether it be Psycho Realm, whether it be Sinful, whether it be Chino XL, whether it be Cuban Link has a new project, you really have to try to do your best to support it on the first day in the first week. And even if you download it, still go out and buy it.


Some people aren't always as fortunate as myself and others that will kind of have a career because of the time we started and the niche we have. People say I don't want to hear this kind of music and that kind of music, y'all guys are real. I don't want to sound like a broken record, having 100,000 friends on Myspace is power.


When people are looking at that and it doesn't translate over to sales, it makes artists look like they're not as relevant as they really truly are. You walk around in the street, you go all over the world, you have a different kind of fan, your face on their arm, when they got married they used your lines. Real true cult following fans. But you gotta go out and support that music, man, I'm not saying it from a greedy standpoint, like oh we need to get our pockets fat.


Artists like us that really care about the music, let me tell you something. When you have an album that's over 12 songs, usually the artist is over the cap and may never recoup. Unless they go and sell a whole lot of records. That just goes to show you that the creativity is most times more important to the true artist than the commerce is. But go ahead and support those artists, yo, so it can keep going. Know what I mean? It can keep going.

Any last thoughts for your fans?

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I want to really really thank my fans. They're riders, they, they have people to argue with, they have other people that want to ride for other artists. They are soldiers, I have Chino XL soldiers that you just cannot tell them that their dude, myself, is not dope. I appreciate that magnanimously, once I came out of my hiatus I promised them that I would be even more diligent than in the beginning, I give them more ammunition to root for their dude.


As you can see that I am doing it. I've had more releases in the last three years that I've had in the 10 years before that. The more energy they give me, the more energy I'll give them right back. They gonna throw that basketball in the air, I'm gonna slam dunk it on the speaker, so let's go.

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