Review Summary: "First Chinese rapper" shows promise, but falters in the long run.
Jin Au-Yeung first got his fifteen minutes of fame back in 2002, when he destroyed the competition on his way to the finals of BET’s Freestyle Friday. At first,the audience was drawn in by the sight of a Chinese kid acting like a black kid (a Chigga, if you will), but soon Jin’s mad freestyling skills proved that he was far more than a gimmick, helping him achieve an easy second championship title. From there to the signing of a contract, it was a very short step, and so in 2003 Jin was picked up by the Ruff Ryders posse, known for having DMX in their ranks. The Chinese-American MC was expected to achieve a similar level of success, and his ultimate failure to do so eventually caused him to drop out of Ruff Ryders and pursue an underground career that lasts to this day.
That, however, was a result of Jin’s first and only mainstream release so far, 2004’s The Rest Is History
, which is the focal point of this review. Initially titled Almost Famous
, this was the album that was supposed to launch Jin to superstardom. It didn’t, but it had the potential to; ultimately, it was hindered by some poor choices.
First things first: Jin’s got skill. The Miami-born rapper flows confidently and has a masterful control of both metrics and vocabulary. This allows him to write absurdly good lyrics, that often transcend categorization and turn into bona-fide stories. In fact, when listening to this album, one gets the feeling that not only is Jin being totally earnest, but also that he or she is listening to a narration, rather than a musical lyric. Such is the case on The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
the autobiographical Love Story
or the unbelievable Same Cry
Another strenght most of Jin’s lyrics possess is their deviation from standard-issue rap material. Jin frontally admits to not being a gangster, and therefore having no interest in rapping about guns, crimes or fast cars. He says so more explicitly on Cold Outside
, where he raps:
They say Jin's fake, he dont keep it real in his rhymes/ He make us look soft, that kid ain't commit no crimes/YOU’RE GOD DAMN RIGHT, want me to say it then fine/ I ain't a killa, I ain't a gangsta, and I ain't no thug/ I dont walk around with guns and I dont sell drugs/ I'm not a murderer, I ain’t never said I was, so what the *** ya hating on me for
He elaborates further on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
I vowed I’d never talk about the guns or the drugs/'Till I saw the guns and the drugs / There is tons in the hood/ I'll admit, I never sold a sack in my life”
So without that topical crutch to lean on, what does Jin rap about? Well, sometimes he can’t resist bragging about his skills and his rise to fame, which happens in pretty much any song where he sides along with his Ruff Ryder buddies (The Come Thru
, Get Your Handz Off
). When left to his own devices, however, he is far more contemplative, telling reproachful stories of ghetto violence (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
), reminiscing fondly about high-school sweethearts (Love Story
), emotively analyzing his people’s plight (Same Cry
) or even poking fun at rap standards in the explicitly titled Club Song
(”everybody’s got ‘em, so I had to make a club song/If you wanna blow, then you gotta make a club song”
However, this lyrical differentiation doesn’t mean Jin entirely forgoes the rules. There’s plenty of space in this record for references to his skills and zingy, acerbic one-liners, such as the awesome ”if I was Papa Smurf you couldn’t give me blue balls”
, from Club Song
or "one kid dropped out of college, the other never went"
, in reference to Kanye and himself, on I Got A Love
OK, so the lyrics are great. But what about the beats? Well, they’re decent throughout, sometimes standing out (like the r’n’b vibe on I Got A Love
or the latino-Black Eyed Peas of Senorita
), others being saved by the lyrics, such as in the eminently forgettable Cold Outside
. For a rookie, Jin managed to grab a hold of quite a few famous people, from producers Swizz Beatz and Just Blaze to a pre-fame Kanye West and even Caribbean god Wyclef Jean, who produces and helps out on lead single Learn Chinese
As far as standouts, they are pretty clear: Kanye predictably rips on I Gotta Love
, by far the best track on here, while the tongue-in-cheek attitude helps elevate Club Song
to a solid second place in the ranking. Completing the podium are Same Cry
and the endearing Love Story
, both riding on strong, heartfelt lyricism and – in the former – a good backup sample.
However, this album suffers from an ailment common to most hip-hop albums: too many songs. I don’t know if it’s a norm or something for hip-hop albums to have 18 tracks, but they all seem to. And while this high number leaves a lot of space for the good stuff, it also facilitates the appearance of filler. Here, it’s no different. The Come Thru
almost nullifies Club Song
by tackling the same subject in serious
fashion, while turgid Eminem pastiche Karaoke Night
firmly establishes itself as the low point of the album. Also beefing up this section are the mandatory couple of pointless but mildly amusing skits, and throwaway songs like C’Mon
and Cold Outside
Still, the sum total is positive. I’m usually not big on hip-hop, and it’s the rare album of this genre that I can listen to from beginning to end. The Rest Is History
has earned this distinction, and for that it should be lauded. Things may not have worked out for Jin, but the talent was definitely there, and the self-styled “Chinky MC” deserved more than the respectable but modest underground career he has today.
I Got A Love