First, the good news, because it does exist:
Hoodstar, the third album from Chingy in his four-year recorded history, has no skits. This means that if you can find a setting in which you don’t have to listen to a single vocal emanation from anyone involved in Hoodstar, there’s a good chance that you can enjoy a few of the beats as background noise and even occasionally nod your head where appropriate without being interrupted by a two-minute dramatic (er, “dramatic”) talkpiece.
It’s when you start listening to what Chingy is saying that a problem emerges.
You see, Chingy is about perpetuating a stereotype: the young nouveau riche, raised in a violent, lower class existence, finding fame via hip-hop, and becoming utterly infatuated with the power, money, and worldly possessions that come with that sudden fame. It’s as if Chingy is setting out to confirm that social status has everything to do with money, and since he’s got plenty of it, he’s fine with that. Witness the evidence: the “C” in “Chingy” on the cover of Hoodstar is actually a “¢”, and not one but two tracks of the thirteen are centered around sneakers, songs called “Nike Aurr’s & Crispy Tee’s” and “Brand New Kicks”. Sneakers! Like you should actually care that Chingy is walking around with brand new sneakers on his feet.
This insistence on concentrating on possessions makes any talk of “struggle” feel utterly insincere. The only place where Chingy even pretends to show any awareness outside his own little bubble is on “Cadillac Door”, which he actually has the nerve to dedicate to those who lost people in the World Trade Center disaster and Hurricane Katrina. It’s a mention so perfunctory as to be positively insulting.
None of this is even to mention Chingy’s skills on the mic, if they could even rightfully be called as much. In the painfully slow “Hands Up”, Chingy decides to end no less than 10 lines with the words “it’s me”, before actually deciding to throw in a couple of rhymes before going back to “it’s me” for a couple more lines. And it’s on the album’s first full song. And this is before he decides to end an equally huge pile of lines with “off top” for the second verse. Is the constant repetition an intentional gimmick designed to inspire maximum audience repetition? Sure. Does it sound lazy as hell? You bet it does. Speaking of gimmicks, Chingy also reveals his trademark southern slur to be old-fashioned gimmickry as well, as he pronounces the word “air” just like your run-of-the-mill Northern United States resident just before he goes back into his chorus of repeated “Nike Aurr’s & Crispy Tee’s” in the song of the same name. Attaway to fake that STL accent, Ching-a-ling!
Things do improve when Chingy invites his buddies by for a little studio time—well, at least, sometimes they do. Difficult as it may be to believe, it seems that Jermaine Dupri, of all people, is the perfect collaborator for Chingy, tipping him wholeheartedly into the pop side of his persona without the pretense of his street posturing to get in the way. Apparently his record company thought the same thing, given that JD’s two tracks also happen to be Hoodstar‘s first two singles: “Pullin’ Me Back”, produced by Dupri and featuring Tyrese (remember him?) is Chingy’s sensitive jam for the ladies, while second single “‘Dem Jeans” is an ode to the female form in which Dupri is more prominently featured. Surprisingly enough, the teaming of the two results in one song that sounds more sincere than it probably should, and one song that’s far more fun loving and actually less disrespectful than its title might indicate (would that I could say the same for the regrettable and crude “Ass N Da Aurr”). Too bad Three-Six Mafia, still employing their patented scheme of e!nun!ci!at!ing! every syllable to avoid tricky things like word rhythms (and seriously, after that whole Academy Award thing, these guys are everywhere), and even Timbaland, busting out a beat from ‘97 that Aaliyah never got to use, don’t quite help as much as JD seems to.
Because, it seems, Chingy needs the help. On his own, Chingy just doesn’t have the charisma, or the skills, or even the production team necessary to make him at all interesting, much less enjoyable. His bravado is misplaced, and his ‘hood posturing is laughable. Maybe if he just completely gave in to his pop tendencies, leaving any pretense of “keeping it real” behind, he could create something worth hearing. After three albums of this pap, however, even that seems like a longshot.