Okay, let’s admit it: this review will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the sales or the public perception of the rap artist called Chingy. (Hard-ish “g” sound, just like he wants you to think of him, a hard-ish G.) This album, and the “Right Thurr” single, are absolutely blowing up the charts — he’s no 50 Cent or Beyoncé Knowles, but this will be known as a very good summer for Chingy, and he’ll be able to go on to the next album and make several guest appearances on other people’s records in the meantime, and he’s pretty much all set for another year or so. So it really doesn’t matter what I say here — Chingy is a pop star, and pop stars are immune to reviews good or bad.
He owes his current popularity to three factors as far as I can tell. The most important of them is the current fad for all things St. Louis, in the wake of Nelly’s success; hell, people are so into the idea of good-timey semi-thuggy Southernisms that they even went out and bought the St. Lunatics record featuring all the less-talented members of Nelly’s crew, so why shouldn’t there be another dude from that fine city with a big record trading on that lovely accent? Nelly did “Dirrty” with two R’s, so Chingy (signed to Ludacris’ Atlanta-based camp) does “Right Thurr” with two R’s, and the kids eat it up. Just so you don’t miss the connection, Chingy’s all sporting an ugly-ass trucker hat with “StL” on it in the “Right Thurr” video.
The second factor is also pretty important: He’s a good-looking kid, in that blank affectless gangsta/frat boy way that people like when they don’t want to have to actually like the person they’re attracted to. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chingy had done some modeling as a kid, because it’s all about the poses: tough on the front cover, tough-but-maybe-thinking-about-something on the back cover, tough on the inner sleeve. These are the same poses he uses to get through the record; Chingy really really wants you to think he’s a pimp gangsta, and as we know it’s what you tell people you are that they remember. So when he busts out with a not-bad kinda-funny slam poem in a pimp’s persona called “Jackpot the Pimp”, and follows it up with a song about pimping called “Wurr’s My Cash”, he doesn’t need to actually inject any charrm or any humorr into the song, because it’s just a pose. It doesn’t have to be believable or fun or anything at all except a signifier with a stone-cold gang-inflected beat.
And this is the third reason Chingy is hip this summer: his producers are right on time. The Trak Starz are a damn fine crew and they know what’s up: electro-thug bleeps and blips and boops and pings echoing all over the place, mixed for maximum boomage in car stereos. These tracks are universally hott, and provide a lovely cushion for Chingy’s rhymes to bounce or fail, and that’s really what it’s all about after all. Dreary concepts like “Represent”, where Chingy and his friends Tity-Boi and I-20 get to haul out every single St. Louis gangsta cliché in the world, end up sounding like bomb-diggity epics, with squiggly synth lines and fake orchestral stabs and big fat bass whomps. (Tity Boi’s record comes out this fall. It’s called USA Titday. Suffice it to say I won’t be standing in line for this one.) The only track that actually just flat-out fails is “Sample Dat Ass”, because everyone got lazy because apparently the combination of Chingy and St. Lunatic member Murphy Lee is such a lock for success that no one involved sounds like they’re interested in it at all. (Murph Dirt actually rhymes “Whatchamacallits” with “What do you call it”. No wonder this guy can’t stand out no matter how many Nelly songs they put him in.) How great the Trak Starz production is emphasized by “Bagg Up”, the one track produced by Da Quiksta, which manages to make a great Curtis Mayfield sample into a pro forma exercise; although let’s be fair — it’s sorta hard to swing any track that features lines like “I hit, I don’t miss / Sorta like Starks shootin’ threes for the Knicks”. What the hell year is it anyway?
When the songs are actually about something, it’s even better. Because, ultimately, Chingy does have some skills as a rapper and a songwriter. “Right Thurr” is a hit because of its beat, yes, and because songs by horny guys about hot women always have a shot at becoming summer anthems, sure — but there’s something to his voice, a certain awed respect for the absolutely amazing qualities of southern women, that puts the song over the top. (And yeah this song and a lot of this stuff is sexist as hell and yeah I know that and if you’re offended by stuff like that then Chingy is really not going to be your cup of soy milk at all. I’m offended by it too, but not enough that I’d deprive myself of some kick-ass beats.) I buy Chingy as this character, a dude who likes the way women lick their lips when they’re talking and let down their hurr, a guy who sounds like he really likes ladies even though he can’t resist saying things like “Gimme whatcha got fo’ a porkchop / She threw it at me like I was a shortstop”.
Even better is the acoustic-guitar loop and the flat-out wistfulness of “One Call Away”, in which Chingy is at Bank of America with his son cashing his checks, and meets a young woman who’s too beautiful to just sexx up and leave. It’s kind of adorable that he’s talking to her on the phone about politics and life when he can’t be with her, and his voice gets all softened when he talks about her, and his homeboys call him weak when he gives her a kiss on the cheek, but he doesn’t care, because he knows that she’s always just one call away from him, and vice versa. Awwwww. It’s gonna be a hit, and some babies are gonna be conceived to this song, and it’s all good.
But then again, there’s crap like “Holidae Inn” where Ludacris and Snoop Dogg help Chingy spin a fantasy scenario about some kind of amazing afterparty at the popular motel chain with lots of bimbos and expensive champagne and wild abandon and I’m snoozing already. Big stars phoning it in is always a turn-off, and the fact that they bury this song at track #12 is telling. No one likes this stuff.
So when Chingy’s good, he and the Trak Starz are verry verry good, but when he is bad, they can’t really save him. This is ultimately just okay, but Chingy could actually pull out something like a nice career if he took himself seriously enough to consign that pimp shit to the back burner and think of songs where there are actual human emotions and stuff, because he’s actually quite good at it. We don’t need more young callow gangsta pimps; 50 Cent got that locked down anyway. But kids who can translate experience into song? That’s gold right there, for real.