THE CRITIC | @ChinoElVito Black Crown Album Review

For the past five years or so, a young artist from Lesotho who goes by the name Chino El Vito has steadily been creating considerable buzz for himself in his country. He has done this through various collaborations with a number of MCs, singing and producing for them. Most notably, he sang hooks on OG Skillz’ “Ín Remebrance”, Sadon’s “Fear No Evil”, ISO’s “Heaven” and Bible Verse’s “1 That Got Away” to name a few. He’s also shared the stage with the critically acclaimed songstress Leomile on a number of occasions. What has remained constant throughout these years is the admiration fans and fellow artists alike have shown for his talent and work. This has led to great anticipation for his full length album Black Crown that was finally released on July 20th, 2018.

It’s very hard to box Chino. It’s even harder to find a single genre to categorize the music he does. A short bio on his site describes him as a “multi-talented singer/songwriter/producer and all round creative genius.” The bio further describes his music as “channeled from the highest realms, with the widest of influences. From the cinematic soundscapes of Takashi Kurosawa, the thumping boom of “trap soul” pioneer Bryson Tiller; right through to the timeless native indigenous funk of Sankomota”. Listening to Black Crown makes the aforementioned descriptions ring true. My immediate impression of the album was awe at how brilliant it is that he faithfully embodies his influences, yet carving his own unique creation almost seamlessly.

At heart, Black Crown is an R&B and Soul album. However, there’s no denying the Nu Jazz, Lounge and Neo Soul fragments that permeate throughout the project. This creates for an eclectic musical experience. It helps that the pilot attempting such a lofty feat of combining genres is a truly gifted musician. Chino tries to make spellbinding music and for the most part, he succeeds. It would be lazy of me to say he makes effortless music because I can tell this is a product of an artist who has painstakingly worked on his craft.

I had been listening to a lot of Prince and D’Angelo albums before I listened to this project and as fate would have it, I had just finished reading Questlove’s memoir “Mo’ Meta Blues” soon before listening to it as well. What these two experiences (listening to Prince/D’Angelo, reading Questlove) helped me with was the understanding and appreciation of the creation of music. Realizing that it’s more than a one dimensional process. It’s more than a means to an end. Black Crown enforced this understanding and appreciation.

The album is presented in the traditional A Side/B Side format. I saw this as a nod to the old school Chino is born from. 11 songs on the A Side and 8 songs on the B Side.
The A Side starts off with a psychedelic “Intro” that contains, at first, a chirping filtered voice that eventually morphs into a fully-fledged voice repeatedly chanting out the artist’s name in full, Chino El Vito. Almost like a triumphant entry theme song. The second song is “Hurry” which finds him frustrated at a love interest who has ‘friend zoned’ him. “Found My Way” is an early highlight as the third track which features the talented bassist Gervas Green, who puts his magical touches on an already thumping production, with Chino proclaiming to have found his way, assumed to mean his purpose. “I Got a Feeling” is a ‘heads in the clouds’ dreamer’s song as much as it’s a bold declaration that superstardom and success are within reach. “Feel Alive” (Nicole’s Interlude)” and “Ride” are a trap soul double whammy serving as the perfect backdrop for Chino (and Piigh on the latter song) to curry romantic favor from a lady, with the eventual promise of rocking her world in bed. “Private” continues the theme set by the two previous songs and finds Chino imploring the lady to keep their exploits discreet.

Another highlight for me is “Like Teenagers” which is another trap soul tinged song with elaborate 808s and a mid-tempo ambient sound to it. He starts off the song with a clever interpolation of Ts’epo Ts’ola & Sankomota’s “Madambadamba” and the first time I heard that I may have fallen off my chair at how brilliant it was. The song addresses the complexities of navigating a relationship as young adults in this social media era, and the eventual conclusion is that it would be better to just go back to loving the way we used to do as teenagers. He sings “Lately, I think the only time you ever come alive is when we’re arguing, and I don’t understand, it’s only you and I, why do we always need an audience, someone took the pic and said some lies on Twitter and now I’m taking all the punishment, when did you get so insecure that I can’t even pass a compliment?” Totally relatable content. “Me & You” finds him lamenting a failed relationship, trying to find out who’s to blame for the demise of the relationship. He throws in a little rap verse and honestly, I wasn’t mad at it because he can actually rap.

My definite favorite song off the project though, is “Hohang” which is probably the song with the most texture and instrumentation on the album. He sings mostly in Sesotho, about a doomed relationship that irretrievably breaks down right at the threshold of what I presume to be the lovers’ planned marriage. I found it to be a very earnest and heartfelt song and it’s certainly the one that touched me the most. My second favorite follows in the form of “Tsamaea”, another song that’s mostly in Sesotho, but also a little Ndebele/Zulu and some English. It starts off moody and dark then progresses to a slightly upbeat yet poignant feel. In it he seems to tell himself that he’s grown now and it’s time to go and fulfill his destiny despite life’s hardships. He needs to go and figure out life himself. Only God will be with him but he has to go. Once again, totally relatable content. It serves as the closer to the A Side and at the end you hear what sounds like a tape being taken out of a tape player, being turned and inserted again in order to play the other side. Almost inaudibly, the first song off the B Side starts to play.

“Tired” opens the B Side and picks up where the A Side left off. It’s a melancholy track about a lover who is tired of fighting for a relationship. It’s a Tank/R.Kelly-esque record with a subtle late 90’s R&B feel to it and I think it has the most commercial appeal throughout the album. Chino’s backing vocals are glorious on it. “DIOMO/Did It On My Own” is an ambient down-tempo production reminiscent of the music of Noah “40” Shebib. Chino expresses angst over being underrated but still believes in his own legend. It finds him at his most self-aware and honest with himself. On “The Blooz” he is assisted by Piigh once again and they bare their souls about the downside of being an artist. The insecurities and sometimes self-harming behavior that follows but most importantly, the constant pursuit of chasing one’s passion and the realization that sometimes it’s just a labor of love which hardly yields dividends. “Ema Pele” sees him trying to save a relationship that he feels is his crutch. He sings “Summer days are cold, winter nights keep burning me, you’re telling me it’s over… don’t leave”. “My Whole Life” is him telling us how much and how long he’s been perfecting his craft. On “Through It” he reflects on how far he’s come and the pinnacles he plans to reach in his musical journey. “Hol’up” is the most ‘ignant’ joint on here, typical male bravado and egoism on display. The album closer is a masterstroke. “Black Crown” closes of the album on a somber yet hopeful note where Chino sing-raps the most introspective lyrics on the album. It’s my third favorite song off the project and makes for a perfect conclusion to a brilliant album. In the song he reprises a refrain he used on a song he did with The Library called “Building Up A Wall” featuring San, The Sage & OG Skillz. I thought that was dope.
As the album comes to an end, you can hear the tape also stop winding, signifying a closure to what I think is a first for Lesotho music. A hybrid of an album that I know I will be playing for years to come. Chino has delivered a monumental piece of art that will be forever etched in the memories of all of us who appreciate selfless, timeless music. 95/100

Get Black Crown BY CHINO EL VITO here:

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