Jin’s debut hits and misses
Kenyatta Storin | Thursday, November 11, 2004
Jin is not your average, run-of-the-mill rapper. After all, he’s Chinese-American.
Jin first appeared on the hip-hop scene when he won several freestyling competitions on BET’s “106 and Park’s Freestyle Fridays.” As a result, he gained a great deal of respect in the New York underground rap scene, and was eventually offered a contract by Ruff Ryders.
The New York-based Ruff Ryders, home to rappers like DMX, Eve and Jadakiss, was once an unstoppable force in the late 90s when DMX was at the peak of his powers. However, the group’s popularity has dwindled over the years, and only a few of its members have seen much success recently. As a result, it is not surprising Ruff Ryders decided to take a chance and sign Jin to his first record deal.
Once Jin became a Ruff Ryder, he came out with the single, “Learn Chinese” at the end of 2003, which quickly became an underground success. Due to his Chinese ethnicity and growing underground popularity, he started to receive some media attention, including a positive write-up in the New York Times. Everything seemed to be going Jin’s way, and his debut album was slated for an October 2003 release. Unfortunately, due to several delays in production, Ruff Ryders missed the opportunity to capitalize on Jin’s growing popularity, and it was not until this past October that his debut, “The Rest is History,” finally materialized.
Of course the question is, was it worth the wait? The answer is yes and no.
More than anything else, Jin uses his Chinese background to distinguish himself from his peers, throwing out lines like “I ain’t your 50 Cent, I ain’t your Eminem, I ain’t your Jigga Man, I’m a China man” and “This ain’t Bruce Lee, ya’ll watch too much TV” At times he also gets serious about his experiences as a Chinese-American, referring to his struggles as an aspiring rapper (“In every rap battle, the race-card was my downfall”), lost love (“Then reality attacks / his pops couldn’t see past / The fact his son was Asian but his girlfriend was black”) and problems in China (“Overpopulation, but damn just to meet the needs / It’s illegal to have more than one seed”).
Although Jin provides a much-needed fresh perspective for hip-hop, his rapping is rather ordinary at times. There are instances when he falls in the trap of using the same rhyming schemes and patterns over and over, which causes his flows to sometimes become repetitive. Furthermore, despite having witty lines here and there, for a renowned freestyler the album as a whole lacks the cleverness one would expect.
However, the album’s biggest flaws are actually the fault of Ruff Ryders, which tries too hard to commercialize the album for mainstream popularity. Even with popular producers like Just Blaze and Kanye West on board, several of the songs sound forced and generic because of plain pop beats, mundane content and dull, unoriginal choruses. This is quite evident on tracks like “Club Song,” where Jin repetitively says, “This my club song, this my club song” and “I Got a Love,” where Kanye West rehashed one of his old beats. Even the single that put Jin on the map, “Learn Chinese” has a rather cheesy beat by Wyclef Jean.
Jin is clearly at his best on tracks where he is not forced to conform to Ruff Ryders’ ideas. Jin sounds much better on cuts like “Love Story,” “C’mon” and “Thank You” where he sounds like he is coming from the heart, rather than trying to fit a certain mold. But even these songs lack the innovation and production to be true highlights.
Jin claims he is “a threat to every rapper in the game or that’s ever been it,” but that is certainly not the case on “The Rest is History.” While he shows signs of his potential throughout, this is not an album that will make much of a dent in the hip-hop mainstream. Despite this, it is not entirely his fault the album falters, since many of the album’s flaws are the result of Ruff Ryders’ production decisions. Hopefully Jin will have more creative control on his next album, so he can tailor his rhymes in a way more suitable for him. Then hip-hop fans will know for sure whether or not Jin will leave his mark on hip-hop or just be a forgettable gimmick.