chinx-pngThere’s something surreal about listening to a posthumous album. Whether it’s the Notorious B.I.G.‘s Life After Death, Big L‘s The Big Picture, Pimp C‘s The Naked Soul, or any other post-death release, the posthumous album serves as a conversation beyond the grave — one last chance to hang with your favorite rapper. They serve as unplanned, but fitting, goodbyes.

But what happens when the posthumous album you’re listening to is more like an introduction?

That’s the dilemma the listener is presented with from the first drop on Chinx‘s posthumous Welcome to JFK, the debut album conceived as a first handshake that became, by murder default, his final salute. Imagine attending a funeral only to realize you never really knew the person in that casket. For a lot of people, that’s ‘JFK.’

Make no mistake — this is strange and rare territory for an album, and the closest comparison is the work of Lil’ Snupe, the 17-year-old New Orleans rapper who was tragically gunned down in 2013. The difference is that Snupe’s music on R.N.I.C. and 16 & Runnin’ contained an uplifting nature, which creates a tragic listening experience because of his wide-eyed excitement for the future. On the other hand on ‘JFK,’ Chinx makes it clear he was intimately cognizant of the danger that surrounded him.

For example, on the opening track “Experimental,” Chinx croons

“I swear I want this to last a lifetime…”

The line reads more as a plea than an expectation.

It’s odd and frustrating to think this is the last we will hear from Chinx. It’s an inescapable factor when determining just exactly how good ‘JFK’ really is. For those who have been enjoying the artists’ frequent contributions on French Montana tapes for the better part of the last decade, the prospect of a Chinx solo career seemed like a natural progression. When he dropped the “Drugz” from his name, it was reminiscent of 2 Chainz switching from the name Tity Boi before his ultimate pop success. He was making all the moves that signify a deepening interest in mainstream musical success. ‘JFK’ was to be the culmination.

One of the many difficult adjustments ‘JFK’ requires is the need to keep perspective on where exactly Chinx’s place in the rap food chain was at the time of his death. He’s more Young Scooter on a Gucci Mane tape than Mack Maine on a Weezy project — a good thing by the way — in the sense that Chinx has always been more than just a sidekick to French Montana. But to say he was on the verge of stardom requires a very specific amount of legacy recreation. However, the signs were there early on. Go back and listen to Chinx’s opening verse on the excellent ‘Hometown’ from Montana’s Coke Boyz 2, and you’ll hear the storytelling ability mixed with actual, verifiable rhyming chops that suggests a rapper with staying power.

For the most part that same ability is present on ‘JFK,’ a promising, but far from perfect work. As suggested by the major studio release and name change, there are more pop elements to the album than a regular Chinx mixtape would have. The sleepy-eyed, graveyard influence of Montana holds greater sway on Chinx’s ‘JFK’ sound than usually found. This becomes only a moderately successful decision for Chinx, who is strongest when he reverts to the unflinching storyteller he came up as on songs like ‘How to Get Rich.’

It also creates an interesting and potentially awkward situation for long-time listeners and those who contain only a cursory knowledge of Chinx or none at all. As a long-time fan of Chinx, the natural reaction is to lament the loss of the “Chinx style” on parts of ‘JFK.’ This is unfair, because an artist with a limited catalogue who is creating his debut album hasn’t had sufficient time to create his own “style.” In other words, it was more fair to be disappointed with a debut album like Wiz‘s Rolling Papers, because the Wiz style and mystique was fully developed by the time his major studio debut came out.

This is, perhaps, the crux of the matter as it pertains to Chinx and ‘JFK.’ Balancing one’s original expectations for a Chinx debut album with the readjusted expectations that came with his death is hard enough, but add in the too-often-forgotten truth that debut albums are rarely perfect, plus the fact that a Chinx debut album was never a guaranteed classic, and it becomes unclear by the end whether ‘JFK’ is a triumphant bronzing of the Chinx legacy, or an underwhelming debut piece that should be mostly disregarded when discussing said legacy.

Ultimately, the truth becomes that ‘JFK’ lies somewhere in between those two extremes, just as it should. Were Chinx still alive, it’s unlikely he would have seen his fame rise precipitously from this work, but ‘JFK’ is overall a safe play (with an excellent first half of songs that includes ‘YAY‘, ‘Go Get It’, ‘The Other Side’, and the strongest of all, the aforementioned ‘How To Get Rich’) that would have served as an acceptable bridge to future work, of which it’s reasonable to believe he would have had significantly more freedom to conduct his own orchestra.

Saying goodbye is always hard, and ‘JFK’ proves those goodbyes become even trickier when you realize you actually barely “knew” the artist. It’s nearly impossible to separate the “debut” and the
“posthumous” from the “album,” creating a warped listening experience that is at times as confusing as it is enjoyable. Nevertheless, those two adjectives, “debut” and “posthumous,” are integral to the JFK experience in every way. It was created as the former and became the latter, and to forget either does a disservice to the memory of Chinx and the way ‘Welcome to JFK’ will be remembered.

In the end, Chinx’s intended “Hello, nice to meet ya’s” that ‘JFK’ should’ve been don’t mesh with the “Farewell, I barely knew ya’s” they became — but that’s kind of the point. This is an album that exists in two contradicting worlds and will always exist as such. It’s both strong and disappointing. It’s imperfect and nostalgic. It’s Chinx’s posthumous debut album, best summarized by that simple and familiar Beatles line from long ago:

“You say hello, and I say goodbye.”

We barely knew you man.

RIP Chinx.