Chinx | Music That Never Dies
Posted on July 25 2021
Pick up any New York City brochure and you’ll likely see all of the familiar sites: the bustling Times Square epicenter, pistachio-green Statue of Liberty, towering Empire State Building. But beyond the tourist traps lies a darker beast that rumbles even louder than the subway cars that outline its skeleton. High in crime and low in income, it’s an underworld that can either swallow you whole or leave you hardened like its gum-stained sidewalks. For Queens rapper Chinx, the outcome was the latter. And with his debut album, Welcome To JFK, he’s giving you a first-person peek into his city’s rougher crevices. “You're definitely gonna hear that New York shit all up in there,” says the next-up on French Montana’s Coke Boys imprint. “Come into my world. I’ve got so many stories.”
Chinx’s narrative treks the streets, makes a pitstop in prison and finds the rapper reemerged as one of hip-hop’s most anticipated rising acts. It all starts in the rough Far Rockaway blocks, where the smell of Pine-Sol and rich sounds of Mom’s old-school soul music characterized a young Chinx’s household, temporarily overpowering the drug-strung streets outside. But even more than Sam Cooke slow jams, N.W.A.’s debut album Straight Outta Compton awoke his impressionable mind, exposing him to hip-hop’s raw-and-uncut realism. “They were talking so freely -- profanity and all,” remembers Chinx (born Lionel Pickens) of his introduction to rap. “That kept me playing that same album over and over.” He began putting pen to paper years later, imitating the flows and mafioso rhymes of fellow Queens MC Nas’ sophomore album It Was Written at age 12. “I wanted to be down with The Firm so bad,” says Chinx, who’d also embrace the aesthetics of Three 6 Mafia, Wu-Tang Clan and Master P.
All the while, Chinx was learning the art of the hustle. Legitimate schemes like packing grocery bags for shoppers upgraded to phony fundraisers and, finally, drug sales. He spent the illicit funds on recording time in small studios in Long Island, where he’d vent the vicious realities of the streets onto wax before even reaching high school. In 2002, he linked with Stack Bundles, a close childhood friend who was building a local buzz as a lyricist. Together, along with neighborhood spitters Bynoe and Cau2Gs, they formed the Riot Squad. But Chinx’s momentum came to a halt three years later, when he began serving a 3.5-year sentence at Mid-State Correctional Facility. While Chinx was locked up, Stack was killed, devastating the incarcerated MC while igniting his drive to carry on his slain friend’s music legacy. Once he came home in 2008, he met French Montana through burgeoning Harlem rapper Max B, one of Stack’s former partners in rhyme. French and Chinx bonded through their tireless work ethic, waving the Coke Boys flag and fostering a true musical movement. “Our whole game plan was to flood the streets, just keep working,” says Chinx, who’s released volumes of mixtapes including the Cocaine Riot and Coke Boys series. “We kept putting music out and people started demanding that shit.”
By 2012, Chinx struck an undeniable hit with the de facto crew anthem “I’m A Coke Boy,” which grew so popular that Rick Ross and Diddy hopped on the remix, setting airwaves ablaze in the U.S. and beyond for much of 2013. He continued building his stock a year later with “Feelings,” a breezy vent session that’s as catchy as it is blunt. “These are my thoughts, my stories, my feelings -- I just give you what my eyes see,” says Chinx, whose tight flows evoke a New York vibe evolved from hip-hop’s golden era. “I don’t have a style. I’m a student of hip-hop, always trying to figure out the next sound to make everybody bop. I just want to have fun with this music.”
Chinx is set to show just how captivating he can be with Welcome To JFK, its name a nod to his own airplane tats and the world-famous airport located just a minutes from his native stomping grounds. With a malleable style, he plans to satisfy all appetites on his debut studio album. “It’s like a plate of food: You got your steak, potatoes, greens -- you're gonna have everything,” says Chinx, whose Welcome To JFK will feature French Montana and Rick Ross. “If you’re not trying to change to game, why are you in it?”