Review – Thi’sl – Chronicles of an X-Hustler
From an unmatched infatuation with countless gangster films (namely Scarface) and countless infamous criminals, its an understatement to say that hip-hop culture idolizes street life, hustling, and ultimately, the persona of the gangster. Because of this obsession, its always a much needed (and much welcomed) offering when an artist, instead of glorifying the gangster persona, takes a stand to expose the glorified persona for what it truly is. This is exactly what Thisls, second album, Chronicles of an X-Hustler does, and in fact much more.
Chronicles of an X-Hustler is a real, raw, gritty, and moving portrayal of the street life of a hustler/gangster. It is not the glamorized hustlers tale youre used to hearing from Lil Whats His Name and Young So and So; Chronicles of an X-Hustler is real in its depiction of the streets because it actually details the harrowing consequences of hustling and slanging–while constantly uplifting the gospel of Christ as the ultimate, necessary solution to life in the streets.
At 16 tracks long, Chronicles is an unrelenting look at the urban context (aka the hood) as Thisl vividly recounts his life as a hustler on the streets of St. Louis. Any examination of the hood has to start with the problem of the ubiquitously glorified gangsta/hustler, which is a persona rooted in hustling, which is totally dependent on substances, namely, crack. This is right where Thisl begins Chronicles, with a jarring intro titled, Set the Scene–Birth. As soon as you hear this intro, you know youre in for a gritty examination of the streets. Set the Scene–Birth is the proverbial change-up that perfectly sets you up to be blown away by the heater which comes in the form of the following joint, I Hate You (Crack).
I Hate You (Crack) is an incredible song, not just for its thick, banging beat, but for Thisls heartfelt passion and conviction in despising both his days as a dealer and his hatred for the substance thats ruined countless lives, families, and communities. While the majority of rappers get rich off fictitious rhymes about how many kilos they move, Thisl condemns it all. If only more artists spoke truth like Thisl does on this joint! Whats most telling about this track is that Thisl doesnt stop with just a condemnation of crack, but ties everything into a gospel proclamation with his final verse. More than just a gripping picture of his hustling days, this track and this album is about seeing Christ through Thisls hood tales and bringing the gospel to the hustlers, dealers, bangers, and of course, the listener.
Equipped with a thick, raspy delivery and a simple but a crisp flow, Thisl takes the listener on tour through the hood with gripping tales of street violence on the dark and excellently produced street tale, LifeLine and the poignant memorial track, Picture on a Shirt. With both songs, Thisl proves to be a compelling storyteller as he highlights the endless cycle of street violence while placing Jesus as the only remedy for salvation and restoration.
Looking at the tracklist, youd figure the hardest anthem of the album would be I Aint Turning Back featuring fellow STL native, Flame. Wrong. Instead, its On My Grind with Brotha Tone. Backed by one of the hardest beats on the album, Thisl gives some of his best verses as he vows to continue to grind by bringing Christ to the hood. The passion on this track is absolutely contagious; this missional anthem will give you a heart for bring the gospel to the hood near you, if you already werent passionate about doing so in the first place.
Wisely, Thisl slows down the pace with a couple of banger/ballad blends on Baby Girl and Youre the One, both of which featuring excellent vocal performances from Pastor AD3. The testimony of Thisl and his wife on Baby Girl is a beautiful glimpse of Gods grace through Christ as Thisl recounts their past life of hustling together and now in Christ, worshipping together.
Really, Chronicles is more than a banging album; its an incredible testimony of the power of the gospel. As Thisl recounts his life as a hustler, its increasingly apparent, track after track, that this man was once immersed in the streets and has now returned to the streets–to proclaim the same gospel that transformed his life. I Forgive You is a great example of Gods grace in Thisls life as he extents forgiveness to a locked up homey who murdered one of Thisls close friends. Powerful. The raw emotion in this track is palpable and will surely drive many listeners to tears. Thisl is transparent and bears all on this track and others like Daddy Did Me, and the effect is significant as it helps the listener see just how miraculously transforming Jesus truly is.
Given that every track on Chronicles is solid, there are very few blemishes on the album. For a project targeted at bringing Christ to the streets and the hip-hop culture at large, Chronicles is more than a success as the overall quality of the music will attract hip-hop heads of all persuasions, particularly fans of Rick Ross, Jeezy, etc. That said, the production on Still Standing and Urban Missionary while neither good or bad, both felt banal and left something to be desired. Nitpicking aside, Thisl exercised some stellar beat selection and crafted a great sound for the album thanks to the work of Alex Big Juice Hitchens (responsible for 9 tracks on album), G-Styles (Baby Girl), JR (LifeLine), and Alex Medina (Picture on A Shirt).
All in all, Chronicles is an album, that by virtue of its street edge, is incredibly accessible to non believers and hip-hop culture at large. Yet at the same time, Chronicles is uncompromisingly gospel saturated as well, making the project the type of crossover album Christian rap desperately needs more of: one that engages hip-hop culture at large, while simultaneously unpacking and proclaiming the truth of Jesus crucified and risen. Thisl really put it down on this one, folks. Be sure to pick this album up ASAP.
RELEASE DATE: August 11 2009
1. Set The Scene-Birth
2. I Hate You (Crack)
3. Windows Down
4. On My Grind (Feat. Brotha Tone)
6. I Forgive You
7. Baby Girl (Feat. Pastor AD3)
8. Urban Missionary
9. Set The Scene-Lil Homie
10. Picture On A Shirt
11. Youre The One (Feat. PastorAD3)
12. Indentity Shift-Brothers (Feat. Blair Wingo)
13. Daddy Did Me
14. Still Standing Here (Feat. Fitzgerald of Du C Zon)
15. Set The Scene-Redemption
16. I Aint Turning Back (Feat. Flame)