A 38-year-old Jersey-born rap veteran who is a certified member of Mensa, Chino XL has called L.A. his home for a decade and a half. "I feel like there's more space, metaphorically, because there's space physically," XL says.
"Whenever Jesus was tempted or looking for clarity, he went to the desert. You can really wrangle the writing muses here. I've lived in Jersey, and there's inspiration there, but inspiration is more accessible out here because it's quieter. I did my last album with no outside stimulus, like a complete deprivation tank, with my mind turning in on itself. I kind of dig that. Also, the Latino communities have embraced me so wholeheartedly that they've made me work much harder to rep them in hip-hop."
He's built a loyal following on the West Coast for his intense lyrics, a following he'll expand when he visits Phoenix's long-running WTFunk night at the Stray Cat, performing tracks from his latest, RICANstruction: The Black Rosary, which unflinchingly touches on subjects including his daughter's cancer and his own suicide attempt. Despite the brutal subject matter, XL remains willing to work with his listeners: "I think that [it's] very, very crucial that I can be followed. I don't try to challenge the listener as much as I open up my arms and say, 'Walk with me.'" -- Chaz Kangas