At first glance, Chrono Jigga seems like a gimmick. It’s almost too obvious. Chrono Trigger‘s soundtrack is widely considered the greatest game soundtrack of all time, and Jay-Z is both a popular rapper and frequent mash-up target. If someone told you about a video game soundtrack/hip-hop artist mash-up, this is would be the most likely prediction. Yet Chrono Jigga, a project by Lexington, KY based producer and rapper 2 Mello, doesn’t merely transcend the obvious to become good—it cleverly subverts and exposes the tensions of the source material and becomes great.
While many mashups fail from the get go, lazily changing the speed of the vocals until they line up and calling it a day, 2 Mello instead focuses primarily on Jay-Z’s rapping, aligning the performances with Chrono Trigger tracks, then cutting and repeating to construct the song. On the first piece, “Public Chrono Announcement,” 2 Mello first allows the song’s tension to build using the Chrono Trigger theme, but as Jay-Z’s rapping speeds up, repeats the first few fast-paced notes of the song’s intro rapid-fire. While not quite as good as the Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album, Chrono Jigga is near-worthy of that comparison.
Through a few sampled quotes and some his own writing 2 Mello reveals his ambivalence towards Jay-Z’s lifestyle and its effects on society. But towards the middle of the album—“Ignorant Shit,” “What More Can I Say,” “99 Problems,” and “Say Hello To The Bad Guy”—he playfully lets Jay-Z describe the ambivalence he himself feels about his music’s popularity. The revealed Shawn Carter is a man who understands the his words as almost meaningless when comparison to the systematic oppression faced by the urban blacks he associates himself with directly with “we” and “us.” 2 Mello reinforces brilliantly these messages through the Chrono Trigger songs he attaches to Jay-Z’s. Most are playful, setting the emotions of the game entertainingly at odds with the text of the lyrics. “Ignorant Shit,” Jay-Z’s defiant rejoinder to the blame that hip hop culture received for the racist attacks on Don Imus (“I missed the part where this stopped being about Imus/what do my lyrics have to do with this shit”) is paired with the haunting simplicity of Chrono Trigger‘s “Wind Scene,” the overworld music from 600 A.D.. The poignant choice in song serves to expose the pain and frustration at the heart of Jay-Z’s defiance.
Alternately, “99 Problems,” perhaps the most mash-up-able song of all time, is paired with “Frog’s Theme”, to stellar effect. The snarl and casual sexism of the original track takes on a tragic, epic tone. The climax of the song, during which Jay-Z argues with a racist cop about being pulled over, acted as a punch line in the original track, changing an anti-woman premise into an anti-racist screed. With Frog’s music, it’s reminiscent of an exhausted end to a long battle, as if to say this is Jay-Z’s greatest role in the war.
Chrono Jigga doesn’t make revelations about Jay-Z in its channeling of Chrono Trigger. It also questions the game as well. 2 One track, entitled “Marle, Lucca, Schala” is a mash up of Schala’s theme music with Jay-Z’s casually sexist/racist party anthem “Girls, Girls, Girls.” While it’s amusing to have one of the sadder tracks in the game combined with one of Jay-Z’s most inane, there’s a smart, sly implication that Chrono Trigger employs the use of stereotypes much like a young Jay-Z did—the track’s name reflects the common JRPG tropes of nerdy girl, the sporty girl, and the sad girl, fairly common JRPG tropes.
The wit and skill that went into the making of Chrono Jigga have combined to create a showcase album for 2 Mello. The end-product would be achievement enough, but in also turning the album into an analysis of Jay-Z as an artist, he’s achieved something special. Be sure to check out all the tracks over at the Bandcamp page.