(By: Tommy Rodriguez)
While not a full slam dunk, 2 Chainz’ latest studio album has the finesse of a smooth layup.
2 Chainz is larger than life, literally and musically. An ex-NCAA basketball player and street hustler, the 6’5 Atlanta native has far more up his sleeve than a crossover dribble. He has both the brute force of a center and dexterity of a guard on the mic, spitting some of the most hilarious and head knocking verses that the rap scene has known in the past 8 years. Similar to how basketball and drug dealing is all about the hustle (as detailed in the album we’re reviewing today), the man demonstrates his impressive work ethic throughout his musical and business endeavors: he can promote his upcoming albums by selling Versace high tops and giving pedicures to rap loving hotties within his own pink trap house. Watch any interview of his, and it is clear that the 41-year-old Tauheed Epps is far more mature and calculating than his silly punchlines would suggest. This is all but confirmed on Rap or Go to the League, 2 Chainz’ latest studio album. As a business move it’s nothing short of ingenious, tying its core concept of shooting baskets and bullets with an assist from LeBron freaking James on A&R; as a musical move, it’s one of Chainz’ most mature and soulful efforts yet, perfectly matching the prospering acumen of its creator.
Rap or Go to the League is very much 2 Chainz’ very own basketball biopic; he’s the star of his own show here, with a few helping hands that help push the message of growth and choice that he tries to develop over the album’s 45 minute runtime. Opener “Forgiven” is surprisingly forlorn and moody for an album opener, but sets the scene perfectly as Chainz reflects on his past life as a baller looking for an exit out of his tragedy-riddled life: the soulful hook from Marsha Ambrosius over the turntable scratches and ethereal samples make for a great tip off to the album, grabbing us immediately. The first quarter of the album is dominated by Chainz, as he makes lyrical 3 pointers in the form of the bars riding on cheerful keys and celebratory chipmunk vocals in “Threat 2 Society”; Buddha Bless’s jazzy horn loops and trap percussion on “Money in the Way” is honey to the ears as 2 Chainz continues celebrating his decision to embrace his creativity in the rap game. Chainz’ first quarter domination culminates in the skeletal and bass thumping “Statue of Limitations”, a hard left turn that reminds us Chainz can go hard in the paint as an ex drug dealer and ex athlete. These moments, both soulful and skeletal, prove Chainz has an ambidextrous handle on Atlanta trap music, capable of bursting out his trademark one liners over any kind of instrumental.
The second quarter of 2 Chainz’ basketball game was definitely as hot at the first, featuring more appearances from the supporting cast on the album. LeBron James made for a good coach here, making some great draft pickups in Young Thug, Travis Scott, and Kendrick Lamar. “High Top Versace” features one of the most eccentric and catchy Thugger performances in a while, while “Whip” features an interesting cacophony of percussion and bells as its instrumental. On the latter track, Travis rides the beat smoothly as the point guard, giving 2 Chainz the alley-oop for some hilarious lyrical showcases. Despite its controversial status, I didn’t mind the Kendrick Lamar feature on the tribal “Momma I Hit a Lick”; Lamar’s feature was interesting in its constantly shifting volume, but I found far more enjoyment in the dark atmosphere and chorus of the track. It was absolutely nasty.
While the first half of the album was indeed a success for Chainz and his star studded team, the number of points they scored were definitely less in the second half, mainly due to Chainz and his producers occasionally employing flimsy instrumentals and verses. “Girl’s Best Friend” sounds like an absolute reach for the strip club, but the overly simplistic and glossy instrumental doesn’t help accentuate Ty Dolla $ign’s underperformed hook. Chainz’ performance is seriously lacking too; despite his many talents as a rapper, he should never use auto tune in the way it was used here. “I’m Not Crazy, Life Is” is as cumbersome a track as its title suggests: the instrumental is too airy to really catch my attention, Chance the Rapper’s tired delivery makes it sound like he played ten full pickup games before arriving to the studio, and Kodak Black’s autotune sounds horribly pitched along the beat. “2 Dollar Bill” is pure cheese as a track; perhaps it was supposed to be, as it features veterans Lil Wayne and E-40 making plays with Chainz to see who can drop the funniest bar. While many lines are hilarious (“Rare like a 2 Dollar Bill!”), the sheer volume of jokes means that some’ll miss the hoop. And too many do.
There are a few glimmers of hope in this side of the album, however: Ariana Grande’s contributions on “Rule the World” make for a much better Ariana and Chainz collab than on “7 Rings (Remix)”, and the operatic “I Said Me” is a great deep dive into Chainz’ relationship with his past and present. The game slowed down in the second half, but overall, Chainz and LeBron came out on top with a solid record.
The duality of 2 Chainz is perfectly represented on Rap or Go to the League, especially on two of its true standouts. With one massive foot in his past and one in his present, Chainz is moving forward as a more reflective artist while still trying to craft some of the funniest bangers imaginable on “NCAA” and “Sam”. The former is a bombastic, overblown, and bass throttling basketball banger about getting paper and women that features some of Chainz most catchy and funny bars to date, representative of his more overblown persona in the past. “Sam” is possibly the most conscious 2 Chainz has ever gotten, as he monologues about the effects of taxes on his community and finances; it’s a more self serious 2 Chainz than we’ve known, and shows that through all his high flying antics and slam dunks, the man once named Tity Boi going to try for more than just being a good ball player and rapper in the now. Sure, it’s a bit traditional and a bit corny, but Chainz shows heart on the court. He’s aiming for the top, and will use whatever skills he has in his toolset to get to the rim.
Tracks to Save: “Forgiven”, “Threat 2 Society”, “High Top Versace”, “NCAA”, “I Said Me”, “Sam”, “Momma I Hit a Lick”
Tracks to Skip: “Girl’s Best Friend”, “I’m Not Crazy, Life Is”