For the best part of a decade, 2 Chainz has been obliterating guest verses with an admirable consistency. Whenever the Georgia rapper pops up on a track, you know it’s going to be worth your time, with 2 Chainz providing endless cartoonish, quotable lines (my personal favourite: “Got a bottle of cologne that cost more than your rent”) that are by equal parts hysterical and heartfelt.
But even though 2 Chainz has been prolific as a guest rapper, he’s yet to release the kind of classic solo album that will truly solidify his status as a top-tier rapper. This is something he’s hoping to change with ‘Rap Or Go To The League’, a record that suggests that his talent is finally starting to catch up with all his hard work.
Executive produced by basketball star LeBron James, this record displays obvious artistic growth right from the jump. On the heartening ‘Forgiven’, 2 Chainz compares drug dealing to being a professional athlete, while touchingly referencing the untimely death of a friend’s son (he mournfully raps, “Kids ain’t supposed to die before us”). Later, on ‘Sam’, he claims that the US tax system funds racist cops, and prioritises this over nurturing the futures of black youth: “See, the education levels ’round here don’t exist / Taxes pay 12 but don’t pay ’em to kill the kids”. These are more adult themes than you might expect from 2 Chainz, who proves his range as a lyricist and suggests he’s happy to settle into being an elder statesman, as Jay-Z did previously with ‘4:44’.
Thankfully, the rapper’s trademark nutty turn-of-phrase hasn’t completely disappeared with this decision to explore more serious subject matter. The menacing keys of ‘Statue of Limitations’ inspire trademark ludicrous bars about taking “wealthies” instead of “selfies”, and ‘Money In The Way’ and ‘NCAA’ are both playful anthems impossible not to smile along to. The latter has a flow not too dissimilar from Sheck Wes’ catchy hit ‘Mo Bamba’, but with much better lyrics, as 2 Chainz ludicrously promises to “play the clit like a guitar”.
The fact the record’s high-profile guests (which include Young Thug, Chance The Rapper and Kendrick Lamar) go beyond phoned-in verses, each giving their A-game, also shows just how much 2 Chainz is respected by his peers. Every guest seems aware that the rapper is capable of outshining them, and so they work hard to match his witty energy.
‘Rap Or Go To The League’ falls short when 2 Chainz makes obvious grabs for radio smashes. The Ariana Grande-featuring ‘Rule The World’ is a generic pop single on which he lazily talks about women as trophies, while ‘Girl’s Best Friend’ has a flat, synthetic beat and a cheesy hook. But even if the album does occasionally slip, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Sure, in terms of quality, ‘Rap Or Go To The League’ isn’t the classic album that 2 Chainz craves, but – on this evidence – he’s not far from delivering one.