"The ten-thousand-hour-rule" is an idea popularized by renowned idea-popularizer Malcolm Gladwell. He based this rule on a chess study published four decades ago in American Scientist by Herbert Simon and William Chase. The two argued that in highly complex cognitive fields like chess, a "master" of the game had spent 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at the chess board. Gladwell argued: "Achievement is talent plus preparation." But that the preparation aspect of that equation was considerably more important than ‘natural-born talent’: "In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals."
In the rap game, a cognitively demanding field if there ever was one, 2 Chainz epitomizes the ten-thousand-hour rule. He’s a rapper whose music represents the victory of craft and will over any obstacle, whose ambition is the perfection of a formula he mastered years before. His art is a deep, refreshing well of low-brow humor. God gave him height and a jump shot. But he is a self-made MC, a punchline machine who churns out man-out-of-time dad jokes, steals songs from less experienced MCs, and ultimately knocks out the competition with the perfectly imperfect punchline, one as likely to trigger an eyeroll as a belly laugh ("My dick up like ‘Nice to meet ya!’").
2 Chainz latest album, B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, has an unwieldy title appropriate for the gangly, unconventional rap star. The album is more consistent than his first, 2012’s Based on a T.R.U. Story. In one sense, it is a perfect 2 Chainz album. This is 2013; labels can no longer trick the people (so the thinking goes) into buying a project on the basis of a couple singles and a bunch of filler. So B.O.A.T.S. II is the ultimate iteration of 2 Chainz, album artist. The production sounds like the platonic ideal of a popular rap record in 2013, the kind of thing you would have heard on thirty other rap records this year if major labels still released that many rap records. Instead, it is unique for being one of the only records to mainstream the sound of current club and street rap, to push it on a major label stage.
The best example is one of the album’s highlights: "I Do It," a feature for Drake and Lil Wayne, transforms the underground ATL street rap sounds of D. Rich and Shawty Redd into a panoramic potential smash.
The best example is one of the album’s highlights: "I Do It," a feature for Drake and Lil Wayne, transforms the underground ATL street rap sounds of D. Rich and Shawty Redd into a panoramic potential smash. Similarly, newcomer Rich Homie Quan gets a high-profile platform on "Extra," which should help anoint him as his city’s easy rookie of the year, at a time when competition is sparser than usual. Meanwhile, Chicagoan and longtime Chainz affiliate Cap 1 damn near steals the record with his verse on "Where You Been."
The songs that make this a capital-A Album, though—the ones that flesh out the record, give it the breadth that was missing on his debut—are cuts like "U Da Realest" (a shoutout to fallen friends) and "Beautiful Pain" (self-explanatory), which make the case that B.O.A.T.S. II isn’t just a mix of singles and going-through-the-motions album filler. (Of course, even on these songs, 2 Chainz is still 2 Chainz. The most ridiculous lyric on the entire record appears on "U Da Realest," after all: "Rest in peace to all the soldiers that died in the service/I died in her cervix.") "So We Can Live," with T-Pain, vaguely recalls Life After Death, with its slow-tempoed story-rap over drizzling production and a scratched hook, the platonic ideal of a rap album track.
These songs are much more effective and convincing than similar attempts to add depth on Based on a T.R.U. Story, where "Ghetto Dreams" with John Legend and Scarface felt more like an obligation to be fulfilled than a moment of heartfelt 2 Chainz humanity.
But being perfect 2 Chainz album art does not make for a perfect album, because at the end of the day, the 2 Chainz persona is a fairly one-dimensional construct. Compelling album artists, from fellow Atlantan T.I. (think Trap Muzik era) to current critical golden child Kendrick Lamar, tend to craft worlds within their records. 2 Chainz strengths don’t really lay in this kind of world-building. He is a straightforward, distanced personality whose foremost strength is as a craftsman. He strips a familiar narrative we all know and cherish (He’s haunted by dreams of failing in the rap industry, which would return him to his fork and his stove and selling crack—stop us if you’ve heard this one) to its essence. On that basic framework, he hangs a bunch of quotable jokes and catchy choruses.
While B.O.A.T.S. II does feel like the best realization of 2 Chainz-as-album-artist, that is ultimately the record’s major flaw, too. The Album isn't the ideal format to channel 2 Chainz's greatest strengths. Instead, he's the ideal rapper for a Greatest Hits collection, or at the very least, an all-killer no-filler singles compilation.
While 2 Chainz sense of humor might be repeated variations of ‘low’ art, the project itself is decidedly middle-brow
Hits are the essence of 2 Chainz’s art, art which he very likely would deny is an "art" at all. If there is one constant in the 2 Chainz project, it is that it continually denies aspiring to anything remotely high-brow. It also steadfastly refuses to innovate, preferring instead to perfect previously-established templates. While 2 Chainz's punchlines might be repeated variations of ‘low’ humor, the project itself is decidedly middle-brow: it neither forges a new path, like populist "lowest-common-denominator" entertainment, nor does it aspire to anything resembling the arch or artful.
His real platform is evident on guest spots emphasizing groan-worthy, quotable wordplay. Songs that pack clubs with banging production, thanks to hooks with groan-worthy, quotable wordplay ("Thank god for the first girl that started strippin’!"). Concerts, at which he appears and jumps around the stage, feeding off the incredible energy produced by a bunch of fans who know and shout at him all of his groan-worthy, quotable wordplay ("Bust a nut on her, tell her that’s a load off!"). This is his medium, the paint to his Picasso. He makes pop songs whose lyrics you memorize, whose words imprint themselves on your brain. It’s how he’s sidled up hip-hop’s chain-of-command. As an artist whose strength, then, is singles and club bangers, naturally the best tracks are bonus cuts.
Much as "The Motto" was the best single from Drake’s album-art statement Take Care, "Livin," which features Bay Area rapper Iamsu! and a thumping, addictively minimal beat from League of Starz, is the record’s easy highlight. At least 10,000 hours worth of effort went into the creation of club tracks like this! Don't sleep.