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2 Chainz has always made solid albums, but he’s never been outwardly perceived as much of an album artist. Since his mainstream rebirth with 2011’s T.R.U. REALigion, the artist formerly known as Tity Boi has always given us solid projects—and that goes for albums, mixtapes, and even EPs like Hibachi for Lunch or last year’s Rap or Go to the League sampler which birthed “Proud.” Even his heavy radio-skewing debut, Based on a Tru Story, has album cut gems like “Stop Me Now,” to say nothing of BOATS II, which the enlightened know is his best album. Or at least it was his best album, until this week.
Rap or Go to the League has all of the different facets of 2 Chainz that we love, working in harmony at high levels for the first time. Chainz has always had the ability to smoke not just your favorite rapper, but a whole posse cut full of them, and he has a parallel sensibility for communicating genius and wit with accessible simplicity. Dumbed down for his audience, he doubled his dollars. On Rap or Go to the League, 2 Chainz reclaims his agency with more focus, more maturity, and elite execution.
Rap or Go to the League is the sound of Chainz comfortably settling into his role as Uncle Tit.
Instead of relegating introspection to a few album tracks, the project’s thematic concerns take center stage. Chainz tries to break his own 4:44 veteran-turned-teacher game to the youth, who see the album’s title as the only two options out, thus settling for a third more dangerous path: “Had a deal on the table from Arm & Hammer, I was gon' sign to 'em,” as he says on “Whip It.” By track two he’s admitting he once sold to his own mother. References to social issues like unarmed police shootings abound. At the top of the album he’s flexing about owning his own masters, and by closing, he’s giving tax advice while complaining about his own bracket, which by this point is a Big Homie veteran rite of passage. Having recently turned 41, Rap or Go to the League is the sound of Chainz comfortably settling into his role as Uncle Tit, he who can espouse wife-and-kids raps (shoutout Keisha) alongside show-you-how game and big-money flexing.
Embracing maturity hasn’t hindered his ability for crafting slappers raucously boisterous (“NCAA”), incomprehensibly jiggy (“Girl’s Best Friend,” my God), and club-ready (“2 Dollar Bill,” which is basically an “I’m Different” spiritual sequel). But even orchestrating his biggest pop crossover yet with an Ariana Grande feature doesn’t catch Chainz compromising quality for reach—that song would be among the album’s best five, with or without its beautiful Ameriie flip.
The subtext of the album is 2 Chainz’s underrated status, even in lieu of a reputation that boasts endless quotables and classic feature verses. Sometimes he renders it plain text: “Threat 2 Society” features the refrain, “I don’t get the credit I deserve/I don’t know if you hearing every word.” But for the most part, Chainz wisely opts to show and prove, rather than tell, with a spiteful chip on his shoulder.
The album’s production, features, sequencing, and songwriting are even more manicured than his past projects. “Threat,” the same track where he bemoans being underrated also features a literal invitation for Jay-Z to rappel in “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” style and continue his run of upper-echelon guest verses. It ends up being a missed opportunity on Jigga’s part for not joining in, but with Chainz flowing his ass off over premium 9th Wonder production, it’s still a contender for best song on the album. It’s unclear exactly what insights and suggestions A&R LeBron contributed to the album, but if soliciting 9th Wonder, or inspiring feature ideas like E-40 alongside Weezy, or Chance and Kodak, then salute that man. (And we still have a deluxe edition to look forward to!)
The album’s title nods to the binary set of options that black youth have for escaping their circumstances and bettering their families—both long shots. The album nods to the oft-explored duality that comes from following either path. When it comes to Tauheed Epps, we know that his backstory featured a sliding door with equal opportunity for both, plus a third option via a 4.0 grade average… and a fourth, much darker path. “I Said Me,” the album’s thematic centerpiece, confronts the many multitudes of 2 Chainz head-on with a classically blunt, in-your-face Tity Boi hook. Drug dealer, killer, real nigga, yacht-owning entrepreneur. Elite rapper.