Review: ‘Rap or Go to the League’

The Atlanta rapper continues to exhibit the evolution of ignorant 2 Chainz to mature 2 Chainz, but sacrifices replay value in the process.

No rapper has experienced quite the career like 2 Chainz. Contrary to popular belief, 2 Chainz emerged in the early 2000s as Tity Boi, half of the Playaz Circle duo signed to Ludacris’ Disturbing Tha Peace label. It wasn’t until 2012 when 2 Chainz underwent a total rebrand and grasped immediate success through singles such as “No Lie”, “Birthday Song” and “I’m Different”. The zany, comedic approach 2 Chainz adopted is an overlooked precursor to the modern trends of rap today; Lil Pump, Young Thug and Ski Mask the Slump God all inspired by Chainz’s most infamous lines (“She got a big booty so I call her Big Booty”). Nowadays, 2 Chainz is far past the ploy that put him on the map, evolving into a respectable rapper focused on delivering memorable albums.

2 Chainz’s fifth album continues to showcase the rapper’s detachment from his past gimmicks. However, the album’s compelling message grapples with the task of translating into memorable songs.

The crux of Rap or Go to the League is the refusal to be pinned by the typical career expectations of a black man. Tauheed Epps has experienced both sides of the stereotype, a 6ft4 college kid aspiring to reach the NBA before pursuing a career in rap. 2 Chainz selectively paints this picture on the album’s best tracks, resulting in the most compelling content of his career without reaching its full potential.

Rap or Go to the League ensures there is a bit of every version of 2 Chainz. Throwbacks to the Based on a T.R.U. Story era are scattered across the tracklist (“Statue of Limitations”, “2 Dolla Bill”, “NCAA”), as well as the entertaining nods to vintage hip hop (“Threat 2 Society”, “Money in the Way”). Upon closer observation, the classic Chain-isms that define the MC’s ridiculous personality exist. “NCAA” is a signature 2 Chainz song as well as the centrepiece of the album, featuring plenty of outlandish lines to cup the youthful hook (“I use good pussy like it’s lotion” / “I’m playing with the clit like a guitar”). Young Thug’s own eccentricity carries “High Top Versace”, dropping quotables that are sure to validate his abilities as a rapper (“Take the tint off the coupe, keep it fishbowl / In the summertime my rings keep my fist cold”).

To its detriment, Rap or Go to the League is a top-heavy album. After a consistent first half, the second half sees a dip in quality and replay value. 2 Chainz channels his inner Fabolous on “Rule the World”, a song from the vault of 2000s R&B crossovers. Although the song is listenable, Ariana Grande struggles to reproduce the R&B authenticity a vocalist like an Amerie or Aaliyah could. The bubblegum rap continues on “Girl’s Best Friend”, the ROGTTL equivalent to PGLTM‘s “It’s a Vibe” that is as forgettable as its subject suggests. “Momma I Hit a Lick” is a promising collaboration with Kendrick Lamar that falls short of its potential. The Pharrell-produced beat is not rewarded with a memorable hook, concept or substance, especially from Lamar’s verse. Classic samples are awkwardly assembled on “I Said Me” without purpose, specifically the “My Favourite Things” sample obstructing the brilliance of Chainz’s verses.

With every album, 2 Chainz reminds listeners he is a certified hitman. Rap or Go to the League searches for that solidified hit that never arrives. The Travis Scott collaboration “Whip” is the album’s best shot, but positions Travis Scott to take the three-pointer. Scott rarely puts his best foot forward when it comes to features, and “Whip” is another example of a flat guest performance. “Proud” featuring YG and Offset would have served as the album’s standout hit if included, a rare instance of 2 Chainz (or the album’s ‘A&R’ LeBron James) dropping the ball for song selection.

Rap or Go to the League roams in the middle ground of 2 Chainz providing classic 2 Chainz and finding a formula for translating mature messages into memorable songs. The first half built a promising foundation, however the underwhelming second half demonstrates that album concept is neither in the booth nor the court.

Rating: 6 / 10

Favourite tracks: “NCAA”, “High Top Versace”, “Money in the Way”, “Threat 2 Society”, “Statue of Limitations”

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