Since 2011, 2 Chainz has been a proven rap-feature savant, thanks to dazzling performances on Drake’s “All Me,” A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problems,” and of course, his torrid outburst on G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy.” Despite his reliability and brilliance, Chainz has had trouble storming the best-rapper-alive conversation. He’s had quality singles, “I’m Different” and “Birthday Sex,” but Chainz’s show-stealing features have often overshadowed his solo efforts. Reveling in that underdog spirit of competition, 2 Chainz’s readied his latest, Rap or Go to the League, with a twist, tabbing arguably sports’ most revered athlete, LeBron James, to A&R his fifth album.
Rap or Go to the League finds 2 Chainz parked between his adoration for bars and hoops. For the opening seconds of “Forgiven,” he retrieves audio from his high school basketball days to help shape the poignant track. Anchored by Marsha Ambrosius’ soaring vocals, Chainz reflects on the passing of Lil Fate’s son, who was killed in 2014. Shaken by the demise, Chainz attempts to help his brother-in-war by suggesting prayer as an answer.
“He said, ‘Bro, what I’m supposed to do?’/I paused, remorseful/We been partners since public school/Kids ain’t supposed to die before us/As a parent, it’s apparent, ain’t no parents/Seeing stops once we leave the carriage,” raps Chainz.
On ROGTTL, the rapper formerly known as Tity Boi never strays too much from his reflective side, which proves to be a winning move. Whether he’s schooling college kids on the importance of being compensated on “NCAA” or advising listeners to be wary of the government’s greed on “Sam,” the 41-year-old keeps us enthralled with his wisdom. Honesty continues to be a hallmark for the “No Lie” rapper, as he also details his conversation with Diddy about his agony of paying taxes. “You know, that’s when I first started gettin’ some money, I’m like ‘They want me to pay like two million in taxes.’ That boy Diddy said, ‘I had to pay a hundred.'”
Don’t get it twisted, Chainz isn’t on an unrelenting quest to preach to the choir about preserving checks. On the 9th Wonder-produced “Threat 2 Society,” Chainz zaps listeners with his steely confidence: “Natural disasters, all these emotional rappers/Master of my own fate and I own my own masters.” He later drubs the competition with a heavy one-liner that’ll certainly catch the ear of rap’s G.O.A.T. Shawn Carter: “This beat hard enough to put Jay on.”
Despite those hard-hitting jabs, Chainz manages to whiff on a couple of lines, most notably on “2 Dollar Bill,” where he raps: “Yeah, my homie is a Crip/Seafood, and you is a shrimp.” Still, even when Chainz airballs on his lyrics, you can’t help but laugh.
In addition to the the star-heavy feature list, Chainz does an admirable job of handpicking his producers for ROGTTL. With a line-up that includes 9th Wonder, DJ Mustard, Pharrell, and Wondagurl, Tity Boi’s decision to go big or go home allows him to execute a strong album, sonically. Oddly enough, one of the album’s best tracks, “Money in the Way,” comes from two less hyped names: Jabz and Buddah Bless. Though the track lacks glitz in terms of a big-name feature, the addictive horn sample from The Three Degrees’ “Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me,” lets Chainz float.
On the R&B-tinged “Rule the World,” featuring pop juggernaut Ariana Grande, Chainz doesn’t allow her presence, or the Amerie “Why Don’t Fall in Love” sample, to limit his shine. Instead, Chainz skates on the summery Hitmaka record, giving lovebirds much-needed motivation to conquer the universe.
As rap continues to be a young man’s sport, watching a veteran like 2 Chainz slash and dash his way into the pantheon of modern day greats, especially with a well-rounded album, bodes well for rappers of his age bracket.