It’s been seven years and four months since 2 Chainz dropped T.R.U. REALigion, the mixtape right before his debut album that helped catapult his career as a solo artist. Like many mixtapes of that time, it was rugged and the hi-hats were raspy. 2 Chainz was still incredibly loud and boisterous.
But with each project since, he’s become increasingly calm and collected. His signature recital of his name is more subtle, he’s traded in a slew of impressive punchlines for personal storytelling and he’s become more tailored in his artistry. From including interludes to changing the producers and artists he works with, he is not nearly as short-sighted.
On Rap or Go to the League, 2 Chainz’s fifth studio album, the 41-year-old fully leverages his age as a tool to learn from his journey, be grateful for the highs and lows and promote a continuous state of positivity, while encouraging others to do the same.
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The first three tracks are all soul beats — a change of pace that complements him well, as his style of storytelling isn’t glitzy or overdone. Think of it as sitting down with a dad or an uncle and listening to them reminisce.
He talks about his wife more on this album, dedicating the Ariana Grande-featured “Rule The World” to her. He name-drops celebrities he used to sell drugs to on “Statute of Limitations.” On “I Said Me,” he remarks that he must keep his lyrics more respectable, now that his kids listen to him.
“Got a phone call from Lil’ Fate/ Somebody shot his son, he didn’t make it/ My head achin’, hands started shakin’/ Foul beyond flagrant,” he raps on “Forgiven.”
9th Wonder produces “Threat 2 Society,” the beat that’s “hard enough to put Jay on it.” 2 Chainz has openly voiced his respect for the Roc Nation founder, and wanted him to contribute to the album, but was passed over. On the chorus, he raps “Never get the credit I deserve/ I don’t know if you hearin’ every word,” a sentiment that has followed him his whole career.
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The industry’s inclination to overlook him has always been puzzling. On this project, much like all the others, he showcases his knack for infectious hooks and melodies, his crafty wordplay and his ability to effortlessly condense several flows in a few bars, in the same way as Lil Wayne and Kendrick Lamar — both of whom are featured on the album.
“NCAA” is the kind of trunk-rattling staple 2 Chainz has become known for, which wouldn’t be complete without a flex or two: “I got the pool right by the beach, yeah, yeah/ My n—- said, ‘Fool, that’s the ocean.’” It briefly takes you back seven years and four months to the breakout project that was T.R.U. REALigion. And despite not always being taken seriously, 2 Chainz is far from where he was, with a linear path of growth ahead.