2 Chainz’s Rap Or Go To The League is an interesting addition to the rapper’s catalog. Where Pretty Girls Like Trap Music helped propel his artistry, imbuing his work with a visionary’s authenticity, this project finds him examining his story thus far with a newfound authoritative tone. Hindsight and perspective are important tools in Tity Boi’s arsenal. The man who once called her “big booty” is good and grown. It’s safe to say that his prowess as an emcee has mirrored his evolution. Now, as a wizened OG bred from the streets of College Park, 2 Chainz has taken his maturation to the booth.
With LeBron James enjoying his first turn as an A&R, the album already feels soaked in prestige. Given 2 Chainz’ own penchant for wealth, it’s no surprise that Rap Or Go To The League is lavish in its sonic aesthetic. Instrumentals ring out with a notable shine, even those evocative of a simpler, sample-driven era. As such, an interesting juxtaposition is created between the production and the subject matter. Street reflections don’t sound as harrowing over meticulously designed beats. That’s not to belittle 2 Chainz’ own experiences; in fact, the duality between his past and present make for a tangible reminder of his progress. As he raps in album closer “Sam,” he’s been on both sides of the fence – both chain-link and white-picket. In that sense, Rap Or Go To The League’s rags-to-riches narrative unfolds in unexpected ways.
On that note, 2 Chainz is an admirable, if somewhat prone to minimalism, storyteller. At times, his depictions of his come-up are stark and well-realized. The opening pair of tracks are among the most effective, with “Forgiven” finding him reflecting on the murder of Lil Fate’s son. “My head achin’, hands started shakin’, foul beyond flagrant,” raps 2 Chainz, characteristically laid-back. “He said, “Bro, what I’m supposed to do?” I paused, remorseful.” There’s a sense of distance in his approach that makes his emotional nature difficult to read. He’s clearly haunted by what his darker chapters indicate, though seeing as they shaped him into the man he is today, there’s a noted lack of resentment. At most, Tity sounds resigned, more likely to shrug than sob.
Don’t get it twisted. His words are hardly dulled. Songs like “NCAA” find him tackling the album’s dominant theme of perceived futility, at least where the inner-city trajectory is concerned. Yet 2 Chainz has never been one to belabor a point. He often deals in non-sequitur, padding his more poignant statements with a marginally related tangent. “They say, “You better have a good grade like a mixed baby hair,” they say, “We goin’ to the tournament, we gonna need you there,” he raps. “I have more crab legs than Jameis, You fake like you got a girlfriend, Manti Te’o.” While the lines are thematically connected through the namedropping of athletes, the first half of the stanza is decidedly more nuanced than the latter half. For that reason, 2 Chainz’ deeper concepts occasionally stagger, as he seems to trail off at the height of an engaging reflection.
Sometimes, his freeform style works to his advantage. An underrated punchline aficionado, 2 Chainz sharp comedic mind is responsible for plenty of dry witticisms. There’s also something to be said about the autobiographical “Statute Of Limitations,” which finds him reflecting on his days as a celebrity pusher (the reality show that never was), selling product to Lil Jon, Young Buck, Raekwon, and Rick Ross; the brazen nature of the writing speaks to his credibility, and respect among his peers. As an emcee, 2 Chainz is consistent across the board, bringing enough technical respect for the craft to counterbalance his wandering mind. Still, there’s a simple brilliance to his linguistic touch, as evidenced by such gems as “they threw me out to the wolves, the wolves threw me back,” and “If I take a selfie then it’s a wealthy,” with the latter reeking of dad-joke charm. Such is part of his appeal; a class clown-turned-valedictorian.
In that sense, 2 Chainz makes for an endearing and wise tour guide throughout the scope of the fourteen track experience. A journeyman presence prone to occasional flourishes of brilliance, 2 Chainz has offered up an enjoyable project on his fifth go-around. Rap Or Go To The League blends crisp bangers with moments of vulnerability, made all-the-more poignant by Tity’s guarded nature. Though the peaks don’t soar to such lofty heights as Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, the project remains a welcome addition to 2 Chainz’s expansive catalog. Informative without being didactic, 2 Chainz’ OG syllabus provides a deeper insight into one of hip-hop’s most regal figures.