When he appeared on Aquemini’s “Skew It on the Bar-B,” Wu-Tang Clan emcee Raekwon became the first rap feature on an OutKast album who wasn’t a member of Atlanta’s own Dungeon Family.
At the tail end of the previous track, “Rosa Parks,” Raekwon makes a profound statement:
“You gotta come, provocative nigga, know what I mean? Shit gotta be spine-tingling with mad styles and crazy dangerous I mean, bust-ya-shit-open beats, you know what I mean?”
During the brief but alluring rollout for 2 Chainz’s fifth major label studio album, Rap or Go to the League, Raekwon’s words of wisdom have been stuck in my head. Throughout his career as a solo artist, the rapper formerly known as Tity Boi has been provocative, stylistic, and indeed has tingled his fair share of spines. Over the past several summers, he's become the kind of artist who embodies The Chef’s sentiments. But to date, his head has yet to hit the ceiling.
While 2 Chainz has come close to reaching the apex of his abilities on previous albums—2017's Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, in particular—there has always appeared to be a higher tier for him to reach; another level he could ascend to.
Even without the release of a single, the man born Tauheed Epps has created a series buzz around Rap or Go to the League, with LeBron James on board as executive producer and a stacked guest list of features. So will 2 Chainz finally deliver his undeniable body of work? We'll soon find out.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Forgiven" ft. Marsha Ambrosius
The album opens at a basketball game. An announcer just read the name Tauheed Epps, 2 Chainz’s birth name. He was a starter. This build-up is beautiful. Marsha’s singing voice is to ears what fresh Red Lobster biscuits are to tastebuds. A soulful, cinematic intro. 2 Chainz is working his pen. This visit down memory lane is putting his storytelling strengths on display. Whoever produced this record was deep in their Jansport. You can tell by the vividness that Chainz is a man who has done much and seen even more. “Got a phone call from Lil Fate…” Oh yeah, this is TOUGH. “Kids aren’t supposed to die before us as parents…” Second verse pivot into Scarface “This Can’t Be Life” territories. Not as stirring, but very striking hearing him talk candidly about such a difficult situation. No third verse, he’s giving out that real talk. What a way to start an album. Heavy in all the right ways. Who is this other singer? Male voice, quite elegant. A woman’s voice reciting a poem. Powerful. Yep, great intro. Five minutes, not a second wasted.
2. "Threat 2 Society"
The gunshot at the end! This soul loop! My spirit instantly lifted. Sounds like a record Statik Selektah produced. We're two songs in and the album's direction has been pleasantly mature. “I’m so famous I can’t cough in peace.” He’s talking about demons and gunshots over the most angelic sample. This is taking me back to how 4:44 made me feel. “The streets was my sensei.” Hahaha. “This beat hard enough to put Jay on it.” This album could be the reason why 2 Chainz finally gets his roses.
3. "Money in the Way"
Another record dripping in soul. Soul with a hefty bounce. "Money in the Way" could be sold as a weed strain. Every day should start with this energy. Chainz over soul beats is Tony Hawk on a skateboard; poetry in motion. Honestly, Two Tity eats on every kind of production. It’s just so pleasant to hear a lyrical pastor take us to church. Three songs in, and I could rewind it from the top already.
4. "Statute of Limitations"
The short songs… wait! Now, this is a disgusting bassline. We in the trap, in the vile, disgusting corners where the roaches get high off cocaine residue. Chainz always delivers a trap record of this caliber and I’m never disappointed. YEP! This is the one. Chainz is talking about selling drugs to rappers before he made it as a rapper. This is TRAP MUSIC. “Ex-drug dealer, ex-athlete.” Authentic bars. Chainz had Raekwon buying off Old Nat!? Southside history. Man, Chainz is the southern rapper I wish was on Roc-A-Fella in the ‘90s. The only southern rapper who could have found a home in State Property.
5. "High Top Versace" ft. Young Thug
The last few records have each been shorter than three minutes. The sequencing has been well-paced. Thug sounds exquisite. Unicorn vocals. I will miss my exit if this song comes on while I'm driving on the interstate. It feels rich. Sonic wealth. “Treat my East Coast bitches like the West Coast” makes no sense, but I whispered “Bars” when Thug said it. “I know my pockets look like Bibles.” He is really rapping. This is the second song ("Dresser") he has with Tity and they're both really good. Two Thug verses, only one by Chainz, which, I admit, is disappointing given the focus of the album has been solely on the headliner. Thug took over this record, complete domination. I'm having T.I. “About The Money” flashbacks. It’s a vibe, though.
6. "Whip" ft. Travis Scott
I’m liking the length, the pacing, and the overall energy of this album. Chainz’s strengths are on displayed. Okay, Travis! Taking me back to ASTROWORLD. This beat is a cup of mud, and the hook deserves to be on a glass table next to a rolled up dollar bill. Bars are delivered on the first verse. “Hit a home run off a bunt” is something only Chainz could accomplish. I can’t wait to play this in the car. No verse from Scott, but he turned in a hook that will be recited at high volume. Another strong record. This is a versatile album.
Joe Budden mentioned this record during his interview with 2 Chainz earlier this month. Honorable C-Note! Banger!!! “I’ll shoot a nigga for promotion” hahaha. This is a bar 50 Cent would’ve rapped when he cared enough about money to get rich or die trying. Monstrous production and Chainz sounding taller than his actual gigantic frame. He successfully made a song that’s as exciting as March Madness. “From public housing to a couple of houses” is a bar that was felt. The electric guitar was a nice touch.
8. "Momma I Hit a Lick" ft. Kendrick Lamar
Okay, I’m excited about this one. Interesting beat. Kendrick! What the hell? Oh! These drums! Chainz is a rock seamlessly skipping across this beat. He is changing flows and his vocal inflections... I’m impressed. He’s pulling off some tricks. Who made this beat? It’s so unorthodox. Kendrick is galloping on a goat. I love the texture of his voice when the flow switches. He’s doing so many things with his voice. “Switch the flow cause niggas like identity theft.” Man, Chainz and Dot tag-teaming at the end of his verse was well executed. These two sound very natural together. A weird song for this album, but a strong collaboration.
9. "Rule the World" ft. Ariana Grande
Nine songs deep and no disappointments. I do wish the focus of the album wasn’t affected by the features, though. Hitmaka on the beat, Ariana on the hook. This one could have a presence on the radio. Not cliché in the obvious ways, but it’s the quintessential record for the ladies. Grande is singing her little heart out. Slower, smooth flow. 2 Chainz is the rapper who would shoot Cupid. In the context of an album, "Rule the World" is fine, but as a standalone single, it’s really strong. I didn’t expect these two to manifest this product.
10. Girl's Best Friend" ft. Ty Dolla Sign
"Girls Best Fried" was originally on Chainz' late 2018 EP, Hots Wings Are A Girl’s Best Friend. Chainz rapping that Lil Wayne is his best man is a reminder I need a press pass to his wedding. With all due respect to Max B, this record is wavy, but I don’t like how the album’s energy suddenly dropped. When the mood is right this song works, but this album doesn’t call for its presence. On his two-track EP, “Girl's Best Friend” worked, but not so much here.
11. "2 Dolla Bill" ft. E-40 & Lil Wayne
DJ Mustard! This is a good tempo, good energy. Simple hook, but I trust these verses will make it worthwhile. Chainz’s voice and these stripper claps are a good combo. This takes me back to “I’m Different.” Not in love. Wayne features still get me excited. Wayne loves this concept, he's turning in a lively performance. When Chainz calls, Wayne delivers. E-40! A master writer. It’s a fun party record. Very infectious. Dated production. Hearing their vocals stacked at the end is a nice touch.
12. "I Said Me"
Hmmm. Is this a soul sample? It’s obviously “Favorite Things” but I haven’t heard this version before. I love how the keys came in. Whoever this woman singing is, she's selling it. The drums just dropped and we cooking. This is a record. When Chainz puts them together like this, he’s truly on an elite level. A smooth sample of the first “Maybach Music,” I believe. “Around here the A&R are dancers.” Someone tell J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League that 2 Chainz needs the Rick Ross pack. I love how the two samples are brought together. Keys going crazy. A man is giving game at the end. “Quit calling me with the negative shit.” Real talk.
13. "I'm Not Crazy, Life Is" ft. Chance The Rapper & Kodak Black
Oh, this is interesting. Those hi-hats are rolling. Smooth record and Chainz’ easy flow is pleasant. The pen is sharp here. “They threw me out to the wolves, and the wolves threw me back.” What a song title, lol. He definitely has the best album title of 2019 thus far. Chance! This is good out the gate. He mentioned that he said Trump would win before he won. I don’t recall that tweet on the timeline. If Chance’s upcoming "debut" sports raps in this same realm, I'm in. He nailed it. Kodak's turn. I haven’t listened to much of his music after the rape allegations. An interesting choice having him featured alongside Chance. Mentioned Travis Scott and J. Cole. Master P tried to sign him, Birdman, too, it seems. Loving the vocalist who popped up with a vocal dipped in gold. “Look at that crazy man.” All praise due to Chainz' ear, his albums are always well produced. This sun-bathing outro is a slice of paradise.
Ahh, this is the record LeBron told Chainz needed a feature. The UGK sample is good gas, as the kids say. Man, this flow is 2 Chainz walking on nimbus clouds in a pair of Air Jordans. Critiquing Uncle Sam, where is J. Cole? I love the line about cops getting paid to protect, not shoot kids. I would’ve gone to college if the courses were taught over this beat. Chainz is reading the definition of taxes. I would’ve gone to college if 2 Chainz was a teacher. Rich people hate taxes, lol. Reminiscing on tax talks with Puff before he became a well-known rapper. That’s a podcast I would subscribe to.
Final (first listen) thoughts on 2 Chainz' Rap or Go to the League:
Rap or Go to the League is 2 Chainz displaying his greatest gift as a rapper: eclecticism. The album is a mixed bag of hip-hop flavors with his towering identity at its center. The athletic ballplayer, the hustling drug dealer, the present-day, aging lyricist—all these layers are woven into the man born Tauheed Epps.
2 Chainz is skillful, both as a writer and rapper, and has lived enough life to accumulate plenty of game to give out. If Rap or Go to the League isn’t Chainz’ best album, it’s certainly his most mature. But while the project is full of inspired ideas and lively execution, the album’s best strides are made without guest accompaniment. An album engineered to lean further into his own story would have been a path best traveled alone.
In sharing the spotlight with his 10 guests, traditionally his artistic strength, 2 Chainz diverts attention away from the real star power—his star power—that brings Rap or Go to the League to life. This is a strong collection of memorable songs, but it could've been a career-defining album.