Review Summary: “I told you trappin' is a sport!”
Expecting 2 Chainz to stay on the braggadocious side of hip hop would be pigeonholing (this isn’t to say that I don’t like that style - Based On A T.R.U. Story
is a fantastic record), as Chainz is a much better lyricist than anyone gives him credit for. His incredibly humorous and witty wordplay is often ignored by most, the same going for his often tight flows and superb ear for beats. Rap Or Go To The League
still carries the luxury namedrops and proclamations of wealth that 2 Chainz is known for, but, just like its title, this album brings up an interesting thinking point. Disenfranchised black youths see their high aspirations limited to two options - rapping or going to the ‘league’ - as in playing basketball. Take it from the man himself:
“I think that we have brainwashed our kids in the Black community
To think they can only be entertainers, uh, and jocks
I said, first of all, we can be doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, fire and policeman
And the truth of the matter is, you got a much better chance of bein' one of those
Then you do bein' in the NBA.
This sentiment is bold, proving that rappers like 2 Chainz are more than just
entertainers - they’re inspirations, people to look up to due to how they were able to use their talents to make their lives and the lives of their loved ones better, proving you can do the same thing inside and outside of the rap-sphere. That word, inspiration, fills Rap Or Go To The League
, a tight 54 minutes of pop rap filled with the maturity of someone who’s been doing this for as long as 2 Chainz has. Keep in mind, his often vulgar punchlines are still here, they’re just recontextualized into making a much more universal, positive record (note: the anti tax lyrics on "Sam" are the weakest part of the album).
“The devil put some toxin in me
Demons tryna have an auction in me
They wanna sell my soul
Goin' once, goin' twice, never sold
Best story that was never told
Keep in mind that I have several episodes
A lot of things to be thankful for
A wife and three kids, I may make it four.
Production wise, this project is just as strong as ever for Chainz, featuring beats from genre giants like Da Honorable CNOTE, 30 Roc, Pharrell Williams, Dez Wright, and Cardio, as well as a slew of talented up-and-comers. The beat selection is very bright and often smooth, occupying themes of success and hope while hitting hard on songs like “Momma I Hit A Lick” and “Money In The Way.” The beatwork here is also quite sample heavy, which is hardly new for the rapper in question. Moreover, the way Tity Boi plays with the beats keeps the record visceral.
Chainz’ talent, and the talent of all of the features, cannot be overstated here. He’s extremely potent and authoritative, possibly the most commanding he’s ever been on record, just listen to “NCAA” and “I Said Me.” Really, Rap Or Go To The League
does a better job at mixing vibes and meshing brag rap with conscious hip hop than most can, and that comes down to just how earnest it is. Just as in the past, 2 Chainz means and lives every word that he says, eats every beat he raps on, and vibes with every sample on this record. There’s zero irony or “gotcha,” it’s just 2 Chainz. Maybe it’s not the same 2 Chainz that made Based On A T.R.U. Story
, but it’s 2 Chainz all the same.