Five studio albums, 10 mixtapes and a shedload of high-profile guest verses have taught us not to expect anything too left-field from a 2 Chainz release. His M.O when in album mode has tended to be to create moody, wacky and wall-to-wall Southern trap bangers. Rap or Go to the League, while still displaying some of these signature brushstrokes, is easily his most nuanced and artistically adventurous effort to date.
From the outset, the ex-basketballer experiments with bolder instrumentation choices. The darkly ethereal vocal loop on ‘Forgiven’ and the airy chipmunk-soul sample on ‘Threat 2 Society’ accommodate more subtle lyrical performances from an introspective and nostalgic 2 Chainz. He muses cathartically on being unjustly overlooked by the industry as well as the guilt and anxiety instilled by his former life as a drug dealer in Georgia.
There is still a bevy of wilfully obnoxious and incisive club anthems (‘High Top Versace’, ‘Statue of Limitations’, ‘NCAA’), but they are executed with a virtuosic flourish. This astute approach extends to his handling of abundant guest verses, an ever-present throughout 2 Chainz discography. 2 Chainz seems content to let his A-list friends borrow the spotlight. Kendrick’s whisper flow on ‘Momma I Hit a Lick’, Travis Scott’s cowbell accompanied autotuned vocals on ‘Whip’ and Chance’s sleepy delivery on ‘I’m Not Crazy, Life Is’ all being examples of letting his superstar contemporaries take the wheel.
The commercial life-span of a rapper in today’s musical climate is fleeting, Rap or Go to the League exhibits a streetwise 41-year old 2 Chainz prepared to make compromises in order to maintain his relevance. While it might not be as loud or abrasive as his previous work, creatively, it makes a great deal more noise.