The last few years have seen one of the more drastic rebrands in recent musical history in the form of Tauheed Epps, formerly going by the hilariously cringey stage name Titty Boi, now known as 2 Chainz.
2 Chainz - Rap or Go To The League
The most glaringly obvious evidence for Chainz’s rebrand is found in his lyrics. From the infamous line on ‘Birthday Song’: “she got a big booty, so I call her big booty” to “master of my own fate and I own my own masters”. From ignorant trap rapper to now being a matured elder statesman in hip-hop, an Atlanta OG with a conscious strand in his identity and one of the best marketers in hip-hop. One hell of a rebrand, Mr Chainz.
It is safe to say that expectations were rather high for Rap or Go to the League, given the hype built up by the album’s marketing campaign. The campaign behind this album revolved around NBA megastar and one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Lebron James, being an A&R for the album. The album title is a well-known trope in the lower strata of society, particularly in areas with a high black population, where the only two escapes seemed to be rapping or becoming a basketball player.
In the present context, then, it makes all the sense in the world for Chainz to enlist Lebron to be his A&R for the album, combining the two aspects of the album’s concept into one: the basketball player and the rapper. It makes even more sense given who Lebron is as a person: a self-proclaimed hip-hop historian, the guy who on Instagram seems to never miss reacting to a major hip-hop album release and giving his head-nodding, stale face two cents on it- there could be nobody better to be the first basketball player to A&R an album than Lebron.
Did the album live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.
This album’s major issue is its features. There are just far too many faulty, frivolous features. ‘High Top Versace’ featuring Young Thug sounds like Chainz just hopped on a Thug song, whilst ‘Whip’ featuring Travis Scott, again just sounds like Chainz hopped on a throwaway Travis song, where his lyricism devolves back to his older ignorant music with corny bars like “she a King, like Billie Jean” and “wet floor signs, hope you don’t slip”.
Album opener ‘Forgiven’ is deeply introspective and powerful, with Chainz reflecting on the death of one of his friend’s sons and the fragility of life, leading to the conclusion of: “If you’re doing something to make your parents have to bury you / You may want to slow down.” That introspection continues on the next track, ‘Threat 2 Society’, which features one of the most glorious soul-sample instrumentals ever to grace hip-hop.
‘NCAA’ is a hard banger, but one that tackles another interesting issue: that college basketball players in the NCAA are not allowed to be paid for their work, their payment in lieu of actual money being the ‘college experience’ and the scholarship they received to get to college - a load of garbage, which Chainz is keen to reflect.
Again, back to this album’s hamartia: the songs without features are all so much better than those with features, yet half the album is feature-based, which really does make one wonder how good of a job Lebron did A&R’ing this one. ‘Momma I Hit a Lick’ featuring Kendrick Lamar sounds like a Tyga strip-club anthem; underwhelming. ‘Rule the World’ is the album’s token ‘love’ song, featuring a nice Ariana Grande hook and awkward verses from Chainz, almost like he is incapable of really being vulnerable regarding his significant other. ‘Girl’s Best Friend’ would be a good track on a Ty Dolla $ign album, but again it has nothing to do with Chainz’s album concept, or much to do with Chainz at all - the song only has one short verse from Chainz, the rest is a bunch of Ty croons and melodies.
The album really picks up with the final 3 tracks. ‘I Said Me’ is another introspective, poignant beauty of a track where Chainz laments on his past life, accompanied by a sorrowful instrumental, proclaiming that he was that shunned drug dealer and killer, going through what his mentality was when he was younger, and how he turned that mentality into wealth. Album closer ‘Sam’ is an analysis of taxation in the US, how tax money is being misused, and that journey from being the recipient of tax money whilst being poor, to now being the one whose wealth is being sapped as a rich man.
Again, the main issue with this album is that the songs without rap features are all interesting, engaging and unique, whilst the songs with features, outside of ‘I’m Not Crazy, Life Is’ all just sound like weak pandering to the style of the artist, as opposed to getting the featured artist to mesh well with any kind of theme or concept inherent in the album. The album feels like a missed opportunity for Chainz, and an underwhelming start to Lebron’s burgeoning A&R side hustle.