2 Chainz (occasionally) escapes the trap on his sophomore solo LP to shimmering results
The career arc of modern-day hip-hop stars is typically all boom and bust. So when 2 Chainz’s debut solo LP Based on a T.R.U. Story was released in 2011 to a lukewarm reception, it was fair to assume that the Atlanta-bred MC’s Dow Jones-like ascent was soon to end. And yet, Tauheed Epps just kept it moving. Yawns from the critics couldn’t keep the album from being nominated for a Grammy, calls for guest verses haven’t slowed down, and he spent the summer trekking the nation on Lil Wayne’s America’s Most Wanted tour. No, 2 Chainz isn’t going anywhere. Now he’s back with B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, a follow-up that looks to add some much-needed substance to his often rote catalog.
By now you’ve most likely heard “Feds Watching,” the Pharrell-assisted single that was supposed to signal a shift in 2 Chainz's sonics from the trap back to the soulful territory he often explored with his group Playaz Circle. “Dreads hang on designer everything/Mr. Comme des Garçons, Mr. Alexander Wang/Mr. Chain, pinky ring, flow insane, ho insane/Man, these shoes I got on, these the hardest I've done seen,” he spits over a wistful guitar melody and skittering drums. Then there’s “U Da Realest,” a street soldier’s triumphant salute to those who died gettin’ it, and “Beautiful Pain,” which depicts the less-publicized struggle of the self-funded rap hustle. But perhaps the high-point of the album’s introspective material is “Black Unicorn,” a sweeping DJ Toomp production which finds Chainz making a rather clever observation: “Lyrically I could be Talib Kweli/But with gold teeth it'd be hard for some to believe,” he raps. That’s probably a fair assessment.
If there’s a fault to find with B.O.A.T.S. II (and it might be a critique of 2 Chainz in general) it’s that his verses can come off half-baked and non-continuous, individual couplets that sound good written in 140 character tweets or shouted out loud while standing on couches—that’s all that matters these days, right?—but rarely fit together as complete ideas. Peep “Netflix,” where one second he’s partying (“Yeah I'm at the club, I got strippers at my table”) and the next he’s taking part in an elaborate street fantasy (“From the cradle to the grave, shoot a nigga from his ankle to his waist”). You get the sense that he’s just trying to come up with the most ridiculous shit he can think of—“I just had a threesome for three weeks in a row,” he says on the Rich Homie Quan-assisted “Extra”—and that works for a spell, but also has us waiting around for the next outlandish punchline, whereupon we’ll dispose of the last one. How long can that strategy last?
2 Chainz knows he’s got to diversify, and that’s the reason why there are also songs like “So We Can Live,” about being harassed by the police, which starts with a trite T-Pain hook and “for the ladies” vibe, and then winds up sounding like a slept-on backpack rap tune from 1998. And “Used 2” pays homage to Juvenile’s “Ha” (it’s even produced by Mannie Fresh), giving what could be perceived as standard strip club fare a real creative spin. Which is all to say that B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time really does what it set out to do—prove that 2 Chainz, while occasionally unfocused, is more than a guy who just makes trap music. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of that here, and he’s almost got that formula down to science. But there are also these other sides he wants to show us. Thankfully, people are still listening. —Paul Cantor