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VIBE’s Staff Reviews JAY-Z’s Album, ‘4:44’

After weeks of trying to decipher the meaning behind the peach posters with four characters stamped in a large black typeface, 06.30.17 finally arrived with the musical gift of JAY-Z's 13th studio album, <em>4:44</em>. Once the clock struck midnight, all of the anticipation seeped out of headphones and speakers and into the eager ears of Hov fans. But what came to light was not at all what was expected from the rapper turned entrepreneur turned family man.

After closely listening to Mr. Carter's lyrical content and 10-track project of honesty, five VIBE editors and writers share their thoughts on the sonically rich No I.D.-produced project that many hip-hop fans have been vibing to since its release.  Dig in down below.

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Desire Thompson, Associate News Editor

JAY-Z’s career has lasted as long as the existence of millennials. In that lengthy time frame, the Brooklyn native has endured family hardships and a rap career highlighting his escape from poverty through the drug game. His tales have allowed him to carve a persona that became the standard in hip hop. Four years after Magna Carta Holy Grail, Mr. Carter has laid out his demons on 4:44, a diary of tingling proportions that reminds never to idolize your heroes. A vulnerable and at times, a broken JAY is heard on wax taking accountability for his actions thought to be genius by his former self.

With No I.D. as his proverbial outlet for the rap feels, Shawn Carter steps up to the plate to question the man so many embody (Drake, J.Cole, Meek Mill) and breaks him into pieces. From “Kill Jay Z” to “Family Feud,” the rapper confesses to being the villain in his biggest scandals (Solange, Lance “Un” Rivera) while in an odd way, finding sympathetic refuge from fans. He also expresses need to think ahead, preferably when it comes to his criticized art collection on “The Story of O.J.” One “Legacy,” his wealth becomes another episode in the 13th season finale of his life, providing him financial freedom.

No longer the “guy you can lie to,” JAY’s 10-track opus hits every cerebral chamber. “Smile” is for the soul (along with his mother’s touching spoken-word outro) while “Bam” feeds the ego. “4:44” leaves us debating the ages of male maturity and “Family Feud” gives the Instagram generation lyrics and “super facts” to praise (or criticize). His apologies are for his wife Beyonce and his children, who will bear the burden of learning about their father from two perspectives–his POV and the Internet’s.

Looking ahead has always been JAY’s strongest superpower– which is why he goes back to heal wounds that could continue to dampen his future. With strong samples from Nina Simone, Sister Nancy, The Fugees, Raekwon and a mix of raw and off the cuff beats, JAY finds solace while watching the rap game from the VIP section. It’s the battle between his past and the future that will always haunt him, as he notes on “Marcy Me.” “When Denzel was blottin’ carpet, I’ll pack a nine millimeter when Slick Rick made Mona Lisa,” he recalls. “When Lisa Bonet was Beyoncé of her day, I had divas y’all/ Think I just popped up in this b**ch like a fetus? Nah.”

There are hints that this could be the rapper’s final album when listening to the HOV-centered “Bam,” but at least he’s confessed to truths through music’s most machismo genre. Whether you forgive JAY-Z is your call. In the end, JAY, one of the greatest rappers of our time, has forgiven himself.

Mark Braboy, Contributing Writer

For a very, very long time, JAY-Z has been wearing a diamond-studded, yet very tightly worn mask. That mask has hidden the vulnerability, honesty, and the layered humility of the man named Shawn Carter. And while that mask has slowly been shed since at least The Blueprint, his “face” has finally been unveiled in the form of 4:44.  Hov has given us a body of work where he is unflinchingly poignant and all the way real about not just his personal life and transgressions, but also what it means to be a revolutionary black entrepreneur in the music business while still standing on the side of the oppressed, and still being the God emcee (because…”Bam”).

Liberation screams throughout the entire album in multiple facets whether we our liberating ourselves from our sins of dishonesty and infidelity (“4:44”), the false ideas of what it means to be black and elite (“The Story of O.J”), or breaking free of societal boxes while celebrating and living in one’s truth (“Smile”). Thanks to the scoring done by Chi-Town’s own No I.D.,  4:44 turned out to be a balanced, sophisticated and well-put together package. He shows his growth without being obnoxiously pretentious with his riches like the in Kingdom Come and some parts of Magna Carta Holy Grail. Sure, he flexes (because what’s a Jay album without a little bit of that) but it feels more constructive than some of his last efforts.

This album will forever stand the test of time among both Hov’s greatest masterpieces and hip-hop’s most legendary albums for two sole reasons. One, this album marks the complete evolution of JAY-Z from a musical and personal standpoint. He lyrically outclasses himself throughout the album and challenges himself by adding far more emotional depth than he’s ever done. And two, the musical chemistry between Jay and No I.D. is surreal. It’s the kind that can be seen nowadays among the pairings of Metro Boomin and Gucci Mane or MikeWillMadeIt and Rae Sremmurd. Together, the two have put together a masterpiece that will grow with us like fine wine. With a treasure trove of knowledge and confessions, the Michael Corleone of rap has permanently marked his place in music industry history. Hip-Hop needed this album and after processing this album multiple times, I’m calling it what is. A classic.

Marjua Estevez, Senior Editor

As someone who's been both a victim and culprit of infidelity, I imagine there were levels of difficulties that JAY-Z encountered while recording his long-awaited "Lemonade response." However, I'd be remiss without saying I find some of his most honest one-liners problematic. Words like "I apologize, often womanize/ took for my child to be born to see through a woman's eyes" reeks of what stems from toxic masculinity and, thusly, what we know as patriarchy. Why wasn't Beyoncé enough? Where is the intuitiveness to see women as human, with or without a child? Still, I honor JAY's honesty and readiness to own all of his truths—provided these are really his truths and not just poetic license or material.

I dig this JAY-Z far more than the human he's been in previous eras. I'm not as great at separating the man from the artist as most, however great a prodigy Shawn Carter is in hip-hop culture. But I again would be remiss if I did not sing some of his praises for the 10-track opus he calls 4:44. I appreciate him turning a lens on topics like slavery, colorism, black entrepreneurship, investment, pro-blackness and the idea of financial freedom while paying it forward. There's a sense of privilege, yes, but the jewel for me was him planting that seed that will, in turn, create dialogue around those ideas with his core audience, which spans generations of black and brown communities.

I mostly appreciate JAY's vulnerability, what I interpreted as a softness pouring from his chest in honor of the woman he nearly broke. I don't like to give cookies for things I think should just be, but I do know what it's like to "suck at love." In the story of Mr. and Mrs. Carter, two people chose to return to the groove. That dance that takes years to perfect. And that's what I'm applauding above anything else.

Tony Centeno, Contributing Writer

As soon as he said "Cry Jay Z” on “Kill Jay Z,” I took that moment of foreshadowing as a warning that his 13th studio album would be more emotional and transparent than anything he's ever made. As a longtime fan of the Brooklyn phenom, I’ve worn out all three Blueprints, his “final LP” The Black Album and, of course, his debut album Reasonable Doubt. Yet, 4:44 is not just an album I can play without skipping a beat. It stands as the only album from his extensive catalog that I’ll continue to learn from for years to come.

4:44 exposes the underlying emotions people possess and, like most alpha men, tend to forget. JAY exposes his issues with Prince's legal team in "Caught Their Eyes," yet flashes a big "Smile" as he embraces his mother’s sexual orientation. He shines a bright, golden light on black excellence on "Legacy," and deals with the struggles of racism in America in "The Story of O.J." After flexing his stance on rising social injustice and LGBT rights in America, Hov starts a brand new therapy session in the title track "4:44." You can hear the tremble in his voice as he begs for Bey's forgiveness as he admits his faults in the most honest bars he ever spits.

When he's not baring his soul to the world, Hov offers life advice to the young generation who hold stacks of money up to their ear for the 'Gram. He emphasizes that credit is more important than throwing stacks of cash in the air. He reassures stubborn men everywhere that therapy might not cure all of our mental struggles, but it will help alleviate the constant pain and anguish. The best part about the album is that, after the smoke clears from his lyrical bombs, JAY survives it all. I know some might not agree, but I'll go out on a limb and call this masterpiece his magnum opus.

Richy Rosario, Contributing Writer

Human evolution requires digging deep into a dangerous introspection we often tend to avoid. It takes finding and using that courage inside the strength we didn’t know we had to help us arrive at that place of transparent vulnerability; inevitably collides with the truth we often hide beneath our cleverly pre-meditative constructed faux realities. In his new project, 4:44, we find the 47-year-old JAY-Z in this cathartic and honest destination. The 10-track offering presents Shawn Carter as a mature man who’s ready to right his wrongs. He lays his cards all out on the table and seeks redemption. “Cry Jay Z, we know the pain is real/But you can't heal what you never reveal,” he ponders on the album’s opening, “Kill Jay Z.”

Amid, his travels he still seemingly calls out those who have wronged him, too. In that same track he calls out Kanye West for his infamous 2016 rant in a California concert. The most telling song on the album is “Family Feud” featuring Beyoncé. On Lemonade, she hints of a “Becky with the good hair,” and (seemingly) accuses her husband of an affair with her. That same antagonist comes up on JAY’s side of the story, too. “Yeah, I'll f**k up a good thing if you let me/Let me alone, Becky,” he raps, but he finally comes clean on “4:44” blatantly admitting all his mistakes. He also chooses to free his lesbian mother out the closet on “Smile.”

Sonically, the album is tastefully saturated with great lines and beats, thanks in part to producer No I.D. And while he lays all his shortcomings on wax, he still makes sure to remind you of why you fell in love with him in the first place. “Got the heart of a giant, don't you ever forget/Don't you never forget, Jigga got this shit poppin'/I pulled out the pot when we was outta options,” he declares on “Bam.” After all, the greatest men of all time have made mistakes and JAY Z is seen as no exception.

Ashley Pickens, Contributing Writer 

Shawn Carter knocks down doors, stomping onto the viaduct of his life, with his marriage and family just eye’s view below, meeting JAY-Z on the other end with a death threat. The warning signal that woke the man that harbors the beast and the martyr? The fear of losing his family. That’s 4:44 - the Life And Times of Shawn Carter vs JAY-Z, a crusade to find the existence in the middle of the man and his sobriquet. The title track, “4:44” is the “crux” of the album rests in the middle of the overpass, while his “Legacy” awaits below.

When you lay the “A-side” and “B-side” parallel to each other, there’s a battered tale of the fight it took to awaken the arrival of the man in the middle. Carter explores the treacherous fear of becoming Eric Benet and tries on a suit of vulnerability - in exchange for his armor - as he struggles to accept his exaltation from his days of alibis. While the flip side - the B side, (“Family Feud,” “Bam,” “Moonlight,” and “Marcy Me”) are more of the entertainer we’re familiar with as he braggadociously parades his “cute” billionaire status while he and Bey are “merrily, merrily eating off these streams.”

On the final battle of “Caught Their Eyes” and “Marcy Me,” he taps into Hova, providing for a keener vision to his surroundings. From this, Young Guru gathered and melded the "ideas and truths" that No I.D. hacked away at as his therapist, while everyone followed the Mrs. Carter-approved blueprint. Awakened at 4:44 am was the man in the middle of JAY-Z and Shawn Carter, born and ready to protect his “Legacy” (his children, his Bonnie and Clyde love story, and an empire he can pass down to his children).

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Solange's ‘When I Get Home’ Is A Reminder That Black Stories Don’t Have To Be Burdensome

Solange’s critically acclaimed A Seat At The Table concluded with “Closing: The Chosen Ones” and on it, Master P proclaimed, “We come here as slaves, but we going out as royalty.” It was an optimistic message to end a project reflecting on the burdens that African Americans carry because of white supremacy. On her follow-up, When I Get Home, Solange is in alignment with Master P’s focus on the glory. She shifts her storytelling to a black experience that isn’t troubled by the traumas caused by whiteness.

Picking up where the last album ended, Solange signals her mood change on When I Get Home’s opening track, “Things I Imagined.” On the final verse, she repeats in soothing harmonies that she’s “taking on the light.” In the 18 tracks ahead, she does so by illuminating and crowning the beauty of Houston, her hometown, in a way she hasn’t before in her art.

The singer spoke on reconnecting with Houston’s Third Ward and surrounding parts of the city and state to make this album during a screening event attended by VIBE’s Desire Thompson. “Certain things that might've been mundane to me visually started to really enrich me and enrich my spirit,” she said. Solange has lived in Idaho, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New York, and currently New Orleans, yet there is nothing like the thrills her hometown offers her. “I think [that] just growing up in Texas is such a spirited place, any given time of day you can see and experience something that's so unique and so grounded in our culture here.”

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“When I Get Home” the film coming out tonight at 4pm PT/7pm ET on @applemusic and i couldn’t be more proud ! Link in the bio 🖤🖤 y’all so damn much!

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Through music and film, Solange offers another narrative of black Southern culture that’s much more than the usual themes of slavery, lynchings and segregation. It’s a celebration of heritage that has existed, before these interruptions, and continues to thrive today. Actress Lynn Whitfield reminds audiences that black storytelling doesn’t have to exist solely be painful in an episode of Netflix’s Strong Black Lead podcast.

“There are dynamics of families and riches...and traditions of black family that have not a damn thing to do with white people, racism, slavery or anybody else,” Whitfield said. “Some of our problems are just our own problems. Some of our complexity is just ours. And I want to own that,” she continued.

Solange widens those possibilities with the experimental and collaborative When I Get Home. The singer offers 19 nostalgic dreamy jazz-focused meditations, propelled by psychedelic synths and chopped and screwed beats. It feels like the soundtrack to a joy ride at night with Solange in the driver’s seat guiding us around Houston. The accompanying movie invokes imagery of black cowboys, rodeos, 90s hairstyles, Nokia cell phones, Houston architecture and afro-futurist treatments such as 3D animations and surrealist fantasies. Solange also used BlackPlanet, the black-focused online community that predates the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram era, to tease the album before releasing on March 1.

Solange’s album arrived at the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month. Whether intentional or coincidental, it’s black women who narrate the project. The interludes sample media footage of black women poets, artists, actresses and spiritual gurus. And the interludes are where so much of the experimentation happens on the album. “S McGregor (interlude)” features the voices of Solange’s hometown heroes Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad over piano keys and a haunting chopped and screwed vocal. According to her mother, Tina Knowles, the song title is named after the street where Allen and Rashad’s father lived. On “Nothing Without Intention” Solange lays down another hazy chopped and screwed beat, and in the final seconds we hear the Goddess Lula Belle state “do nothing without intention,” which is borrowed from her YouTube video, "Florida Water For Cleansing and Clearing.” And the words just seem to stick with you.

By this point of the album, it’s clear Solange’s intentions for this project is to explore her creative range. The album’s experimentation is credited to her love for Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through A Secret Life of Plants. Solange was also influenced by Joni Mitchell, Missy Elliot, The Sun Ra Arkestra, and Aaliyah, as outlined in the New York Times last October. Solange won’t be contained and let it be known on “Can I Hold the Mic,” which starts off with an interview clip of Princess and Diamond of Crime Mob. Solo then blends in a spoken word.

“I can't be a singular expression of myself, there's too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations, too many lines, too many curves, too many troubles, too many journeys, too many mountains, too many rivers, so many…” Solange proclaims over zig-zagging chords.

Solange gives us those varying parts of herself throughout the album. Sometimes she’s free-spirited like on the all-star “Almeda” (a road in Houston), produced by Pharrell and featuring The-Dream, Metro Boomin, and Playboi Carti. “Brown skin, brown face/Brown leather, brown sugar,” Solange chants on the verses. Solange also makes another reference to Florida Water, a cologne used for cleansing rituals by Santeria and West African Vodun practitioners. The track invokes imagery of the height of gatherings, where black people can safely let down their guards and ease into bliss. The hardcore drum and bass and playful ad-libbing make this a celebratory anthem that’s speaker rattling hip-hop at its core. When I Get Home has hip-hop all over it, with keyboards from Tyler, the Creator on “Down With the Clique”; the Metro Boomin-produced “Stay Flo”; a Gucci Mane feature on “My Skin My Logo”; and fellow Houstonian, Scarface on “(Not Screwed) Interlude.”

There are moments when her sensual side breaks through, especially on the groovy “Way to the Show.” Her feathery vocals beckon a person she deeply desires, while she makes a reference to Houston’s eclectic car culture. “Call me, even on the way to the show/Way to the show, candy paint down to the floor.” Singer Cassie provides angelic background vocals. On the velvety “Jerrod” she continues panting for physical contact. “Come and say the word and you know you gon' hit it,” she sings, giving the green light.

When she takes us to an introspective space, her vocals are on full display as she exercises hearty rips and runs. For instance, there’s the woozy, “Dreams,” reminding listeners to remain steadfast in chasing them. (“Dreams, they come a long way, not today”). On the soul-stirring “Time (Is),” Solange reunites with Sampha to be in conversation with her fears. She pushes past them by leaping into action. “But the way to do it/Just (Yay)/Do us just/ Then you’ll know/ Go.”

The fear of releasing a body of work that’s true to her current creative moods could have been crippling for Solange, especially when following up on a heralded project like A Seat at The Table. When an artist returns with an album that’s experimental compared to its predecessor, its reception could be divided, or worse, written off completely. Recent examples of this being done successfully include Kendrick Lamar’s transition from the Compton-centered good kid, m.A.A.d city to the jazz and funk-laden To Pimp a Butterfly, or Rihanna going from her usual pop bangers on Unapologetic to the vibey Anti. But there are instances when artists don’t receive the same love for switching up, such as Anderson .Paak’s move from the soulful Malibu to a more hip-hop driven Oxnard, or A$AP Rocky’s transition from a more favorable AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP to less trendy sounds on Testing.

But Solange chooses to show up uninhibited anyway. Although she’s taken some risks sonically by calling on jazz fusion, she modernizes it by blending hip-hop soundscapes, especially by threading in the influences of DJ Screw, who defined the sounds of her former stomping grounds and mainstream hip-hop.

Solange returning to her roots for inspiration can easily be tied to “Sankofa,” a word from the Akan people of Ghana that means “go back and fetch.” “It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress,” Sankofa.org, a social justice organization founded by Harry Belafonte, writes. Solange’s When I Get Home does just that. She achieves creative evolution and the progression of black storytelling through music. And while doing so, she proudly points back to her Houston origins by sprinkling in numerous layers, references and clues. If you know, you know. If you don’t, prepare to be transformed.

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2 Chainz performs onstage during the iHeartRadio album release party with 2 Chainz at iHeartRadio Theater on March 04, 2019 in Burbank, California.
Kevin Winter

With ‘Rap Or Go To The League,’ 2 Chainz Isn’t Underrated Anymore: Review

It’s hard to believe that 2 Chainz still thinks he’s underrated in 2019.

“I know I am underrated,” he reaffirmed to Charlamagne Tha God on The Breakfast Club. “If you do a survey, people will sleep on me because sometimes they don’t understand it. It don’t bother me. I’ve always been highly confident. It’s a thin line between cockiness and confidence. And sometimes, I straddle both of them.”

Cockiness and confidence are how 2 Chainz has stayed on top of his game. It’s been his goal to be respected as one of the best MCs in hip-hop, regardless of how many people slept on his previous mixtapes and albums. Whether you know him as Tity Boi, the Drench God, or any other of his many AKAs, he is certainly the hardest working rapper who has earned his spot, rapping alongside the likes of Raekwon, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Drake, Pharrell, and Nicki Minaj since leaving Playaz Circle, his duo under Ludacris' label Disturbing Tha Peace. Throughout his catalog, which includes fan favorites T.R.U. REALigion and his Trap-A-Velli series, Chainz has shown immense growth as an artist, constantly drawing from his personal stories to create anthems for every occasion – hitting licks, throwing birthday parties, making your momma proud. Chainz always got one for you to walk in and then turn up to.

The 41-year-old rapper wants to continue maturing as an artist, hoping his music delivers on quality so he gets the credit he deserves. After the widespread acclaim of 2017’s Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, with many critics calling it his best work at the time, Chainz wasn’t satisfied with the praise. Recognizing his peers have been using their platforms to educate on subjects like ownership (Jay-Z) and criminal justice reform (Meek Mill), Chainz saw an opportunity to make another play, one that involves addressing a common misconception about what defines success among young black men in poor communities.

 

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With the height of racial tensions across America I felt I should do my part in explaining some of the brain washing formulas used in my community , this album not only touches on those who did succeed thru entertainment but those who didn't ! Welcome to Rap or Go TO THE LEAGUE ! My 5th solo studio album and project that shows continued growth , success , and motivation which is playing a role in the shift of the trap paradigm ✌🏿⛓ #ROGTTL @airsignusa

A post shared by 2 Chainz Aka Tity Boi (@2chainz) on Feb 17, 2018 at 11:29am PST

Rap or Go to the League, his fifth studio album, was announced in February 2018 as his version of “black excellence.” “In my culture, in my community, we were often told [that] it was the only thing and the only way we could get out of the circumstances we were put in,” he explains of the title. At the height of racial tensions across America, he elaborated on the concept as dissecting “some of the brainwashing formulas used in my community.” Chainz is a product of College Park, Georgia and considered a success story, evolving from being an ex-drug dealer and ex-athlete to a veteran rapper who has gotten better with age.

It’s why LeBron James, the executive producer and A&R of Rap or Go to the League, was perfect for the album’s messaging. The Lakers star was faced with his own set of criticisms when he talked politics during an ESPN interview, inciting journalist Laura Ingraham to attack his views. “Keep the political commentary to yourself,” she infamously said on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle. “Or as someone once said, ‘Shut up and dribble.’”

Chainz recognized that LeBron is not only a talented basketball player but plays an important position in hip-hop culture as a curator and celebrity influencer. Instagram Stories of him jamming and scrunching his face to early records by Tee Grizzley, Meek Mill, and Nipsey Hussle, as well as convincing Kendrick Lamar to drop untitled unmastered., are hallmarks of a good A&R. He is more than an athlete, using his voice to effect change, and nowhere near as one-dimensional as Ingraham suggested. In many ways, Rap or Go to the League is a justification that these two can step up and prove their doubters wrong: Chainz can be considered in the G.O.A.T. conversation, and LeBron can empower the youth to believe any dream is possible. You can rap. You can go to the league. You can be more than what society tells you to be.

Chainz uses his own narrative to drive these points on Rap or Go to the League. If LeBron didn’t convince you that Chainz was coming with substance, the album’s opener, titled “Forgotten,” sets the bar of how weighted his songs will be. Marsha Ambrosius anchors Chainz’ emotional lyrics on his hoop dreams turned to nightmares. The second verse is more telling as he reveals how he felt after learning about the murder of his friend and former Disturbing tha Peace labelmate Lil’ Fate’s son. “My head achin', hands started shakin' / Foul beyond flagrant / He said, ‘Bro, what I’m supposed to do?’ / I paused, remorseful / We been partners since public school / Kids ain’t supposed to die before us,” he raps. To end on a spoken word poem about the realities of a black boy living in America is Chainz exploring what it means to be socially conscious. It’s his mission to teach lessons now.

 

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@gas by the BIGGEST TRAPPER OF EM ALL !!!! 🙏🏿💪🏿🔥

A post shared by 2 Chainz Aka Tity Boi (@2chainz) on Oct 26, 2018 at 5:32pm PDT

Chainz and LeBron wanted this album to be played from top to bottom so listeners can take everything in as a whole. Chainz’s first two albums – Based on a T.R.U. Story and B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME – lacked a cohesion that Rap or Go to the League clearly has grounded in Atlanta while elevating trap music to a new paradigm. Each song is based on a true story of Chainz’s life, where he’ll go from saying he owns his own masters (“Threat 2 Society”) to listing all the possible crimes he’s committed and the people he served back in the day (“Statute of Limitations”). In a full circle moment, Chainz has a legal marijuana business now called GAS Cannabis Co. No rap cap.

Chainz has a lot of pride in being a black entrepreneur, who is here to share his knowledge of success through his music. Topics like property investing to stunting in his own Versace collab are motivational benchmarks, but the messages amplify with his relatable, come-up stories. On songs like “I Said Me” and “I’m Not Crazy, Life Is,” Chainz wants you to know that he isn’t perfect, owning up to his past (“…And my daughter asked me what a drug dealer was? I said ‘me’”) and believing in his passion (“They say that I'm crazy now / They said I was crazy then”) are just some of the keys to unlocking your fullest potential. “Sam” tackles taxes on the wealthy, and the abuse of knowing your hard-earned income will be taken away by the government. Chainz is no stranger to this, using it as a life lesson: just dust your shoulders off and keep it moving.

Consistency is what keeps his fans coming back for more. And 2 Chainz knows he doesn’t need to break his formula, enlisting previous collaborators like Young Thug, Travis Scott, Lil Wayne, and Chance the Rapper to add the necessary bravado to each of his records. Ariana Grande appears on the Amerie-sampling “Rule the World,” which was created after the “7 Rings” misunderstanding, and it is easily a Billboard Hot 100 contender. The idea of 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar sounded dope on paper, surpassing expectations on “Momma I Hit a Lick.” If you needed a reason to go out west this summer, “Girl’s Best Friend” and “2 Dollar Bill” are an excellent back-to-back pair of songs for a cruise on Sunset Boulevard.

With all these all-star features on his resume, is 2 Chainz hot enough for a Jay-Z feature? The subtle homages to Hov – sampling “Lucifer” and “Dead Presidents” – and shouting him out on “Threat 2 Society” over a 9th Wonder beat are all perfect jumpers in form. Chainz has talked about working with Jay more than once, recently name-checking him on “Burglar Bars,” and it seems Jay is willing to collaborate even though he apparently missed this album. It’s a bucket list item that Chainz needs before Hov really retires.

There’s one line on “NCAA,” a boisterous track calling out why college athletes don’t get paid, where Chainz raps, “drop my album off the court and make 'em post it.” Not only is this “caption music” at the highest levels (that guitar line is an A1 bar too), it showcases how much admiration he has from the community during on and off season. Just days after Rap or Go to the League’s release, Diddy, Royce da 5'9", French Montana, and more promoted it on social media, congratulating him on what is unanimously his tightest project he’s ever made.

 

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Man @diddy you fukd me up with this one ..always wondered if you remembered that 😳🤭

A post shared by 2 Chainz Aka Tity Boi (@2chainz) on Mar 1, 2019 at 8:44pm PST

2 Chainz isn’t underrated. And even if you still think that after listening to Rap or Go to the League, he’s going to continue bettering himself, pushing boundaries in hip-hop and the intersecting cultures until that validation arrives.

“I ain’t gonna stop being myself, I ain’t gonna stop being highly talented. Qualified,” he said on The Breakfast Club.“I always told myself when I get to the table, whatever table that is, I deserve to be there.”

You deserve it and more, King Chainz.

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20 Years Of TLC's 'FanMail': A Futurist Prelude To Digital Era Intimacy

TLC owned the year 1999. FanMail released on this day (Feb. 23), 20 years ago, and made the Atlanta R&B trio the best-selling female group in the United States. The flood of popular R&B acts that emerged during the early 1990s under the banner of New Jack Swing, hip hop soul, and silky slow jams, fizzled out.

Meanwhile, TLC seamlessly evolved as newcomers like Britney Spears, *NSYNC and Destiny’s Child emerged on the Billboard charts. On the Grammy-winning Best R&B Album opus, TLC and longtime producer Dallas Austin brought back their radio-friendly hip-hop, R&B and pop anthems empowering women and underdogs, this time with a nod to the digital era.

FanMail, from the sound to the art direction, embodied a timely futuristic aesthetic, as everyone was obsessed with technology’s cultural takeover in the new millennium: remember Y2K hysteria, Napster mp3 file sharing, and the Dot.com boom? On the album's cover, T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye's faces appear as silver-faced avatars floating above an orbit. A code of numbers are printed across the cover, imagery often associated with The Matrix. (Although FanMail dropped a month before the film hit theaters.)

On the title track, listeners are greeted by Vic-E, the everpresent robotic voice narrating the album: “Just like you, they [TLC] get lonely, too." She reassures listeners that fame doesn't stop them from being human. The digitized voice is reminiscent of the “tour guide” on A Tribe Called Quest’s 1993 album Midnight Marauders. Yet, unlike Tribe, TLC collaborates with the robot, as it contributes background vocals throughout. Austin also sprinkled FanMail with samples of sounds — check “Communicate (Interlude)” and “LoveSick” for examples — he found on the Internet, movies, and devices like printers, he shared with MixOnline.

It was a smart move to modernize, as it had been five years since TLC released its best-selling 1994 album CrazySexyCool. The sultry mix presented a more mature and stripped back follow-up to the colorful, youthful angst of Ooooooohhh... On The TLC Tip. This five-year gap could have left the group’s fans uninterested, especially if they were releasing in today's fast-paced consumption environment, in which stans demand new releases on social media after only a year or two. But the time away didn’t hinder TLC. Now 10 years in the game, they managed a successful return by dedicating this project to their fanbase.

“Left Eye came up with the title, and we made it come together creatively as a group, along with Dallas Austin,” T-Boz said in their May 1999 VIBE cover story. “It was like, Let’s write and sing one big fan letter. Let’s put fan names on everything – all the singles, the album cover, T-shirts, mugs. Just show our appreciation."

Left Eye also chimed in with a transparent business savvy explanation. “Now we know that the way contracts are set up, it’s not really made for artists to get rich from selling records – that’s the company’s one shot to make money,” she explained. “The artist is supposed to use that as an outlet to do merchandising and other things that we never took advantage of because we were too busy sitting in bankruptcy court trying to get a settlement out of LaFace.”

That part. Although TLC were multi-platinum selling artists up until FanMail, they had faced a public financial battle with their management Pebbitone, Inc. and label, LaFace Records. This caused the delay between their sophomore and third efforts. In 1995, the group, who revealed they were "broke" at the 1996 Grammys, filed for bankruptcy in hopes to break their contract and renegotiate a new deal.

They were $3.5 million dollars in debt and earning an 8 percent royalty rate. In November 1996, they settled with Arista and BMG and LaFace for an 18 percent royalty rate. To add to the drama, there were talks of producer Dallas Austin leaving the project because of back-and-forths with TLC and L.A. Reid over the creative direction of the album, the 1999 VIBE cover story stated. Thankfully, the parties resolved their misunderstandings enough to complete one of the biggest albums of the decade.

On 17 tracks, TLC took on sexuality, insecurities, self-reliance, and vulnerability with resistant messaging, their tried and true winning formula. This energy paved the way for Destiny’s Child’s reign in the 2000s, and the transparency R&B singers like SZA, H.E.R. and Summer Walker carry on today. TLC's defiance gave women of the ‘90s permission to be vocal about the spectrum of their emotions, from their sex drives on “I Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” to revenge cheating on “Creep.” FanMail brought more of those goods.

The most notable “No Scrubs,” also considered pop canon, is a scathing critique on men at bottom of the dating pool. “A scrub is a guy, who thinks he’s fly and is also known as a busta/ always talking about what he wants and just sits on his broke a**,” Chilli belts in opening lines. The no. 1 track became such a phenomenon that it inspired the petty male response, “No Pigeons” from Sporty Thievz, their biggest claim to fame. Former Xscape members Kandi Burruss and Tameka Dianne "Tiny" Harris penned it and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, also behind Destiny’s Child’s no. 1 song “Bills, Bills, Bills,” produced it.

TLC tapped the legendary Hype Williams for the "No Scrubs" visual. Instead of setting the video in a club where scrubs are likely inhabitants, the visual features the trio in outer-space suits floating through a futuristic setting no scrub could ever reach. Most notably Lopes, who in the video does martial arts while a drone films her, manages to keep the digital theme, even when dissing the guys. “Can't forget the focus on the picture in front of me/You as clear as DVD on digital TV screens,” Lopes raps.

The wonky bop “Silly Ho” is another anti-playa anthem, in which TLC proclaim they aren't the kind of women who are scheming for men's pockets. “I can run a scam before he can/ I am better than a man/ I always keep my game all day,” they chant. TLC keeps demanding respect on the choppy “My Life,” their Janet Jackson Control moment, appropriate given their music industry woes.

TLC breaks from jittery beats and Vic-E assisted numbers for alternative pop, on the album’s second no. 1 hit single "Unpretty," which tackles insecurities caused by a toxic partner’s body-shaming. T-Boz deads him by summoning self-love: “Maybe get rid of you/ And then I'll get back to me, yeah.” The track was inspired by a poem T-Boz wrote, Dallas Austin told CNN in 2000. He also spoke on the songs’ folky essence. "I like a lot of alternative music, and when I saw the title, “Unpretty” reminded me of a song somebody like (alternative singer) Ani DiFranco would have (written). I just went at it,” he explained. The crew also gave us sensual beckoning on the mid-tempo groove “Come On Down,” penned by legendary pop songwriter Diane Warren.

The album ends with soulful bop “Don’t Pull Out on Me Yet,” but it’s “Communication (Interlude)” that feels like the proper conclusion. “There's over a thousand ways/ To communicate in our world today/ And it's a shame/ That we don't connect,” they say in a spoken word that offers a foreshadowing to our present human condition. Loneliness is on the rise, and more screen time and less human interaction are being linked to growing depression among American adolescents. "So if you also feel the need/ For us to come together/ Will you communicate with me?” As technological advancements create the feeling of being in closer proximity to more people's thoughts and happenings, it reminds us that these interactions can be fleeting and one-on-one intimacy with your chosen tribe could never become obsolete.

Although its 1999 original drop date has come and gone, in 2019, FanMail is still a fitting soundtrack for dating in the digital age. Whether they're making their contact through the passenger sides of cars or down in the DMs, the personalities pointed out on the poignant album, are still walking amongst us, messing with our hearts one way or another. FanMail proved that TLC was more in tune with the future than their pop peers, and will more than likely continue to be.

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