Music

How Close Is 2 Chainz To Becoming A Rap G.O.A.T.?

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2 Chainz’s highly anticipated fifth solo album, Rap Or Go To The League practically set hip-hop Twitter on fire on the eve of its release a few weeks ago. At this point, 2 Chainz has unabashedly proven to even his harshest critics that he’s as much of a rap god as he is a trap god by showing off the upper echelon of his lyrical dexterity, revealing more of his often cloaked vulnerability, and using resonant social commentary to create his most sonically cohesive work to date. However, while Rap Or Go To The League amounts to an All-Star showcase of his “Tru” lyrical talent, the burning question remains: How close is the man born Tauheed Epps to becoming an undisputed G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) in hip-hop?

Recognition as an all-time G.O.A.T. in hip-hop is a subjective thing because no two perspectives on the genre are alike due to generational gaps and tastes. What can be universally agreed upon, though, is to even be in the conversation, a rapper’s career needs to have made such a massive impact on hip-hop and the surrounding culture that their music and other contributions will always be remembered. That remembrance can manifest as either a monumental and/or groundbreaking, highly-praised album (or albums), along with a broad catalog that contains lots of hits (cult or mainstream) and immaculate deep cuts. Other elements include consistently having great chemistry with equally legendary peers and predecessors, a long track record of success inside and outside the music industry (be it as a mainstream or indie artist), and/or becoming a trendsetting outlier in pop culture, for example, the impact Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z have had outside just music.

2 Chainz — then known as Tity Boi — began the earliest stages of his career as a member of Playaz Circle, with his close friend Dolla Boy in the late ’90s. At the turn of the millennium, the pair would meet Ludacris in College Park, Atlanta where he worked as a local radio DJ. Eventually, Tity Boi would be the first to sign to Luda’s Disturbing Tha Peace Records with Dolla Boy following his lead much later.

During the early 2000s, Ludacris and his Disturbing Tha Peace crew dominated Billboard charts and radio airwaves, ushering in Atlanta hip-hop’s national takeover. Listening to the lyricist-turned-actor-turned-entrepreneur’s first several projects during his prime, it wasn’t hard to recognize that the former Alabama State University basketball star was one of the premier lyricists from Luda’s ATL bred crew. On each album from the DTP catalog, Tity Boi’s scene-stealing verses resonated with Luda fans through his consistently inspired delivery, like on their posse cut, “N.S.E.W.,” I-20’s “Fighting In The Club,” and Ludacris’ “We Got.” However, unlike his peers Shawnna, Chingy, and the previously mentioned I-20, it took Tauheed quite a while before he was able to break out alongside Dolla Boy — let alone as a solo act.

When Playaz Circle finally reunited for their debut Supply And Demand, (which is shamefully missing from streaming services along with their entire discography) and scored their first Billboard charting hit, “Duffle Bag Boy” in 2007 with Lil Wayne on the unforgettable hook, the tandem proved their commercial value in the market. It’s obvious that Weezy, who would soon join 2 Chainz on their collaborative Collegrove album nine years later, gave his Atlanta peer a game-changing assist that helped catapult Tauheed to his first taste of stardom. But it was 2 Chainz’s own star power, due to a combination of high caliber wordplay and flamboyant delivery paired with his thick, southern dialect, and the allure of a laid-back, yet poised persona that cemented his status. He and Ludacris were both certainly aware of his own value when he requested his walking papers from DTP around 2010. At the time, this was a risky move because historically, there were not a lot of rappers who could break out of platinum-selling rap cliques and garner interest and notoriety by themselves.

Through a steady stream of consistently solid mixtapes like his Trap-A-Velli series beginning in 2009, Codeine Cowboy (February 2011), and TRU REALigion (November 2011), matched with his prolific touring between clubs and colleges across the country all during 2007-2011, 2 Chainz gradually grew his fanbase from a down-south-cult following to a nationwide legion. This period laid down the necessary groundwork for his future as a trendsetting figure at the intersection of hip-hop and mainstream pop culture. But up until recently, a lot of 2 Chainz’s content revolved mainly around the typical trap themes. This included a focus on accumulating obscene wealth, gratuitous sex, surviving drug wars, and gloriously overcoming poverty in Atlanta (with some rare, yet compelling intro/retrospection here and there). Still, his witty wordplay, infectious songwriting, and nimble bars easily stand toe-to-toe with his peers, T.I., Ludacris, Future, Young Jeezy, and even Lil Wayne himself.

The problem, however, as he moved into a 2011-2013 mainstream breakout period, was that despite having club hits and a platinum-selling album, the quality of his lyrics were nowhere as consistent on his first few albums. This stood in direct comparison to his performances on mixtapes and monstrous guest features. During his time with Kanye West’s GOOD Music, it was common to hear 2 Chainz go from becoming a literal Johnny Blaze on collaborations like “Mercy” spitting rhymes like, “Spit rounds like a gun range / Beat it up like Rampage / Hundred bands, cut your girl / Now your girl need a Band-Aid,” to serving Grade F mid on “Birthday Song,” notoriously rapping, “She got a big booty, so I call her big booty / Skrr, skrr, wrists movin’, cookin’, gettin’ to it.” This, with the lyrical constraints placed on trap beats by nature, and the lack of substantial content — despite having colorful and explosive music — made it hard for some fans and critics to put Chainz in the same G.O.A.T. conversation as the previously mentioned down south legends like T.I. In his own odd way, Chainz was like the trap J. Cole as his die hard core audience, “the streets,” and more open-minded hip-hop heads fiercely believed in his music and talent, but detractors had too much ammunition to argue otherwise.

With hit records like “Feds Watching” in 2014 the creative tide really started turning for Tauheed; first of all, he got back to flooding the streets with a series of free mixtapes and EPs. To this day, many of these projects released between 2014-2017 like Freebase, Felt Like Cappin, Daniel Son, Necklace Don remain a huge creative high point, revealing 2 Chainz as a much more focused lyricist than ever before. That’s why it’s not surprising to listen to him valiantly hold his own alongside Lil Wayne on their Collegrove album in 2016, which was met with a positive reception. And when he followed up with Pretty Girls Like Trap in 2017, he seemed to have found the perfect combination of showcasing top-tier and inspired lyricism with making accessible and colorful mainstream hits.

Focusing back on 2 Chainz’s progression as an all-time G.O.A.T. once again, those conversations are also measured by how strongly he held his own when standing next to other rap titans, be it a contemporary, predecessor, or newcomer, as well as an underappreciated quality, his ability to deliver peak performances even when outside of his comfort zone. Listing the most captivating bars from his long trail of lyrical collaborations is way too long for this essay, but any fan or detractor can easily go back and listen to him fight for his place on the mountain alongside legendary wordsmiths like, Raekwon, Pusha T, Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, Young Jeezy, The Game, T.I., Drake, Too $hort, Big K.R.I.T., PRhyme, Cyhi The Prince, De La Soul, and David Banner among many more. This matters because these are moments where 2 Chainz took full advantage of being underestimated as a lyricist to shock the naysayers.

It’s also common for G.O.A.T. to consistently body their guest features, and while his early album catalog’s quality can be inconsistent at times, his long string of guest features have been overwhelmingly great, even leading up to a few weeks ago with his appearance on Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings (remix).” This situation was an example where he demonstrated his rare knack for blending diplomacy with remarkable business savvy, leverage the situation for himself and taking a W that led to the Amarie-sampled “Rule The World” collaboration with Ariana on his latest album.

And like his old boss Ludacris, 2 Chainz stepped outside of his comfortable southern musical territory and went above and beyond to prove his immaculate lyrical abilities weren’t limited to the trap. While he didn’t necessarily have a chance to hop on a monumental and unapologetically New York banger like Nas’ “Made You Look (remix)” I’d argue his appearance on the GOOD Music posse cut “Mercy” makes up for it, by being just as much of a huge moment for hip-hop culture. And like on Luda’s Theater Of The Mind, where he’s on “MVP” slaughtering a DJ Premier beat, Chainz on the 9th Wonder-produced “Threat 2 Society” off his latest album showcases him pouring out his soul while delivering some of his more fleshed out and compelling rhymes like; “I done some things I ain’t proud of / Like sold my mom drugs / The devil put some toxin in me / Demons tryna have an auction in me.”

Rap Or Go To The League may be his first album to receive nearly universal praise among a wide-reaching range of rap and music fans — and as mentioned before, every G.O.A.T. level rapper needs several of these, if not more than one undisputed classics. In fact, his lack of a classic rap album may be the only reason why 2 Chainz hasn’t necessarily reached undisputed territory yet. The truth is, while Rap Or Go To The League shattered the opinions of those who misjudged his music from afar, it proved everything the real fans already knew about him, and even shattered some their own expectations as his most focused and mature project. And even though it dramatically pushed him ever further into the stratosphere of legendary status, solidifying him as one of this decade’s best overall hip-hop artists, he still isn’t an undisputed G.O.A.T. yet.

Even for all of Rap Or Go To The League’s high points, such as his thought-provoking social and personal commentary, its high emotional impact, diverse production, spellbinding verses, and even a much tighter tracklist, the project still gets weighed down by the sequencing, which causes the closing moments to become significantly flat and repetitive. Songs like “Threat 2 Society,” the painfully honest “Forgiven,” the explosive sports-revolution anthem “NCAA,” along with the infectiously charming “Girl’s Best Friend” all show 2 Chainz at his most well-rounded and executing at a high level. Unfortunately, even though there’s no song that could be considered terrible, tracks like “I Said Me” can be boring because his delivery comes off as dull and uninterested. His often effective laid-back flow backfires on him a few times like on “Sam” which would have been a much better time to close on a higher note with say, either his Travis Scott assisted “Whip” or the inspiring “Money In The Way.”

So although Rap Or Go To The League is definitely 2 Chainz best album, it isn’t a classic yet. For one thing, it’s still far too early to accurately gauge its complete impact on hip-hop, which has only just begun and will need a chance to settle in. Also, while he does go outside his comfort zone sonically, like on the previously mentioned “Threat 2 Society” and the west coast-tinged, DJ Mustard-produced “2 Dollar Bill,” he’s still far too comfortable resting on his laurels within trap vibes. And to be clear, this is not necessarily a call for him to leave what made him great in the first place, but to further broaden his sound, content, and even collaborations to create new, fresh moments that many listeners could have never imagine before. Who wouldn’t want to hear a 2 Chainz and Bad Bunny union or a long-awaited Hov or Nas feature? Or even more monumental, a full-fledged musical reunion with Ludacris.

All 2 Chainz needs at this point is one final push in order to become a full-fledged G.O.A.T., which could be either an album that’s just as creatively ambitious as Rap Or Go To The League, or an album with a unique approach and quality exceeding anything he’s ever done before. Either way, while he is not necessarily a G.O.A.T. yet, he’s stepping right on the edge of the border. 2 Chainz fits the majority of the criteria as has already provided a long string of hit records and commercial success, consistently performed as a bar-for-bar standout lyricist across many mixtapes, albums, and guest features, and left a huge imprint on pop culture. The gaudy rapper touched the world with the success of his Dabbin Santa sweaters, his pink trap house that held events and served the community in Atlanta, his Most Expensivest web series and TV show with GQ and Viceland, respectively, and of course, through his flamboyant and luxurious fashion sense that makes his persona and presence stand out that much more.

Over the years, 2 Chainz has grown to become one of hip-hop’s most beloved figures, especially as he continues to evolve as an artist. Between his twenty-plus years in the game, the way he flipped his label situation into a powerhouse career, and taking into account his approach toward music and entertainment along with a God-tier sense of style and charisma, the impact 2 Chainz has had on hip-hop’s culture is undeniable. Most importantly, he’s produced a strong and rapidly-improving musical body of work that has helped him become one of the best rappers of the decade. All he needs now is an undisputed classic album — and he’s already shown the potential to make it.

Rap Or Go To The League is out now via Gamebread LLC/Def Jam. Get it here.

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