By: Tyree Howard
The late Notorious B.I.G. once said “either you’re slinging crack rock, or you got a wicked jump shot.” It wasn’t just a line, but a way of life for some young African American males as they felt they only had two options to make it out of the environments they were in. It was either sell drugs, or become a NBA player.
The context of that mind frame is still intact today, but instead of becoming a well-known drug dealer, it’s been replaced with becoming a famous rapper. 2 Chainz’s fifth studio album, “Rap or Go to the League”, exhibits these parallels as it relates to young African American males growing up in this generation.
2 Chainz has always made solid albums, but he’s never been outwardly perceived as much of an album artist. To some, that’s a false claim due to his previous efforts like “T.R.U. REALigion” and “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music”. This go-around, 2 Chainz showed that a player can go from being underrated to being nominated for MVP the next season.
He formed his rap group, Playaz Circle, in 1997; the last year he played college basketball at Alabama State. He’d sold drugs in the meantime and, for much of his life, he was a felon before he was legally an adult.
The album opens at a basketball game. The announcer reads the name Tauheed Epps, 2Chainz’s birth name. Then you hear the soulful sounds of Marsha Ambrosius and, from the start, it’s evident 2 Chainz is telling the story of a young black male trying to turn his dreams of stardom by any means into a reality. It’s a story that he’s quite familiar with.
“Forgiven” is about 2 Chainz’s dream of living lavishly and making it to the league to provide a better situation for the ones that are close to him. It recounts the news of the death of his childhood friend Lil Fate, and dealing with that emotion internally and externally.
“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/As a parent, it’s apparent, ain’t no parents/Seeing stops once we leave the carriage,” raps Chainz.
2 Chainz still isn’t an activist, but he has tweaked his messaging a bit to show the maturity and growth of someone that has seen it all and done it all.
His journey is finally at the point where he feels comfortable openly talking about his married family life and personal triumph, and this is evident with the next track “Threat to Society”.
The idea of being underrated in the rap game is displayed in the beginning lines of the chorus, “Never get the credit I deserve, I don’t know if you hearin‘ every word”. He easily showcases his rapping ability over the soulful 9th Wonder beat. It’s his tale of who he is now as a person based on the sacrifices he had to make to get to the point he’s at in his career.
He then takes you back to his drug dealing days on the following track, “Statue of Limitations”. He talks about selling drugs to rappers before he became a rapper. “Ex drug deal, ex athlete” is a little subtle relatable line that everyone has grown to love from 2 Chainz.
“Rap or Go to the League” has all of the different facets of 2 Chainz that we love, working in harmony at high levels for the first time. His signature trap sound is heard on “High Top Versace”, “Whip”, and “NCAA.”
“NCAA” brings back the “Rap or Go to the League” theme by exploring the injustices college athletes face by bringing in millions to the schools, but never receiving any profit from it.
In his last verse, he rapped about former Heisman-winning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and even briefly mentioned NBA Star Lebron James, who executive produced the album.
“Manziel had the highest sellin‘ jersey, Bron moved back to Cleveland, Drake made a song ’bout him, Man, he ain’t even workin”. This song shows the growth of 2 Chainz as an artist, as he was able to merge his signature sound with an underlying theme that resonates with everyone worldwide.
2 Chainz ends the album with “Sam”; this is a song that everyone can relate to. It’s an ode to Uncle Sam, the personification of the United States government income tax. It’s the downfall of any player whether you’re an athlete, entertainer or regular citizen. It’s the perfect ending to the album. It shows the story of a player who had dreams of becoming an NBA Player and not being able to live the same life once he retires.
Through it all, “Rap or Go to the League” is an album of triumph; not only for the listener, but for 2 Chainz as an artist. He reaffirms that he should be mentioned with the top rappers in today’s generation. This album shows more focus, maturity, and displays elite execution. He’s not a player that’s underrated, but more of a player who exuberates extreme confidence in his rapping abilities. It proves why he’s probably your favorite rapper, favorite rapper.