Entertainment Spotlight: 2 Chainz
by: Patrick Lyons, Hot New Hip Hop
In less than three months, 2 Chainz will turn 40. You'd never know it from listening to Pretty Girls Like Trap Music though. Like nearly ever 2 Chainz and Tity Boi album before it, it's thoroughly modern, but beyond that, its nearly devoid of any awkward, out-of-character moments. Not once does Chainz feel like ATL trap's cool uncle, as Big Boi (42) often does on his new album-- more on that tomorrow. Not even when he's sharing a track with the prince of the vibes generation, Travis Scott, or rapping over beats by Drake's latest OVO golden boy, Murda Beatz, does it feel like 2 Chainz is making a play at a younger demographic. 2 Chainz is the anti-Rolling Stones going disco, anti-Jay-Z going trap, and anti-Steve Buscemi wearing a backwards hat and carrying a skateboard. He's evolved alongside Atlanta rap music so seamlessly that he now seems like an immortal being sent here to inhabit trap music until it finally fades from popularity.
About that evolution-- since his Playaz Circle beginnings, and through his first, "I'm Different"-buoyed resurgence, Chainz was always a better rapper than people gave him credit for. I'll rarely cede to Joe Budden, but he hit the nail on the head while recently talking to Chainz on his Complex show: “You are beloved by the n****s that can’t rap, and all of the lyricists-- not very many in that pocket.” Around his 2011/2012 rebirth with a new name, his skills manifested as effortlessness and simplicity that allowed him to open a verse with a line like "She got a big booty so I call her Big Booty" and then sneak inside jokes as clever as "True to my religion, two everything, I'm too different" into the verse's back half. He was splitting the difference between Young Dro's mid-2000s peak and hashtag rap.
PGLTM immediately shows us how far he's come in the past five years over the course of two marathon verses on "Saturday Night." Anybody that still doubts his abilities should be shut up by minute two of the album. The other most obvious evidence of 2 Chainz's progression comes on the Nicki Minaj collab, "Realize," where he hits lyrical home-runs like the double entendre "I'm underdog and you undermine" while Nicki's so 2000-and-late with that hashtag rap flow: "Checks, clear/Bible, swear." Nicki, who broke out just a year or two before 2 Chainz (not Tity Boi), seems to have been treading water for a few years while Chainz has been keeping his ear to the streets and tirelessly practicing. There's a reason why, in the last couple of years, Chainz has undergone the second resurgence he describes on "Saturday Night": "Everybody in the city say Tity done started back snappin.'"
Not only is 2 Chainz's pen game stepped up a bit from last year's fun-but-relatively-shallow trio of EPs, but this album also finds him devoting more time to autobiographical detail than ever, which he handles well. As the title would suggest, most of these stories revolve around the trap, where 2 Chainz probably hasn't been for years at this point, but the wise perspective he offers on it saves him from falling victim to the Danny Brown "I'm sick of all these n****s with their ten year old stories/You ain't doing that no more, n**** lying to the shorty" conundrum. In addition to storytelling intro "Saturday Night," we get "Door Swangin," an ode to his former place of business that includes the line "Had a felony before you knew what a felony was," and "Poor Fool," an origin story that reveals that his initial cause for trapping was his mother telling him, "You make some paper, then you make your own rules."
Don't worry though, Tity's not getting entirely stoic and serious with age. There's still plenty of room on PGLTM for the type of outlandish boasts that he should probably have trademarked at this point. These range from the utterly ridiculous ones that would make Rick Ross bashful ("Tell my driver when he opens my door to take off his hat," "My side chick got pregnant by her main dude and I'm offended") to the sort of dumb-smart wordplay he's mastered since day one ("Need a tat on my stomach that say prawns only," "Under the influence, I stayed on the first floor") to things I won't even pretend to understand ("For my birthday I threw me a surprise party," "I just ate Pro Tools).
Musically, the album sounds modern without chasing trends like dancehall-pop or trap flutes (despite Murda's presence), and there's even a Jeezy sample on "Trap Check" that smoothly transitions to stately piano you'd never hear on TM101. Mirroring 2 Chainz' maturation are these subtle baroque flourishes that often pop up on the second verse of many of the album's tracks-- the synth strings on "Door Swangin," the toy box harpsichord on "Poor Fool," the lush live bassline on "Rolls Royce Bitch," the elaborate percussion on "OG Kush Diet, the horn on "Burglar Bars." It's a perfect parallel for where Chainz is currently at in his career: staying in touch with the times without bending over backwards to conform to trends, getting gradually more stately and elegant with time.
Were PGLTM pared down to the length of last year's ten-track Daniel Son; Necklace Don, it'd be very close to perfect, but unfortunately what drags it down are some concessions made to crossover plays. Do we really need "Good Drank" on here, a good eight months after it dropped on Hibachi For Lunch, or is it just here to bolster streaming numbers? Nicki's appearance on the otherwise decent "Realize," as I mentioned before, adds little more than star power and out-of-place Remy Madisses to the track. "It's A Vibe" is a decent single but there's no good place to squeeze it in on the album, as evidenced by how awkward it sounds after the emotional "Poor Fool." Thankfully, the unnecessary Drake and Pharrell collabs are relegated to bonus track status.
That said, 2 Chainz isn't to blame for any of PGLTM's shortcomings, and it's an album that makes him feel more invincible and impervious to time than ever. The only thing that would lead you to believe that he's more than twice the age of a couple of the recent XXL Freshman is how effortlessly he flows, strings together bars, and tells his own story. Those skills come with time, and most rappers lose their swag long before its able to coexist with said skills.