I remember watching an MTV special on 2 Chainz around 2012, where I was surprised to learn the dope-slinging trap rapper graduated high school as the salutatorian and landed a scholarship to play basketball. And yet, in the end he chose hip hop, recording hits like “I’m Different” and “Birthday Song” and becoming one of the most desired features in the industry ($100K for a verse). All those past collaborations would come back around for this album with a superstar list of guests: Marsha Ambrosius, Young Thug, Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande, Ty Dolla $ign, Lil Wayne, E-40, Chance the Rapper and Kodak Black.
The title Rap or Go to the League is both a nod to 2 Chainz’s own past choice and a reference to the widely-held belief of young people trapped in the hood — the only way out is to rap or go to “the league.”
Right from the beginning, 2 Chainz makes it clear that this is not a trap album. On the soulful “Forgiven,” he laments the dangerous decisions he made as a kid and mourns the loss of his friends’ children who died too young. However, the introspective tone of the album is quick to fall apart. By the time “Whip” starts playing, the personal, from-the-soul theme is out the window, both sonically and lyrically.
2 Chainz attempts to occupy just about every lane of hip hop at once on this record: a west-coast style DJ Mustard track (“2 Dollar Bill”), a modern Southern sound on his collaborations with Young Thug and Travis Scott (“High Top Versace” and “Whip”), and even a borderline pop-rap record with Ariana Grande (“Rule the World”). Quite frankly, this album is all over the place.
That’s not to say 2 Chainz has never dabbled in most of these subgenres before, but one sound that was completely new was the MF Doom-esque song “Threat 2 Society.” Packed with complex rhymes over a soul sample-based beat, 2 Chainz proves he can go toe-to-toe with lyrically-gifted artists like Earl Sweatshirt. Based on this song, a Madlib-produced 2 Chainz album (in the vein of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s Piñata) might be a match made in heaven. Despite all the big-name features on this album, “Threat 2 Society,” a solo track, might be one of the best songs.
Don’t get it twisted — just about all the collaborators came through on this album despite its weak points. “2 Dollar Bill” has an annoying hook, but Lil Wayne and E-40 bring so much heat that it almost saves the song. Chance the Rapper’s gives a mellow-cool verse on “I’m Not Crazy, Life Is” that almost offsets the disappointing Kodak Black verse on the same track. But no artist came through harder than Kendrick Lamar did on “Momma I Hit a Lick,” a unique and ominous Pharrell-produced track. A collaboration in the truest sense of the word, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar seamlessly share the hook and bleed into each other’s verses.
For each high point, however, there is a low. The only time 2 Chainz tries to address the idea that there are more paths out of the hood than rap and basketball is on the outro to “NCAA” — otherwise, nothing ties this record together outside the first few songs. “High Top Versace” and “Whip” are decent, but sound like Young Thug and Travis Scott b-sides. The last track, “Sam,” could have been cut and the album would’ve been better off for it.
Rap or Go to the League is paradoxical, an unremarkable album filled with super high peaks. 2 Chainz flexes a near unmatchable level of versatility, but lacks any consistency in sound or message. The record itself may not be worth listening to again in a few months time, but tracks like “Threat 2 Society” or “Momma I Hit a Lick” will make permanent homes in Spotify listeners’ playlists.