By Jared Prenda
There has long been a stigma of the inner city that young men are born to either play professional sports, become a rapper, or die a trapper in the hood. Rapper 2 Chainz, born Tauheed Epps, has embodied all three aspects if this stigma at points in his life, but the title of his 5th studio album, Rap or Go to the League, protests this idea.
Epps was felon before he turned 18, “trapping” on corners in his native Atlanta through his Division I basketball career at Alabama State. Though 2 Chainz never went pro in basketball, it was in his senior year in 1997 that he formed the rap duo Playaz Circle under the moniker of Tity Boi to find a legal means of income. In 2012, the rapper caught his break and signed a solo deal with Defjam Records and has never looked back since.
The self-proclaimed “strip club veteran” has long left his “trapping” lifestyle behind him and has ventured into a plethora of legal enterprises. From his sneaker collaboration with Italian fashion house Versace, to his illustrious rap career as one of the faces of Kanye West’s label G.O.O.D. Music, and finally co-hosting his hit series, “Most Expensivest,” on Viceland with his French bulldog, Trappy (@trappygoyard on Instagram), 2 Chainz stays winning.
Throughout the album 2 Chainz embodies all three elements of this venn diagram: baller, rapper, and trapper. On the opening track, “Forgiven,” featuring Marsha Ambrosius, 2 Chainz opens with an audio clip of TV commentators introducing him in a college basketball game before transitioning to rapping about life on the street and his eventual departure to stardom. He ends the track with a monologue talking about how parents shouldn’t be burying their kids, and those leading lives that end in an early grave need to reevaluate what they are doing.
The album is a slight departure from what most fans of the artist have come to expect. Normally 2 Chainz fills his lyrics with a braggadocio look at the life of a millionaire and plenty of funny one liners. There is still plenty of that on his most recent project (see: “I’m rare like Mr. Clean with hair” on the track “2 Dollar Bill”), but this album takes on a more serious and refined look at the 41-year-old. On tracks like “Momma I Hit a Lick” with Kendrick Lamar and “Statute of Limitations” the rapper looks back on his youth on the corner, selling drugs and “trying to stay out of jail and stay out of the grave.” On the track “NCAA” 2 Chainz attacks the system of collegiate athletics, and the exploitation of black athletes for profit, by the NCAA. The hook of the song sings, “NCAA, we the young and dangerous, we be ballin’ hard, I just want some paper.” Finally, the artist takes a look at the broken system that is perverse in the inner cities, where the schools don’t educate young minorities and the police who are supposed to protect them are the biggest threat to young lives on the song “Sam”.
The “Hair Weave Killer” also allows listeners to finally get an image of both the rapper and millionaire who even casual fans of the genre are well familiar with, but also the man Tauheed Epps that few know. He raps about finally settling down and marrying long time fiancée and mother of his three children Kesha Ward. He raps about how he has to be there for his daughters and can’t continue to live the carefree lifestyle he once led. He raps about the concern he has for his kids as young black people and the racial hardships that society generates.
Overall, this is the most complete project released by the veteran in his solo career. It does more than just provide hits for the club but provides and insight into the world of rap and the hood that he normally shies away from. This could be thanks to the A&R on the album, who fitting with the album’s title, was none other than NBA Star and future Hall of Famer Lebron James. James has long influenced rap and ran in the same circles as the stars his entire career. This influence allowed James to push 2 Chainz into treading unfamiliar waters that added a level of complexity missing from prior projects.
With that being said, this is by no means a “serious” 2 Chainz album. It is still filled with themes of winning, funny lines, and a devil-may-care attitude. But instead of that being the only focus he looks back on his life and traces the steps that led him to where he is today. The album is a complete project from the opening track to the conclusion, with all the boysterous arrogance fans love. If asked to recommend a listen, I would only quote 2 Chainz on a now infamous 2015 Nancy Grace interview and signature ad lib, “Truuuuuuuu!”