The title of Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz's fifth studio album, Rap or Go to the League, is a reference to the destructive belief that the only two routes out of a life of crime and poverty are to either become a famous rapper or athlete. The title alone indicates a new level of consciousness and amplified maturity, at least moving well past the larger-than-life party monster persona that made some of his early songs multi-platinum hits. While there are still moments of that strip-club bravado here, these 14 songs are more reflective and thoughtful than anything 2 Chainz has turned in before. Beats built on wistful soul samples make up tracks like the Ariana Grande-assisted "Rule the World" or the autobiographical album opener, "Forgiven," creating a pervasive mood of introspection. Rap or Go to the League moves between this emotional searching and bangers like "Momma I Hit a Lick" and bass-heavy flex-fests like "2 Dollar Bill." 2 Chainz calls out the big guns on these tracks, with verses from Lil Wayne, E-40, and Kendrick Lamar, and elsewhere on the album he trades rhymes with Travis Scott, Kodak Black, Chance the Rapper, Young Thug, and Ty Dolla $ign. The strength of the album is its ability to explore more serious themes without losing the fun and swagger that the rapper made his name on. Now in his early forties, it makes sense that 2 Chainz's art is developing beyond hedonistic abandon to touch on real-life concerns like family, society, and becoming an elder statesman of the rap game. Without making any kind of heavy-handed declaration, Rap or Go to the League is a step forward in 2 Chainz's artistry, and reveals sides of his personality that were previously harder to see in the shadow of his enormous persona.
Rap or Go to the League Review
by Fred Thomas