It’s funny how this Mixtape Of The Week business works. Some weeks, there will be absolutely nothing exciting happening, and some weeks we’ll get so many good mixtapes, often on the same day, that I practically bust an eye vein stressing about which one I’m picking. Last week, for instance, was so barren that I ended up giving the nod to the Devil’s VIOLENCE, a violent experiment that I might actually hate. This week, though, we got a generous handful of mixtapes worthy of your attention. Beyoncé production mastermind Boots came out with WinterSpringSummerFall, a deep-dive into his own production ideas that features some appealingly terrible rapping. Low Pros, the duo of A-Trak and Lex Luger, came out with the tough, frenetic dance-rap experiment EP1. The low-key Atlanta rap weirdo Rome Fortune teamed up with the great producer Dun Deal for the Drive, Thighs & Lies EP. Any of those tapes could’ve justifiably gotten the nod, and there were a few others that I didn’t even get around to checking out. Next week, if things are slow, maybe one of them will get it. But I gave it this week to 2 Chainz’ big mixtape-world return Freebase, using the logic that it’s more consistently fun than any of the others and I’m more likely to be banging it out the car windows in a month or two.
2 Chainz was a rap-industry hanger-on for so long that it’s still hard to believe that he’s a straight-up star now; it’s been a solid decade since the nascent rap internet was guffawing about the idea of Tity Boi trying to beef with T.I. But 2 Chainz is a star because of mixtapes, because of ridiculously catchy smart-dumb earworms like “Spend It” and “Riot” that took their time crossing over and convincing the world that the middle-aged guy with the dreads from Playaz Circle was going to be a thing now. Rare among the current rap A-list, 2 Chainz has barely done anything to switch up his mixtape style for mainstream rap consumption. His jokes and references were broad at the outset, his flow had an appealingly goofy I-know-this-is-dumb-but-that-just-means-I’m-going-to-yell-it-louder lunacy working for it, and he’s had a natural gift for hooks every since he learned to stop taking himself seriously. Just about any of the tracks on his two B.O.A.T.S. albums could work as mixtape tracks, and actually the only time he ever loses the thread is when he tries to devote entire songs to talking seriously about his struggle. The new Freebase EP is 2 Chainz’ first mixtape since he got famous, and it makes the most of his strengths while utterly disguising his weaknesses.
2 Chainz is still a somewhat limited rapper, a great guy for guest appearances but someone who can get a bit tiresome at album length. So the construction of Freebase — six songs plus an intro track — is just about perfect. I don’t know how he can tell what’s a for-the-streets song and what works on an album, since it’s not like he stopped talking about selling drugs on either of his albums. But he stays in pure goofball-gonzo form throughout Freebase, and it never stops working. He’s a shameless rapper, absolutely happy to brag about absurd new-money stuff and make groan-worthy Leisure Suit Larry come-ons in the same breath: “Snakeskin wallpaper, rose-gold chandelier / I’m looking for a baby-eater; can I get a volunteer?” But he’s also got a strange ability to get emotionally rare for one bar and then back into joke-mode on the next: “I’m famous with my fam around / Damn, I wish I had my dad around / Gave my nigga a Lamborghini, so that’s a motherfucking Lam-me-down.” And I really like the isolated moments where he bemusedly makes note of all his years in rap: “I done did songs with everybody, from Jermaine Dupri down to Papoose.” On opening track “Trap Back,” he raps in quick, darting triplet — the much-discussed Migos flow — and then takes a moment for a quick history lesson about who he’s ripping off: “This flow came from Drizzy; he got it from Migos; they got it from Three 6.” The whole time, he’s having fun, and the feeling is infectious.
Freebase is loaded with the regular pile of guest verses, and most of them don’t amount to much. Cap 1 is sturdy and impressive but not that distinctive on “They Know”; Rick Ross wheezes through “Crib In My Closet” on pure autopilot. A$AP Rocky starts his verse on “Crib In My Closet” by claiming ignorance — “since rapping turned to fashion, I don’t know what happened — even though he is what happened. The only guest who handily upstages 2 Chainz is the fresh-out-of-prison Lil Boosie, who brings his cartoonish yawp and aggrieved sincerity to “Wuda Cuda Shuda” and gives my favorite guest verse in recent memory: “That Bentley come from Exotic Rentals / Gotta go back Sunday, so you flat broke Monday / Probably could spend 200 on something if you was getting Boosie money.” The beat on that song is a tingling, clumsy bass-wobble from Mike Will Made-It, and it’s a deeply weird track — as are all the songs on the tape really. “Crib In My Closet” is all operatic bombast, “They Know” is diamond-hard Cirque Du Soleil music, and “FREEBASE” seesaws dementedly all over the place. Best of all is “Trap Back,” a piece of off-kilter echoing jungle-funk so cluttered that it should make straight-up rapping impossible. But 2 Chainz navigates it just fine, and maybe that’s just something you learn to do when you’ve been around for so long.2 Chainz probably doesn’t get enough credit for his songwriting instincts, but every song on his new mixtape works, even though some of them probably shouldn’t. He’s a fun guy to have around, and I wish he’d come up with something like this a little more often.
Download Freebase at Livemixtapes.