One night late in 2007, I went to see Jay-Z at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, a small-venue show that was part of the American Gangster release rollout. This was a great show, as most Jay-Z shows are. But the most memorable moment of the show didn’t belong to Jay. About halfway through the show, Lil Wayne came out, grinning like a gremlin and loping in this little hop-step, to do “Hello Brooklyn” with Jay. And when the song was over, Wayne grabbed the mic for a quick second. He didn’t say anything. Instead, he sang his chorus to “Duffle Bag Boy,” a song that was huge at the moment. The crowd reacted like this was a Fugazi show and they were hearing “Waiting Room.” In my many years of going to shows, I have heard very, very few singalongs that loud. “Duffle Bag Boy” wasn’t Jay’s song, and it wasn’t Wayne’s either. Wayne didn’t even rap on the song; he just sang the hook in the beginning of that era when he would sing all the fucking time. The song belonged to Playaz Circle, a little-known Atlanta group that had never scored a hit before and never would again. One half of Playaz Circle was Tity Boi, a guy who’d been on guest-verse duty in Ludacris’ Disturbing Tha Peace crew for years and who, other than his goofy-ass name and a brief, ill-advised feud with Trap Muzik-era T.I., had never really made much of an impression. Tity Boi is now 2 Chainz. “If it wasn’t for Wayne, it wouldn’t be a lot of dudes in the game, including me,” 2 Chainz raps in the opening moments of ColleGrove, his and Wayne’s new collaborative album. He isn’t kidding.
2 Chainz isn’t some supernova rap star, but he’s carved out a career as a solid, dependable B-lister, a guy who scores hits and knows how to put together a memorable punchline. That’s pretty incredible, considering how much time 2 Chainz spent on the DTP bench. He was well into his thirties by the time he started making hits on his own, and that simply never happens in rap. (Wayne, for his part, was barely old enough to drive when he started making hits.) 2 Chainz might’ve come up under Ludacris, but he found stardom around the time Wayne took him under his wing. And 2 Chainz doesn’t mind admitting this. The first sound we hear on ColleGrove is an old recording of Wayne telling 2 Chainz to leave Ludacris behind and sign to Young Money. And “Dedication,” the album’s first song, 2 Chainz tells the whole story of his relationship with Wayne: “I told you I was rapping, I told you I wasn’t writing / You said Luda was foolish because he wasn’t excited.” The song’s hook is just 2 Chainz muttering, “That’s my dog” over and over. It’s practically a love song.
Here’s something I wrote about Wayne last year: “Now we have to hear Wayne wandering, friendless, in a world that he created.” Wayne was stuck in a feud and a legal battle with Birdman, his former label boss and mentor. And even though Wayne is probably the single most influential rapper of this young century, he was stuck on the shelf, unable to release any music. Even though the feud is over now, the legal battle is ongoing. But as it turns out, Wayne wasn’t friendless. He had 2 Chainz. ColleGrove is, at least officially, a 2 Chainz album. It’s out on Def Jam, 2 Chainz’ label, and it includes a couple of his recent solo mixtape hits, “MFN Right” and “Watch Out.” 2 Chainz’ face is the only one on the cover, but he’s got all of Wayne’s face tattoos drawn on. Eight of the album’s 13 songs feature Wayne, and he’s the only other rapper on the album, but every Wayne appearance is a “featuring” credit. I don’t know the whole story behind the album, but it seems like 2 Chainz figured out that the only way Wayne could release music anymore was as a featured artist, so he devoted an entire album to bringing Wayne back from the wilderness. If I’m reading all this right, the album’s mere existence is an act of true friendship. It’s also a rap version of the old rock trope where a young upstart helps facilitate a beloved elder’s comeback — like Jack White producing Loretta Lynn or the Rolling Stones touring with Howlin’ Wolf — except with the weird caveat that Wayne is actually five years younger than 2 Chainz.
ColleGrove is destined to be overshadowed by Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered., the other big surprise-release rap album that came out on Friday. And it should be overshadowed. Even compared to an album of Kendrick Lamar leftovers, ColleGrove is a decidedly minor affair, a chance for two old friends to bounce punchlines off of each other. (If it isn’t already obvious, untitled unmastered. would’ve been Album Of The Week if I hadn’t already written about it.) But minor though it may be, ColleGrove is fun. It’s loose and freewheeling, and it never takes itself seriously. For these two rappers, that’s a best-case scenario. And for Wayne in particular, it’s a chance to recapture some of the virtuosic goofiness that he showed for so long. The Wayne of ColleGrove is nowhere near the man’s own circa-2006 peak, but it’s a lot closer than we’ve heard in his last few distracted, expansive years. It’s been a long minute since we’ve heard Wayne attack the mic like he does on “Bounce“: “My ceiling’s absent, my wheels are massive, my friends assassins / All of us bastards, our mothers queens and our women dancers.” He sounds hungry again. It’s been a while.
Still, even if the album represents a reactivated Wayne, it still very much belongs to 2 Chainz, for reasons that go way beyond who’s credited on the CD sleeve. Wayne’s loose, sloppy aesthetic is nowhere near this thing. Instead, it’s a short, sharp, professional affair. 2 Chainz might never make a proper album, but he’s great at putting together songs, and ColleGrove is a collection of really good songs rather than a cohesive album-length statement. The album includes the production talent of some of the best people working — Metro Boomin, London On Da Track, Honorable C-Note. And since 2 Chainz has one of rap’s great ears for beats, all of them bring their A-material. And this being a 2 Chainz album, it’s structurally nothing much more than an endless procession of punchlines. When Wayne is on, he buries 2 Chainz. But when Wayne disappears into the gooey AutoTuned morass, as on the Mannie Fresh-produced single “Gotta Lotta,” 2 Chainz is right there to brag about making pussy smell like cough syrup and to anchor the whole thing. And it helps that the 2 Chainz solo tracks here are some of the most fun things he’s done in years. “Watch Out” might be the best song on here, and it doesn’t even need Wayne.
Beyond the simple stick-to-your-man sentiment on “Dedication,” there’s nothing even remotely deep about ColleGrove. And it’s entirely possible that the album will be completely forgotten a month from now. It’s lightweight by design, and Wayne is going to have to do a whole lot more than this to get his career fully back on track. Still, as the weather turns to spring, there is no album in recent memory that’s been this much fun to drive around and bang with the windows open. It’s a low-stakes album, and there’s nothing to pick apart the way there is on something like untitled unmastered. But not every album can be that, and not every album should. Sometimes, the world just needs a simple burst of goofiness from two old friends. Sometimes, that’s plenty.
ColleGrove is out now on Def Jam. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Kendrick Lamar’s dense, layered surprise untitled unmastered.
• Mind Spiders’ fast, toothy psych-rocker Prosthesis.
• Into It. Over It.’s rich, orchestral indie confessional Standards.
• Bent Shapes’ nervy indie-popper Wolves Of Want.
• Hospital Ships’ dark, intricate The Past Is Not A Flood.
• Flatbush Zombies’ drug-rap bugout 3001: A Laced Odyssey.
• Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon’s solo move Painkillers.
• El Guincho’s dazed beach-music return HiperAsia.
• Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara’s solo album Limn.
• Little Green Cars’ slow, dramatic Ephemera.
• Triumvir Foul’s self-titled death metal debut.
• Vektor’s progressive thrasher Terminal Redux.
• Draugnim’s pagan black metal soul-stirrer Vulturine.
• Glint’s emotional rocker Inverter.
• Horse Jumper Of Love’s self-titled slowcore debut.
• MMOTHS’ electronic debut Luneworks.
• The Jeff Buckley unreleased-covers collection You And I.
• The Greatest Hoax’s Special Cases EP.
• Carey’s self-titled EP.
• Liphemra’s did u cry EP.
• Panopticon and Waldgeflüster’s atmospheric black metal split.