If you think 2 Chainz has a bad rap name, please be advised that this guy spent years — years — working under the name Tity Boi. Until recently, there hasn’t been a whole lot of reason to pay attention to the man. He’s been lingering around the periphery of various Atlanta rap-star circles for more than a decade now, as part of Ludacris’s Disturbing Tha Peace crew and half of the duo Playaz Circle, but he hasn’t had a whole lot to show for it. Until this year, his two biggest career achievements were probably as follows: (1) a strong verse on the excellent sole Playaz Circle hit, the Lil Wayne collab “Duffle Bag Boy,” and (2) the fact that he survived a minor circa-2003 feud with T.I., which went down around the same time Tip was mercilessly curbstomping Lil Flip’s entire career. Even Codeine Cowboy, the tape 2 Chainz released earlier this year; didn’t much impress me; its listenability mostly came from all the featured collaborators.
But we’ve seen this story in rap over and over: A talent once thought marginal keeps plugging away in the darkness, finds his voice, and achieves something like greatness. Think of Lil Wayne before 2005, or Rick Ross and Gucci Mane just a couple of years ago. (Gucci Mane is a great rapper. If you’re still one of those holdouts who insists otherwise, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s your problem, not his.) 2 Chainz hasn’t suddenly hit on some new strain of genius, and he’s not rewriting any history books quite yet. But he has slowly matured into one of Atlanta rap’s most dependable workhorses. Since Halloween last week, we’ve been hit with a deluge of new mixtapes — from ASAP Rocky, obviously, but also from Freddie Gibbs, Fat Joe, Jim Jones, LEP Bogus Boys, Nipsey Hussle a couple of days later, Lloyd Banks a couple of days ago. All of these are perfectly solid mixtapes with plenty to recommend, and if Banks’s The Cold Corner 2 had maintained the intensity of its first few tracks, it’d be in this slot today. But 2 Chainz’s new tape T.R.U. REALigion (yeah, no, he’s not good at naming things) turns out to be the most solid and enjoyable listen of any of the non-ASAP tapes. And it’s also arguably the most popular; Datpiff lists it as being more downloaded than any of those tapes, including LIVELOVEA$AP. 2 Chainz has arrived.
T.R.U. REALigion reminds me of mid-’00s albums by Southern rap workhorses like YoungBloodz or Lil Scrappy. Nobody remembers these albums as classics or their makers as geniuses, but they did exactly what they set out to do. They collected hard-hitting, low-stakes bangers for us, tracks that exploded trunks and vibrated windshields and never attempted to change our viewpoints about anything. They celebrated weed and women and elaborately tricked-out automobiles, and they did it without a trace of pretension or self-seriousness. I loved those albums, and I’ve got a lot of affection for a mixtape that accomplishes those same goals.
The production, for one thing, is bulletproof. “Letter To Da Rap Game” gives 2 Chainz and guests Dolla Boy and Raekwon a chance to talk hard over a perfectly-flipped sample of Gladys Knight’s theme to the bond movie License To Kill. “Undastatement” is Lex Luger in his epically thudding comfort zone, whooping ass. Fat Boi’s “Vi-Agra” beat has classic Atlanta horn-bursting bombast working for it. “One Day At A Time” is a bluesy slow-crawl with an indelible violin bit that floats in and out of the track beautifully. And there’s just not a single weak beat on the entire hour-long track. There’s some musical variation in there, but it mostly works the sinister synthetic boom that’s ruled Atlanta rap for years. Really, it could’ve come out and sounded great at any point over the past decade.
Most of the guests get shit done. Guys like T.I. and Meek Mill and Jadakiss outshine their host without a whole ton of effort, displaying levels of charisma that 2 Chainz still hasn’t unlocked. But the most instructive guest appearance on the tape is also the worst one — the “Murder” verse from viral lightning rod Kreayshawn, who sounds like a tiny little baby and who ineptly falls all over the beat. Next to her, 2 Chainz sounds like an absolute pro, sinking deep into the tracks pocket and delivering his kinda-nice punchlines in an appealingly slurry drawl that subtly conveys just enough slick sarcasm to sound badass. It takes a while to sink in, but T.R.U. REALigion represents a real leap forward for 2 Chainz as a rapper; he switches up flows mid-verse, dips toes into singsong deliveries, and comes away with just the right number of stupid-funny punchlines (“Getting head while I’m reading; call it Facebook”). He sounds good. And even though he never raps about anything especially serious or heartfelt, it doesn’t much matter; some guys were built to talk fly shit and nothing more. 2 Chainz is well on the way to becoming one of our finest fly-shit craftsmen, and he’s given us his first truly, deeply satisfying mixtape. That’s worth celebrating.
T.R.U. REALigion is up for free download here.