Great rap duos often prove their collective potential by showing up on a single and, well, showing up the single. UGK and Outkast delivered four classic performances on “International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)”. Years before they traded bars on “Otis”, Kanye West and Jay Z brought impassioned verses on Kanye’s “Never Left Me Down”. All three duos have released acclaimed albums together, so when 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne stole the show on the single “No Problem” from Chance The Rapper’s stellar Coloring Book, it was in the light of history that their collaborative tape Collegrove can be examined. Unfortunately, it does not live up to the heights that their duets have previously reached.
The pair first collaborated on the bombastic “Duffle Bag Boy”, a single by 2 Chainz’s group Playaz Circle. Lil Wayne, in the peak of his powers, delivered a hook ubiquitous enough to be repurposed on “Underground Kings”, one of the highlights of Wayne’s protégé Drake’s best album, Take Care. Wayne was impassioned while 2 Chainz showcased what would become his trademark lifestyle punchlines (“That’s that salad dressing, I’m on my thousandth island”). Until “No Problem”, the best of their collaborations since “Duffle Bag Boy” was “Yuck”, the opening track to 2 Chainz’s Based on a True Story. It was all bars over triumphant trumpets, while Wayne brought one of the catchier hooks of his later career thus far. This should have been the template off which Collegrove was built: two rappers who love rapping exhibiting that love over certified banger beats. Instead, the results are quite varied.
The two times in which this template is followed well here are on “Bounce” and “Gotta Lotta”, the third and fourth tracks of the album and the two lead singles (both the wisest choices). The former’s video pairs Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz in a rap battle with onlookers appearing properly impressed whenever each pulls out a vintage bar. Wayne brings out a flurry of internal rhymes (“My rivers rapid, my fins are splashin’, my gills are flappin’ / I bit some matches then sipped some gas and went and kissed the dragon”) to compliment 2 Chainz’s aforementioned punchlines (“Get pulled over for swervin’ like ‘Hi, officer’ / When he asked me why I’m swerving, ‘I’m high, officer’”). “Gotta Lotta”, by contrast, highlights Wayne’s melodic talents. Interpolating the famous melody of Scatman John’s “Scatman” in the hook, he transforms trite drug talk into something too catchy not to sing along to.
Elsewhere, the album falls flat not because of a lack of chemistry between the two, which is apparent on all eight of the 12 songs they appear, but because both don’t bring their A-games on every track. 2 Chainz has long been a rapper who’s shined brightest in feature spots, somebody whose giddy style works best in distilled 16-bar form, not over the slog over a full-length LP. And while Lil Wayne delivered classics in The Carter II and III, he made his legacy on show-stopping features and repurposing other beats to his own liking. For example, over the booming bass of “Blue C-Note”, they phone it in with lines like “Got a lot of rides like a bus station” (2 Chainz) and “I did it for my dogs / I did it for the skaters / I did it for the paper” (Lil Wayne).
Without inspired performances from two rappers who, following Collegrove’s release, proved that they can still rap with the best of them, this album is ultimately a disappointment. There’s no doubt that the two of them will still brighten up singles for as long as they’d like to keep rapping, but over the duration of a full album, the inspiration seems to run out. The beats are standard mid-2010s rap du jour, and this means that the rapping needs to be on a consistently excellent level to turn the songs into repeatable ones. With predecessors in the super-team genre being the phenomenal Watch The Throne and the two Run The Jewels albums, Collegrove falls short.