2 Chainz’s latest is a victory lap 20 years in the making
Few rappers in the last decade have seized control of their narrative more impressively than 2 Chainz. From Ludacris protégé and potential one-hit wonder as part of Playaz Circle, back when his moniker alone (Tity Boi) would have stopped him from getting mainstream radio play to a gem-dropping trap auteur with the capability of putting together a start-to-finish terrific album, Tauheed Epps’ tale of perseverance and gumption sets an example for any young artist looking to avoid being pigeonholed.
Early in his career, 2 Chainz seemed like a quintessential feature artist capable of packing terrific punch lines into somebody else’s song but incapable of stretching his skills to shoulder the weight of an entire track (let alone a full-length project). The tide began to turn with his sophomore album B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, in which he embraced the inherent absurdity of the rapper lifestyle, but his true ascent came thanks to the trio of projects he put out in 2016: two thrilling mixtapes (Daniel Son; Necklace Don and Hibachi For Lunch) and his collaborative album ColleGrove with Lil Wayne.
His fourth studio album, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, isn’t just a testament to endurance, it’s one of the year’s best rap albums and a blueprint for graceful aging in an industry that prizes youthful excitement and innovation. Epps turns 40 this fall, and given his late rise would have more of an excuse to trend-hop than his more entrenched peers. However, he succeeds brilliantly like fellow greybeard Pusha T, who is 40 himself. Both artists are incredibly savvy and have stayed trend-adjacent while allowing their musical personas to age with dignity like the antihero in your favorite prestige TV show.
On Pretty Girls, 2 Chainz works with some of the most popular architects of modern Southern rap (Mike Will Made it, FKi, Cubeatz), as well as veterans like Mike Dean and Honorable C.N.O.T.E. to craft murky, menacing instrumentals which Epps manages to walk atop without getting his crocodile slides dirty. He’s so in command on a track like “Trap Check” that when the beat switches to T.I.’s classic “ASAP” it’s easy to be so transfixed by the vocals that it doesn’t even register initially.
While many rappers display their luxury habits on record, 2 Chainz’s frequent references his love for hibachi and the Rolls-Royce Wraith are more endearing than grating, in part because Epps has found ways to talk about them that are consistently novel and exciting. A song like “Rolls Royce Bitch”, one of Pretty Girls’ highlights, works languid psychedelic guitar and punchy live bass that are way more Tame Impala than Trap-a-Velli Tre. He uses that unconventional sonic landscape for both motivational aphorisms (“Believe in yourself, health is wealth”) and exceptional quotables (“100 acres on my property, man I might hit a deer boy”). Compare that to a track like similarly themed (and titled )”Rolls Royce Weather Everyday” off ColleGrove and it is evident that we’ve never seen 2 Chainz more confident and comfortable than he is right now.
But while the album has its share of strong hits and potential singles, including the surprisingly haunting “Good Drank” and the late-night scheming anthem “4 AM”, Pretty Girls also features some of the most pointed autobiographical bars of 2 Chainz’s career.
The album closer “Burglar Bars” opens with Louis Farrakhan attesting to the rapper’s regal demeanor before 2 Chainz emerges and offers some of the album’s strongest bars. “Never fabricated about my fabric, the scale, that’s my apparatus / I give a fuck about the sorriest rappers / This actually happened, path in the back pathogenic / Moved that blow out like we were Afrocentric,” he snarls atop a Mike Dean and M16 beat that is equal parts victory lap and the perfect canvas for reflection on the rapper’s circuitous path to superstardom.
On “Sleep When U Die”, Epps makes the claim that “hard work beats talent”, which may well be true, but it’s an ironic bit of self-effacement on a record that often plays like a motivational speech compilation. 2 Chainz would never have reached this level without his constant output of albums, mixtapes, and guest verses, but the truth is he has improved tremendously as a writer and vocalist.
His talent has undeniably caught up to his hard work, and all we can hope now is that the latter doesn’t suffer because of the former.