It's none of my business if you can afford to spend time on a yacht this summer, but there are new records from Drake and Rick Ross available on your phone, right this second. There's a new Kendrick Lamar album due out in exactly two weeks; Future's already dropped two this year. There are more, but suffice to say we're not starved for A-list rap releases.
We're also in a boom time for true underground rap releases: Quelle Chris has already put out an exceptional album in 2017, as have Roc Marciano, P.O.S, Elucid, Starlito and Don Trip, among a whole host of others. Then, of course, we can get into the mid-level stars, the Chief Keefs and Yo Gottis and etc. I'm leaving plenty of rappers out. Things fall through the cracks.
So you might be forgiven for missing one important truth: for the past two years, 2 Chainz has been one of the best rappers in the world. He's whip-smart, he's hysterically funny. When you've been lulled into a sense of security by those qualities, he reaches inside you and fucks with your heart. And he's been making remarkable music at a remarkable pace, catching a third (fourth?) wind in his career, to the point where very few people on planet Earth can be considered his peer.
Look, for some reason the NCAA selection committee has Kentucky and UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, so I don't have the time to rope in people who think 2 Chainz is a Bad Rapper, full stop. The culture wars over whether a guy who owns jewelry can rap well aren't going to be re-litigated today on Noisey dot com.
But it should be obvious, by this point, that the artist formerly known as Tity Boi is one of the genre's most colorful writers. This has been the case for more than ten years now, since he was eating spaghetti on the celly with Pirelli on the tires, counting fetti in the telly watching Belly or The Wire. (If you need some money, Magic City's hiring.) You no doubt remember Playaz Circle, the duo comprised of 2 Chainz and his longtime friend Dolla Boy, for "Duffle Bag Boy," the comically incredible single that's best known for Wayne's hook, but also has plenty of vintage Tity verve.
You can't find the Playaz Circle catalog on any streaming service (the fallout of a copyright lawsuit over the group's name), which is as close as you're going to get to a metaphor for 2 Chainz's time on Disturbing Tha Peace. From there, the transition is pretty well documented: formalizing the name change, dropping some world-building mixtapes (Codeine Cowboy especially begs to be revisited), then popping up as a guest on every song under the sun. Again, you can find all of this on Spotify, and you've probably had plenty of it beaten into your head via your car radio, any strip club or dinner club or country club, or every house party you stepped into this decade.
Ubiquity isn't the point. Starting with Trap-A-Velli Tre, released in August of 2015, Mr. Chainz began effectively synthesizing all the best threads from his past work—the cartoon luxury, the somber naturalism, the quiet, earnest hope that the Braves will somehow get it together again. Take, from Tre, the Kevin Gates-assisted "I Feel Like," where having your truck stolen from a Benihanas parking lot, wearing a mink coat during sex, and, for a split second, breakdancing on scraps of cardboard all feel like acts of self-improvement. In fact, one of Tre's signatures is that 2 Chainz finally figured out how to transpose the careening energy from his highest-profile guest spots into a slow, steady crescendo. It's a writing—and vocal—approach that would go on to underscore the sorts of affecting verses littering his career since its beginning.
Speaking of careening energy and high-profile guest spots, remember "Mercy"? In 2012, the best way to deploy 2 Chainz was as an exclamation point, a reminder of how deep your Rolodex was or how unexpected your stunt casting could be. But just over a year ago came Collegrove, officially a 2 Chainz album issued by Def Jam, really a collaborative effort between him and Lil Wayne, obscured just enough to keep the lawyers at bay.
Here he sweats Wayne back down to his playing weight, coaxing out some of his best material since his stint in prison (and sending him on an upward trajectory after his lukewarm 2015 material). For 2 Chainz, Collegrove is a canvas for pop Hail Marys ("MF'N Right"), breathless wizardry ("Bounce"), and surprisingly touching moments of friendship (the opener "Dedication," an ode to his collaborator).
Last year also saw a full-length record that was all 2 Chainz's own. Daniel Son; Necklace Don is brief but brilliant, packed with so many punchlines and Daliesque images (a mansion that exists only to shoot dice in) that, if the tape were any longer, they might have a numbing, paralytic effect. At the risk of plagiarizing myself, pause for a second on that line from the Drake-featuring single "Big Amount": "Patty melt with the hash browns/ Trying to avoid all the pat-downs." That's a scene rendered in fewer than 15 words, complete with details you can smell and taste, with an eye to how routine is interrupted by catastrophe, with dread. Toward the end of the record, disappointment in his mother's eyes recasts all the trappings of his, well, trapping. DS;ND is superbly structured, where all the technical minutiae is arranged in order just so.
There was also a pair of minor projects in 2016, released nine months apart: January's Felt Like Cappin and October's Hibachi For Lunch. Neither is as laser-focused as DS;ND or Collegrove, but each has a handful of songs that show a master at work. Take Cappin's title track, with its stripped-down, undeniable bounce, where everything but Tity's sunburn has been peeled away. It's a perfect showcase.
To this point—and if you're discounting Collegrove—2 Chainz has yet to precisely channel his brilliance into a studio album. There are defenses to be written for large parts of both B.O.A.T.S. and B.O.A.T.S. II (the former being the sole Atlanta rap full-length of its generation to have gone platinum), but each one is overstuffed and overcooked the way major label fare can be. His new record, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, is out later this spring. Maybe this time you'll be paying attention.
While you're getting mad, Paul Thompson is getting rich. Follow him on Twitter. Photo Credit: Prince Williams / Getty Images