2 Chainz Keeps Pushing Trap to New Levels of Sophistication
On 'Pretty Girls Like Trap Music,' the Atlanta rap vet proves that he's an entertainer first.
Photo: Prince Williams/WireImage
We listen to different rappers based on the purpose they serve for us. Kanye West elevates his imperfections to a point of transparency we're not always ready for. Kendrick Lamar can weave stories from every point of his life into autobiographical epics that challenge us to face our own demons. 2 Chainz is one of rap's best showmen, a firm believer in verbal acrobatics that should be embraced as entertainment at its core. And while entertaining us, Chainz takes what could be absorbed as relatively dark content and decorates it with opulence and sophistication. That's been the case for some years now. The world was largely made aware of this when Ye called on Chainz for a verse on G.O.O.D. Music's "Mercy." He seized the fuck out of the moment and perfectly laid the foundation for his career, with his debut solo album coming months after.
Since then, 2 Chainz has been a household name while still managing to fly under the radar when it comes to being considered one of the best rap has to offer. That hasn't stopped him from building an undeniable resume in the process, though. Last year, he released four projects: Felt Like Cappin, Collegrove with Lil Wayne, Hibachi for Lunch, and Daniel Son; Necklace Don. The latter two produced hits that have stuck ("Big Amount" and "Good Drank")—one of which got a gospel choir to add a glorious hook out of the kindness of Chainz's heart. Those two songs also made the cut for his most recent album Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, his first proper solo studio full-length since 2013's B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time. The album, like most of Chainz's work over the past few years, helps simplify an idea that we listeners often try to complicate: Music is entertainment. Being cognizant of and motivated by that fact is how Chainz continuously re-establishes himself as one of rap's best.
One of the best features of 2 Chainz's repertoire is his penchant for subtle comedy in his bars. That gift is shown throughout Pretty Girls Like Trap Music. Between the buzzes and screeches of the Mano-produced "Riverdale Rd" he wins with witty imagery: "Gucci flips flops with the corns and bunions / Counting blue hundreds while smoking an onion." Fondly looking back at his origins on "Burglar Bars" he remembers pitching cocaine as moving that "blow out like we were afrocentric." Neither line tops the extreme yet hilarious pettiness expressed on "Blue Cheese," a Migos-assisted money anthem that features the album's second harmonious Quavo hook. On there, Chainz is offended that his side-chick is expecting a baby with the dude who actually claims her. That's how he opens his verse.
Amid the album's humorous moments, Chainz leaves space for making a case for himself as a rap heavyweight. Though old news at this point, Drake-featuring "Big Amount" fits nicely within the context of the album and it hosts some of the project's best rapping. Like when 2 Chainz raps "Blow the horn for a pedestrian / Shawty ride like an equestrian / I bought the dress that she in." In "Realize" with Nicki Minaj he revisits how effortless trapping had become for him before making the jump to full-time rapper: "I started pitching so easy, I'd throw the work to you underhand." Minaj flexes her power per usual, boasting about being able to make her pilot bust a U-turn in mid-air to go get the shades she's left behind. She also uses the platform as a chance to take more shots at Remy Ma, who just got done orchestrating a WWE-level dramatized flex of her own, performing "SHEther" at Summer Jam. To counter, Nicki dangled her own commercial success in Remy's face here: "Papoose wrote a 'Ether' record / But I broke Aretha record."
Despite its title, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music offers an abundance of sounds, which might be an ode to the genre's origins in which the sensibilities of the content outweighed its sonic qualities. That might explain why 2 Chainz elected to sample Jeezy's "Get Ya Mind Right" and T.I.'s "ASAP"—the artists most widely credited as the genre's originators before a formulated sound was born—on "Trap Check." That track and others like "Riverdale Rd" and "Sleep When U Die" are songs that fit into what has been accepted as trap music: rolling snares and bass blaring so hard that it rattles your car and sends vibrations to everyone else waiting at the stop light. There are more delicate moments on the album, though. "Rolls Royce Bitch" starts with guitar riffs that sound like a relaxed Sunday afternoon, and the song turns into the album's most triumphant track; it's something about hearing Chainz endearingly repeat "Believe in yourself" while bragging about a luxury vehicle that'll make you go knock down a few things on a to-do list.
There's triumph in the album's closer "Burglar Bars" as well. In the autobiographical song, he defends his brand of rap, asserting "'Cause you got a deep title don't mean that you deep." He also makes note that, besides working with JAY-Z, he has nothing left to prove as an artist. In the song, 2 Chainz is also introduced by Louis Farrakhan who, while complementing the Atlanta vet's personal qualities, inadvertently reveals what makes his music so good. "As I gazed into his face, I felt that I was in the presence of royalty. There's a certain power presence that he gives off," he says.
The real pull of 2 Chainz music is not in what he's saying more than how he delivers it. He has a keen ability for elegantly creating imagery in what would otherwise be so standard that it'd go unnoticed. Instead of just mentioning the whip, he'll tell you what the street looks like when he backs his car up due to its gigantic size. Everybody raps about having Gucci flip flops now, so to expand he'll tell you what his toes look like inside of them. A similar gift is what has helped Gucci Mane rise to prominence. While both rappers have rarely ventured out of talking about their selection of cars, the variety of weed they enjoy, or their houses' square footage, they have found seemingly endless ways to describe all of these accolades. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music adds more confirmation that 2 Chainz continues to win because he understands the often-underappreciated fact that music has to keep you engaged no matter what the content is. Who else gonna make your bop your head while describing the corns on their toes?
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