After putting in a few hours at my summer job, there’s nothing better than getting in my car (which I christened “the blockbeater” for its obnoxious, old-people-scaring subwoofers), buying some good food, and vibing all the way home. The usual suspects for my musical rotation include the fabled Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1 due to the cool mellow keys and huffing basslines, Daily Bread for Apollo Brown’s gritty soul and hearty, shimmying low-end, R.A.P. Music for El-P’s brutally bombastic production, any Big K.R.I.T. project (especially Return of 4eva), Nas‘ “The Don” for that Queensbridge quake, or some dubstep. Yes, dubstep.
As much as I pledge allegiance to the properly written verse, a well-made beat holds just as much importance. That’s the reason I consider Kanye West to be the best hip hop artist; he not only brings stimulating rhymes to the table but also embellishes them with some truly stellar melodies. His direction for other rappers in recent months, however, has proven… questionable. Watch The Throne? Not horrible, but completely puzzling. Big Sean’s debut? The definition of a broken record, double entrendre intended. “Mercy?” Eh, it’s fine, nothing special. “Way Too Cold?” Oooooh yeah, clap-trap beat and heavy-duty rhymes; a bona fide hot track.
And now I’m confronted with 2 Chainz’s clean-slate debut on G.O.O.D. Music, a move that seemed to occur out of nowhere. More to the point, I figured the guy wouldn’t actually drop an album. Every song he featured on, which amounts to a Library of Congress-sized amount, has either been competent or awkward and hilarious. Yeah, he’s not saying anything pertinent to the presidential riots in Mexico, but a rapper who gets away with “Dad wasn’t around/My father figure was Too Short” or “Stayed at my grandma house with 25 bibles/Stayed in the trap house with like 25 rifles” deserves some leeway.
2 Chainz ranks decently on my list of favorite commercial rappers (which doesn’t really exist anyways), and his Bubba Gump-like yammer, kooky adlibs (“YAAAAAAAAH, I’m OK, tellem!) and overreaching sense of self-awareness makes me grin every once in a while. That being said, Based on a T.R.U. Story elicits an ironic smirk at best.
Call it another curse of the wonderful pre-album mixtape, I suppose. Similar to Rick Ross, and to a lesser degree, K.R.I.T., 2 Chainz put so much potent ignorance on T.R.U. REALigion that his debut was bound to falter in comparison. Even if the project basically felt inbred towards the middle half, the tracks that compel (Riot, Spend It, Undastatement, Turn Up) do so for a great reason: his animated personality and some relatively memorable “boom shit” production. His debut certainly has the personality, but it comes off as more of an affect than unadulterated Tauheed Epps, and that leaves the roughly written lyrics open to scrutiny.
The product, of course, includes the ubiquitous machine-gun snare rolls, pseudo-theatrical synth arpeggios, and trunk-rattling bass that kicks like a donkey on steroids. When the lyrics come into play, the album still gets me vibing. “Crack” passes for the knowing metaphor: “started in the trap, now I rap/wherever I rap, I got crack,” “Birthday Song” passes because hey, that sounds like a birthday present anyone can appreciate, as well as for Yeezy’s melody-schizophrenic production and his appropriately hedonistic verse, and “Countdown” passes for having elements of dubstep in the chorus, although it’s diluted compared to the real thing.
Other songs, however, either feel deflated or unnecessary. Lil Wayne already retired, but his verse on “Yuck” should have been buried, and whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!? “I’m Diffrent?” That’s the most bold-faced lie I’ve heard on a rap song this year, and Rick Ross compared himself to Biggie Smalls two weeks ago. Also, Mike Posner’s wheezy-chipmunk crooning sounds weird on everything, so “In Town” was no exception. In short, it feels as if the beats were muscled up just a touch, but the rhymes AND the attitude fell down a couple notches.
And the most confounding part of the whole shebang — “Riot” included as a bonus track — packs a deceitful punch. I can literally hear the great chemistry between 2 Chainz and the beat as they go hand in hand towards a post-trap spree of delusional empowerment and collective chaos. Ah, its glorious. It’s also the song that I played the most on my work commutes besides “Birthday Song.” I can’t say this album disappointed me, mostly because I never held him in that great of an esteem, but falling back on year-old material says something. Oops, I can’t hear it over the bass drumming against my leg.