Out of all of hip-hop’s major label stars, no one has more reason to celebrate than 2Chainz. After rapping for 10 years as half of the duo Playaz Circle, the man born Tauheed Epps is enjoying a late career renaissance.
The lanky, dreadlocked rapper spent most of his working life laboring as a marginal figure in the Atlanta underground scene, releasing mixtapes and performing at dingy local venues to little fanfare. His efforts didn’t pay off until 2011, when his mixtape “TRU REALigion” miraculously spawned a pair of popular street singles. With his national profile rising, the rapper became a hot commodity for major labels and artists seeking guest verses.
This sudden wave of interest culminated in his 2012 debut album “Based On a TRU Story,” a commercially successful but creatively unfocused effort. The album’s hits — “No Lie (featuring Drake)” and “Birthday Song (featuring Kanye West)” — found 2Chainz piggybacking on the popularity of his guests and called into question whether 2Chainz could create a hit on his own terms.
With his sophomore record, “B.O.A.T.S II: #METIME,” 2Chainz has finally succeeded in translating the exuberant confidence of his best mixtape cuts into an album that’s reliably fun, even if it’s not particularly groundbreaking.
As a rapper, 2Chainz almost always swings for the fences. His verses are largely vacant bundles of left-field boasts and rib-jabbing punchlines, and he leans hard into each line . Lyrically, he operates in gangster-rap’s familiar tropes of drugs, money and women, relying on elbows-out charisma and singular wit to breathe new life into old subjects. “BOATS II” is an infectious listen that finds 2Chainz exulting in his unlikely superstardom. The beats are thunderous but never threatening, bringing out a blunt energy in the rapper that makes for instantly memorable, eminently quotable songwriting.
His tough talk — “Would skip you like a spacebar/But I’d much rather delete!” — is undercut by a winking self-awareness, and his boasts — “Money on the rise like I’m counting on an elevator!” — are disarmingly droll. On tracks like “Fork,” “36” and “Feds Watching,” 2Chainz picks a simple, memorable phrase for the chorus, and hammers it home.
While his first album found him grasping at whatever sounds ruled the mainstream, this effort finds 2Chainz settling into a polished update of Atlanta’s muscular trap music sound. Producers Mike WILL Made IT, Pharrell and Drumma Boy lay down a collection of dense instrumentals, full of pulverizing synthesizer lines and throbbing bass. This is the sound to which 2Chainz is best suited. It’s designed for clubs and car speakers, offering plenty of texture and little nuance.
2Chainz has always been more about impact than intricacy, and he wisely leaves little room for complex rhyme-schemes or introspection. His most resonant lines are often his simplest. “See the shades you got on called Ray-Bans/And the shades I got on cost eight bands,” he quips on “Feds Watching.” Comparatively, the deviations into more solemn territory on the album’s final quarter, namely “Beautiful Pain,” “Outroduction” and “Black Unicorn,” feel obligatory and half-hearted.
All of the guests take palpable joy in the opportunity to indulge more playful artistic impulses. Fergie delivers a salacious performance on “Netflix,” Rich Homie Quan invigorates the otherwise lethargic “Extra,” and Drake and Lil’ Wayne sound downright giddy on “I Do It.”
It’s easy to understand why these artists are so excited. “BOATS II” is a single-minded, life-affirming affair that begs the listener to forget the trappings of serious art and cherish simple pleasures. 2Chainz will never be an inventive rapper, but he’s become a tremendously endearing one. Whatever your opinion during his rise to fame, it’s hard not to celebrate with him now that he’s here.