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2 Chainz shoots his shot on ‘Rap or Go to the League’

| Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

“We’re gonna introduce now the North Clayton Eagles / Coached by James Gwynn / His starters, number 21, Tauheed Epps.”

The announcer’s voice cuts out, but you can watch, or just imagine, the rest.

A tall, lanky high school kid strides past his teammates — receiving high fives as he goes — then shakes hands with the opposing coach and prepares to ball out. It’s a scene that’s played out in gyms across the nation as young boys compete not only to score more points, but to achieve the golden dream for any player: going to the league.

But the dream is just that — a dream. Few high school hoopers play in college, and even fewer — just over 1 percent to be exact — NCAA players make it to the NBA. Tauheed Epps played in college at Alabama State, but he never made it to the league, so he turned to an almost equally difficult dream to achieve: becoming a rapper. He achieved it.

At 41 years old, Tauheed Epps, known more commonly as the veteran Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz, uses his latest album to reflect on his personal narrative, which combines two overarching elements of youth culture: basketball and rap. In telling his story, 2 Chainz comes with a focus and seriousness rarely found on his earlier work. His seriousness and focus is at times overbearing, but it makes “Rap or Go to the League” a compelling album.

On “NCAA,” the standout track from the album, 2 Chainz uses a verse to highlight the exploitation of college athletes: “Let me get this straight, if I drop 40 today / You don’t care if I eat, you don’t care if I ate.”

He’s still cracking jokes — “I have more crab legs than Jameis / You fake like you got a girlfriend, Manti Te’o” — and boasting his own success — “From the public houses to a couple houses / To a couple cars, sippin’ a cup of tea” — but his activist message, which is closely tied to his personal experience, also slips in: the NCAA is an unfair system.

“Threat 2 Society,” another hit off the album, finds 2 Chainz rapping over a soulful sample from The Truthettes’s 1980 song “So Good To Be Alive.” In this track, he hits on the darker moments of his life, from suffering the loss of friends and family to selling dope, and also mentions the coaches who taught him his killer jump shot. It’s the repetitive, hard-hitting chorus, however, that ties the track together and significantly increases its replay value.

The buzz surrounding “Rap or Go to the League” is particularly loud thanks in part to the big names associated with it. Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Ariana Grande all make guest appearances, although their contributions fail to match those of Travis Scott, Drake, Swae Lee and Jhene Aiko on 2017’s “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music.” Most notable, however, are the contributions of basketball superstar and hip-hop fanatic LeBron James. The influential James, who’s in the midst of a difficult season with the Los Angeles Lakers, took some time off the court to serve as a consultant on the album and appear in an Apple-exclusive video with 2 Chainz.

While “Rap or Go to the League” may not be remembered as 2 Chainz’s best album, it is undoubtedly his most significant. It tells the story of 2 Chainz, highlights the importance of basketball in that story and provides social commentary on a number of issues related to it. And, maybe most importantly, it has a couple of great songs.

Artist: 2 Chainz

Album: “Rap or Go to the League”

Label: Gamebread, Def Jam

Favorite tracks: “Threat 2 Society,” “NCAA,” “Sam”

If you like: LeBron James, Juicy J, Waka Flocka Flame

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

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