Straw Boi: A Defense of 2Chainz

Abe Beame is running for Mayor of New York. Vote early and often this Fall. As someone who wiled away their formative post-grad years on verbose Clipse meditations, it’s a pleasure to engage in a...
By    April 10, 2012

Abe Beame is running for Mayor of New York. Vote early and often this Fall.

As someone who wiled away their formative post-grad years on verbose Clipse meditations, it’s a pleasure to engage in a good old-fashioned long form debate. With your critique, Deen, you invite my client Mr. Chainz into a long proud lineage that’s become as essential to Hip Hop as beats and rhymes. It’s the MC who is the cause célèbre of the moment, the human embodiment of all that is wrong with Hip Hop, at least whenever the staunch puritanical orthodoxy gets their respective shorts in a twist.

When you hear 2Chainz you hear the ad-libs, the droning register, the dumb/cheeky humor. When I read you bashing 2Chainz what I see is an imperfect understanding of what makes Hip Hop effective in 2012. And since we’re circling Mr. DePodesta let me mine his story for effect. Last year, I recognized a phenomena we’ll refer to as “Moneyball blinders” for lack of a better term. This refers to the sliver of critique that bashed the film for ending without the Hollywood flourish of a champagne shower, fireworks and a World Series ring. In launching this criticism, the critics were identifying the element of a work of art that barred it from being great, without recognizing its holistic greatness.

You touch on what makes 2Chainz compelling without seeing it as compelling. Let’s start with his age. Your comparison to Mr. Ross was quite fitting, because both artists waged wars of attrition, and in the process have accomplished something very rare and difficult in rap: they’ve carved out defined personas on record — unique and distinctive personalities, easily  conveyed in just a few bars.

Look, let me get this out of the way: 2Chainz is by no means a great rapper. I’ve certainly been off on forecasting before, but I expect a few entertaining mixtapes, maybe a good year or two of solid singles, 2-3 respectable selling major label releases, and I’d set that as a ceiling career wise. That being said, he’s a lot of fun. What he’s figured out is pretty remarkable in a day and age when delivery is king, precisely because of his mediocrity in that field. He raps in a semi-grating whine without doing much of note in the cadence department.

2Chainz success as an MC can be attributed to two attributes. The first, ironically enough given your critique, is a triumph of language. Tity Boi is allergic to saying anything in a manner that can be confused with conventional. He calls himself “hair weave killer”, he doesn’t say he got your girl pregnant, he merely suggests that 9 months after he hit she needed a breast milk substitute, he doesn’t say his girl looks good, he tells us she has no stomach, he “Tiger texts” with girls, meaning they send him a few naked pictures and he pays for them. In this way 2Chainz keeps a listener intrigued, you follow him through tales on subjects as worn as hustling and fucking because you’re waiting for his next weed and drank fueled quirky brain fart. But he’s decidedly not utilizing the Wayne approach — with dumb/brilliant punchlines, it’s all about phrasing.

The second attribute, what makes me a fan, is his delivery. Now I know that I just said it’s a department in which 2Chainz is lacking, but only in the conventional sense. He doesn’t have Rick Ross’ ear, or Nicki Minaj’s dark possession. There’s no real distinctive rhythm, nor a great voice, nor an ability to bark or mine emotion like a Meek or Waka. What makes his delivery interesting suggests a way how any aspiring rapper without rare gifts can make themselves great. 2Chainz is the great blank slate.

Take his brief scene stealer on “Beez in the Trap,” where he exhibits wonderful mastery of internal rhyme. It’s effective because he’s prone to stretches where — if his bars rhyme — it’s seemingly a coincidence. He’ll go on meandering asides and then abruptly pull into tightly constructed schemes. On “Beez,” it works in reverse, opening with a few furious bars then launching into a diatribe much like the type described above: “If I wudn’t rappin, I’d be trappin/If I wudn’t trappin I’d be pimpin/If I wudn’t pimpin I’d be gettin it, period.”

Remove the fairly conventional sentiment and consider that this comes out the clear blue in the verse on what will be, for many people who don’t check for urban radio, an introduction to 2Chainz. It’s extremely bizarre and courageous, flirting with Andre 3000 level arrhythmic rhyme that hardly bothers to actually rhyme. The thought fails to conclude in any meaningful way. It just kind of drifts away before he moves on. I think it’s outstanding.

So to put it on a bumper sticker: 2Chainz kills with a woozy flow, while Ross wins with melody and cadence, and Minaj wows with the schizo vocal fireworks schtick. 2Chainz never settles into a groove because to do so allows the listener to relax and let his mediocrity wash over them. There are (super)freaks who do things that are impossible to replicate, 2Chainz shows us exactly how unpredictability can be quantified and manifested, a scary lesson for a more gifted rapper to internalize.

But to put a finer and broader point on the argument: relax. 2Chainz isn’t part of Lyor Cohen’s endgame to destroy rap music. The temptation is to look around, wide-eyed with clothes torn in dismay and believe if BET would just play “Lovin it,” if these unoriginal rappers would stop biting Ghost’s shit. If the Teacher could somehow erase his laugh lines and go back to kicking all the world’s wisdom and the solutions over La Rock beats, then our country would stop jailing black males at alarming rates, graduation percentages would make an about face and Israel would concede the West Bank. While I admire the hope behind the sentiment, 2Chainz isn’t a horseman of the apocalypse and he’s not a state of the union for Hip Hop. He’s just riding around, are you getting it?

ZIP: 2Chainz – T.R.U. REALigion (Left-Click)

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