October 31, 2016

Paul Thompson eats so many shrimp, he’s got iodine poisoning.

When Felt Like Cappin’ came out at the end of January, the holiday hangover melted away. When Daniel Son; Necklace Don came out, I wrote about 2 Chainz slowly molting into one of the world’s best rappers. (Then I wrote a whole book about Lil Wayne in the past tense, just for Tauheed Epps to yank him back from the brink.) His fourth project of the year, Hibachi for Lunch, is minor, but for the 2016, even Mr. Chainz’s table scraps are relatively fine dining.

It’s not a stretch to assume that some of the songs here are, in fact, leftovers. At the end of the Quavo- and Gucci Mane-assisted “Good Drank,” 2 Chainz ad-libs “Daniel Son, the necklace don,” which could be in the tradition of adopting eighty monikers at one time, or could be a stray shred from marathon sessions that birthed both projects.  

But even if the latter half of 2016 was recorded in bulk, 2 Chainz was shrewd in how he segregated the songs: where DS; ND was loose and fun and verged on the experimental, Hibachi skews denser, more maximalist. These songs don’t pop out the same way on initial listens–they rely less on show-stopping turns of phrase or technical passages, and they’re more in line with today’s rap radio programming.

And so even in a a short seven-song burst, Hibachi runs into the same problems your local drive-time DJs might: too many washed-out synths, BPMs that are interchangeable. The cumulative effect is that, by the time you reach the closer “Here We Go Again”–the sort of languid, vaguely sinister thing that 2 Chainz usually wields like an unhittable circle change–it sounds sleepy, tacked-on. Pacing shouldn’t be such a problem for an EP that barely cracks twenty minutes.

Of course, there are points where 2 Chainz can’t help but to inject his absurdist, joyous writing style into familiar templates. “Lil Baby,” which features Ty Dolla $ign, takes the sort of crisp-then-legato flow that’s en vogue right now, and fills it with “We gon’ bust stops on the highway/ I got my hands on her thighs, I play with her pussy and listen to Sade.” (When you can out-specific-sex Ty on a song, you do it.)

Even outside the bedroom, a 2 Chainz promises Technicolor highs and jarring specificity, like Gucci pronouncing Kevin Durant’s last name differently on two consecutive bars, or the headliner noting that he’s been hustling since the year one of his appendix burst. He bans cheap shoes from the barbecue; he drapes his wrist in only the finest ostrich skin; he actually raps the words “Rims on my car got it bow-legged/ Took your bitch back, got store credit.”

That those lines come from “Doors Open,” which should be a Future ft. 2 Chainz song from 2014, is exactly the point: Hibachi for Lunch is the sort of record that can be thrown on in just about any setting, and will continue to fill that role for the next several years without rubbing anyone the wrong way. The beats and the blueprints don’t hamper the rapper, but they don’t draw out his A-game, nor do they shift the focus fully onto the vocals the way they could.

This year alone, the Artist Formerly Known As Tity Boi has stolen the show on a GOOD Music single and on a whole-ass Chance The Rapper mixtape. It’s time to accept the notion that he might be one of our greatest working rappers, even–especially–if that means pointing out when the product isn’t quite what it could be.