2 Chainz has had a colorful life. From a brief college basketball career, to a 2015 CNN debate with Nancy Grace about legalizing marijuana, to the publication of a tour-tested cookbook, the career of the Georgia rapper born Tauheed Epps is fascinatingly wide-ranging.
But after you remove all the frills—like the clothing lines and the Viceland hosting gig—only his music remains. And what great music it is, accrued over years of song-stealing features, mixtapes and full-length albums. Last week, 2 Chainz dropped Rap or Go to the League, his LeBron James-A&Red record overflowing with flossy raps, A-list guests and burnished production—but also serious reflections on his past and thoughts on the future of black youth in America.
In the wake of its release, we’ve compiled a list of Chainz’s most notable songs so far.
“Birthday Song” featuring Kanye West
The second single from his debut album Based on a TRU Story, “Birthday Song” had to make this list, mainly because it contains perhaps Chainz’s most iconic chorus and tongue-in-cheek lines. “She got a big booty, so I call her big booty” propelled 2 Chainz to meme status overnight and ended up a mainstay on plenty of worst lyric lists. Tasteless? Perhaps. But there’s no doubting this fun-loving cut goes off at any party, and Chainz proved that he could drop ridiculous bars and craft a rep for certified bangers.
And the Kanye West-assisted track boasts an equally absurd music video directed by Andreas Nilsson. A motley crew of guests shows up to a birthday party, from a group of identical quadruplets getting twerked on to a clown who gets beaten up. With the help of West, who wheels in a cake concealing a surprise, Chainz solidified his position as the rap game’s favorite partier in this outrageous visual.
“No Lie” featuring Drake
Chainz is a great collaborator. His career has gotten boosted by many magical, star-studded cuts (think “Mercy” with Kanye West and GOOD Music, or “Fuckin’ Problems” with A$AP Rocky and others). And one of his most constant collaborators is Drake, with whom he made “No Lie” in 2012. His breathless bragging complements Drizzy’s characteristically nasal verses, and together they shine over a sparkling Mike Will Made-It beat. Chainz and Drake have gone on to make seven more songs together after this track.
“Feds Watching” featuring Pharrell
Picture this: 2 Chainz and a tuxedo-clad Pharrell in a studio together, cooking up a song—right after the 2013 Grammys, where Chainz was up for three awards (two for “Mercy” and one for Based on a TRU Story).
That’s the origin story of “Feds Watching,” which aimed to capture “that ’80s ska, reggae, glass-of-wine type of feel,” Pharrell said. Chainz, he also revealed, helped direct the creative process by vocalizing his approval with his signature ad lib, “Truuu!” The duo have collaborated again since, on “Bailan” from Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, but it hasn’t come close to the smug luxury of “Feds Watching.”
The video for “Watch Out,” from the mixtape Trap-a-Velli Tre, turns 2 Chainz into a kind of meme. His face gets superimposed on the heads of different people, including a retiree with a walker, a pizza deliveryman and Vine star Nicholas Fraser. It was, at the time, an entertaining video that matched the rapper’s overflowing swagger on the track.
But no one could foresee how in later years, the song would take a strange digital trajectory that made it ubiquitous, much like Chainz’s face in the aforementioned music video. Two years after the release of “Watch Out,” its skeletal piano-based beat was repurposed by Brazilian artist Bonde R300 and DJ CK for “Oh Nanana.” That song then spawned a dance challenge which spread like wildfire among Chinese users of social media platform Tik Tok. From cultural touchstone Vine to its spiritual successor Tik Tok—now that’s coming full circle.
“Threat 2 Society”
There are many outstanding songs to pick from on Chainz’s latest album, Rap or Go to the League. Take the social critique of “NCAA,” or Kendrick Lamar’s scene-stealing turn on “Momma I Hit a Lick,” or the Ariana Grande link-up of “Rule the World.” But don’t neglect “Threat 2 Society,” where a clear-eyed Chainz ’fesses up to regrettable episodes in his past.
The song may boast a tough-talking title, but it remains oriented towards gratitude and a better future. The sampled hook from The Truthettes’ “So Good to be Alive” punctuates Chainz’s reflections on for how far he’s come and what he’s thankful for (“A wife and three kids, I may make it four”). “This beat hard enough to put Jay on,” he raps, and indeed, this track sounds like Chainz doing 4:44—but in his own inimitable way.
Stream Rap or Go to the League here.