On Dope Don’t Sell Itself, the king of 2010s features feels more than a little dusty, ironically shown up by every feature on the record.
There was once a time when 2 Chainz could reliably save any track he was featured on. His insane, ludicrous one-liners were always blessings in disguise, gems of pure preposterousness in how little they made sense — pronouncing Givenchy like a Frenchman (“GI-VEN-CHY”) and then mistaking it for a sneeze (“n***a God bless you”) on “All Me” might take the cake. But these were often only the standout moments shoehorned into a slew of forgettable mid-2010s singles. He wasn’t just a tad eccentric on these songs; he was a potent mixture of flat-out hilarious, barbarous, and always timely, sorta like if Eddie Murphy took up rapping as a side-hobby if 48 Hours flopped. If you aren’t cracking up after hearing “she got a big booty so I call her Big Booty” then you simply have no sense of humor, good taste, or basic human decency.
Fast forward to 2022, and unfortunately, it seems like that creative spark has all but vanished. The man’s about to turn 45 in September, and on his latest studio offering, he’s finally sounding like it: an elder outsider looking in. This isn’t to say Dope Don’t Sell Itself is outdated by any means, or that it invalidates the brilliance that’s come before, but it is a sign that some serious course correction is desperately needed for the 2 Chainz brand in order to keep things afloat (this is reportedly his last trap album, so at least someone else seems to understand). He’s still reliably doing his thing, albeit a watered-down version of it: the wackiness of his lyrics now feel forced, uninspired, and, worst of all, generally unfunny (“Maybach so big, it came with an office, where the secretary?” would’ve been lame even if it dropped in 2012). There’s still a lot of charisma to 2 Chainz’ raps, where he can swagger about on an opener as strange as “Bet It Back” and make a line as tired as “in her mouth like Colgate” playful enough — but the required infrastructure to make it all work is sorely lacking. There isn’t a single interesting or impressive moment on the entire album, which plays it safe and conservative at just about every juncture; the half-hour length, which in and of itself signals to all parties how phoned in this is, feels neverending with music this calculated. “Pop Music” is about as limp as strip club anthems go, “Lost Kings” begs for unearned pathos and receives none, “If You Want Me To” ends things on a sex jam nobody asked for; even when you get an occasional song with a more defined concept guiding it — the dancehall-flavored “VladTV” poking fun at the online platform’s notorious reputation for self-snitching — the results remain about the same.
When it’s time for the guests to show up — the majority of whom are arbitrarily picked, where’s Ye and Tuchi when you need them? — it only further proves how static the atmosphere is. “Kingpen Ghostwriter” is a pretty cool track, up until Lil Baby shows up and suddenly makes you realize it should be him and only him on the beat, not sharing the spotlight with an unenthused 2 Chainz (ditto for NBA YoungBoy on “10 Bracelets”). Roddy Ricch’s chorus on “Outstanding” is the best thing going for it, same with Swae Lee on “Caymans”; even a rapper as undistinguished as 42 Dugg makes more of an impression on “Million Dollars Worth of Game” than its central performer. So, perhaps in a twisted act of divine irony, the guy once known for killing features is now being killed on his own tracks by features; which means he better start hitting the gym or get a Fitbit ASAP, because this dope certainly isn’t going to be selling itself any time soon.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 1.