2 Chainz and Lil Wayne prove that they're the perfect duo to execute a fun, low-stakes joint album.
Of all of Lil Wayne's post-Hot Boys frequent collaborators, 2 Chainz was the best choice to tap for a joint album. Who else fits so effortlessly alongside him? Like Father Like Son is certainly an underrated relic of the past, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince anyone that Birdman could ever hang with Weezy lyrically, at any point in either of their careers. Juelz Santana is one that the fans keep pulling for, and though "You Ain't Got Nuthin" and (to a considerably lesser extent) Blow make the case for chemistry, the Dipset member hasn't done enough in recent years to justify Wayne's participation in any sort of reamped version of I Can't Feel My Face. Drake? Don't get me wrong, they've had great songs together, but Drake attempting an album's worth of hyped up "HYFR"s and "Believe Me"s seems unlikely, especially after What A Time To Be Alive. Curren$y? Too low-key for Wayne's tastes, although we might get better bars out of it. Anyone other than Drizzy and Nicki on Young Money? Please.
Once upon a time, Wayne would've run circles around Tity Boi. Why do you think the former only gave the latter a hook, and no verse, on 2007's "Duffle Bag Boy"? But times have changed. Wayne has (depending how hard you stan for him) fallen off to some considerable degree since his mid-to-late 2000s peak, and since the aforementioned Playaz Circle song, Chainz has had a decidedly upward trajectory. He may have never been as dazzling as Wayne in his mixtape-era prime, but throughout his career, 2 Chainz has integrated Weezy's brand of humor and scatterbrained non-sequiturs into the modern traposphere, perhaps more so than anyone this side of Young Thug. Unable as of yet to break out of his "singles artist" reputation following two promising-but-ill-executed albums, Chainz seemed briefly in danger of fading away until rebounding with last year's Trapavelli Tre and the even more promising bite-sized January release Felt Like Cappin. Wayne, on the other hand, has been desperately trying to get something to stick, but has really floundered in the last five years. It's at these points in their respective paths that both of them meet up for ColleGrove.
The album (listed as a Chainz solo joint but featuring Wayne on 8/13 tracks) winds up being just what the doctor ordered for both parties involved. For 2 Chainz, it's one part status-symbol collaboration with one of his idols, one part extension of his post-Trapavelli hot streak, and one part convenient way to get the biggest and best songs from his last two free releases on a commercial project. For Wayne, ColleGrove is revitalizing and stakes-lowering-- with Carter V still nowhere in sight, everyone expects the most from each ensuing solo project, so a light-hearted collab tape doesn't hold nearly as much weight. Whereas much of No Ceilings 2 had Wayne sounding like he was having much more fun than the listener, this project brings us back on the same page as him for the most part. Nothing, save for a few too-blunt lyrics, seems forced, and both rappers' enjoyment is audible.
The aptly-named "Dedication" kicks things off with as project's most topically-focused song, with 2 Chainz giving us rose-tinted background information of his come up and how Wayne related to it. For a rapper whose gift for exuberance and luxurious overstatement usually overshadows his autobiographical honesty, it's a crystal-clear snapshot of the pre-fame era when he took cues from Gucci Mane, Ludacris and most importantly, Wayne. It's kind of a shame that the only thing carried over from the opening track to the rest of the tape is "more gold than a pirate"-style punchlines and a tendency for elegantly simplistic, earworming hooks ("Datmydawg" x12), but if there's any pair that's going to turn that into a winning formula, it's these two.
Wayne debuts with some bars on "Smell Like Money" that feel like more of the same from NC2 and Sorry For The Wait 2-- the dumb sexual winks ("back with that crack like panty lines") and the bricked attempts at double entendres ("high stay the same" twice)-- but as soon as he loosens up and gets into a groove, he's back coming up with unique descriptions of objects as commonplace as a blunt ("as fat as a pig in a blanket"). Just due to the sheer number of words he's rapped in his career (30+ projects and countless more guest verses), every time Wayne lands on a cliché, whether it be "It's raining men" or "Papa was a rolling stone," I expect him to bend it into something unexpected. When that doesn't happen, he sounds as bland as any run-of-the-mill rapper, but ColleGrove is thankfully short on the predictable bars that have made a good deal of his recent tracks snoozers.
What he and 2 Chainz both specialize in are lines that only hit you 1.5 seconds after they're delivered, but then seem so obvious that you almost groan. Almost. You really have to admire the gall of saying things like "This for my ones, like November first" or "I'm gettin' to the 's' with the two lines in the middle" or "I watch my step so much, I'm startin' to feel like my ankle's wrist" on a commercial project. It's something that Tity's specialized in for his whole career: saying things so blunt and obvious that no one else would think of them. Although I know he's a smart guy-- remember, he graduated from college with a 4.0-- it's almost like a kid stumbling into naive profundity that adults would otherwise overlook. Wayne definitely laid the groundwork for this style, but Chainz has taken it even further from the standard traditions of intelligent lyricism. At their best, Weezy and Tity are like expert problem-solvers who know that the best solution is often to view things from completely different, sometimes seemingly asinine angles.
It's no surprise that they were able to attract a murderer's row of trap producers for this, with the usual suspects of Southside, Metro Boomin, Mike Will, Zaytoven, FKi, London On The Track, and TM88 showing up alongside more unexpected choices like Mike Dean, Mannie Fresh, and underrated ATL producer Mr. 2-17. The result is as broad a sampling from the trap palette as any, ranging from luxurious ("Smell Like Money") to grimy ("Blue C-Note") to trippy ("Bentley Truck" and "Rolls Royce Weather Every Day"). The only two missteps in my eyes are the pop concessions: the Ellie-Goulding-lite vibes of "What Happened" and Kidz Bop version of "A Milli"-sounding "Bounce," the latter of which confirms my suspicion that Infamous might be my least favorite producer working in hip hop right now.
Joint projects are a tricky proposition no matter the duo. It's almost always going to hold a fraction of the potential weight that a cohesive solo album could, and more often that not, the best solution to that is lowering your sights and focusing on playful chemistry and attention-grabbing tracks. In other words, more "Jumpman" and less "Live From The Gutter." 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne may not have delivered something that'll wind up on year-end lists, but ColleGrove gives us several tracks that'll be in rotation until 2017. Beyond that, it holds clear benefits for both of their careers, which is about all you can ask for.