Did 2 Chainz just drop the best album of his entire career? The critics have been hailing “Rap or Go to the League” — Pitchfork said the album “feels like a personal triumph” and Complex called it the rapper’s “best.” The rapper’s fifth studio effort is a project in which 2 Chainz, whose real name is Tauheed Epps, successfully and beautifully bridges the gap between sports and hip-hop. And it’s no wonder: basketball star LeBron James served as the album’s A&R (artists and repertoire — a guiding role through the recording process).
The title, “Rap or Go to the League” is meant to highlight the misconception that young black men see success in life as either athletes or rappers. The 14 songs exhibit the drive, hunger, fearlessness, courage and relentlessness needed to accomplish one’s dreams.
Indeed, the Atlanta native isn’t just a rapper, 2 Chainz is also an entrepreneur, father, husband, host of Viceland’s “Most Expensivest,” label-owner and all-around entertainer.
So where does this generation’s greatest NBA player come in? Variety lays down the LeBron connection below.
1. LeBron is the ultimate cosign.
LeBron’s taste in music is impeccable. If your record is caught playing in the background of one of his Snapchats or IG stories, chances are, you’ve made it. His signature head-bobs and stank face have become phenomena on their own — not to mention free promotion. Just ask Eminem, Rick Ross, Tee Grizzley or A$AP Rocky. The track “NCAA” is a reminder that 2 Chainz threw his hoop dreams out the window to pursue rap, while music serves as LeBron’s second biggest passion.
2. There’s no better hype-man.
LeBron James dancing in the mirror to “Girl’s Best Friend” featuring Ty Dolla $ign — 45 seconds of pure bliss — proves there’s no better hype-man for a 2 Chainz banger. There’s a high chance they’re bumping this at Lakers practice too.
3. Shared roots.
Both share a similar upbringing in being black males from the inner-city. LeBron hails from the rougher parts of Akron, Ohio, experiencing poverty as in his childhood and facing the reality of a nonexistent father who fell victim to the streets. “Threat 2 Society” has Tity Boi recalling the former days of trapping and hoop dreams, the latter of which LeBron has conquered. To wit: the line, “I’m so famous, can’t even cough in peace.”
4. Raising the bar of black excellence.
With 47.7 million followers on Instagram and 42.3 million on Twitter, as of this writing, LeBron is making the most of his platform, touching on everything from music to sports to politics and television. In fact, 2 Chainz chose LeBron to work with him because of the Athlete’s place in the culture. “Momma Hit A Lick,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, name-drops other influential African-Americans like Vivica and Mannie Fresh. In an interview featured on Apple Music interview, 2 Chainz tells Lebron, “I’m sure you know, you’re just a different breed in so many ways. You use your platform different from any other person that’s been on your level.”
5. A&R as mood and emotion.
LeBron’s role as executive producer isn’t the traditional A&R role. Rather, he offers input and suggestions. It his idea to have “Forgiven” featuring Marsha Ambrosius sit at the top of the track-list. Most artists would save the heavy stuff for later in the album, maybe even as the closer, but LeBron advised 2 Chainz to draw in audiences in on first listen. As LeBron states: “It sets the mood from an emotional standpoint.” Elsewhere, LeBron came up with the idea of releasing additional tracks through a deluxe edition down the line — like “Whip” featuring Travis Scott, in which he sings: “They really wanna keep us outside / ‘Cause you know we go way too live, too turnt up for your club.”