Monday, June 26, 2017

2 Chainz - Pretty Girls Like Trap Music Review

There's no escaping the stranglehold Trap has on mainstream Rap right now. For every one-hit wonder falling off the radar, there's ten more causing quite a stir on Soundcloud. You needn't look any further than XXL's yearly freshman class, a cover that not more than four years ago housed names like Ab-Soul, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, and Logic. 2017's list was released this month and there wasn't a single artist who wasn't at least influenced by the Trap scene. Interestingly enough, that aforementioned 2013 list also featured a man, face half hidden, who seemed to blend into the background. His name was Travi$ Scott, an artist who, along with Young Thug and Future, now represent the three-headed dragon that makes Trap what it is today. That being said, the streaming age they've pioneering makes it quite hard for old Trap heads to maintain relevancy. Just last week we saw Big Boi try, and fail, at just that with Boomiverse. However, if we're to learn anything, it's that age shouldn't matter. 2 Chainz, who will be 40 in September, just proved that with Pretty Girls Like Trap Music. The 16-track LP combines sharp-witted lyrics and ideas with production à la mode, creating the best Trap album of the year in the process.

With a title like Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, expectations going in weren't high. The emoji symbol used errantly on the cover didn't help. It screamed of social media marketing 101, becoming an immediate meme like every Trap album these days. And while those statements still hold true, the music contained within, thankfully, represents none of the fluff, pastiche, and monotony of modern Trap. Varied instrumentation, seamless beat switches, methodical songwriting, all with the big names you expect 2 Chainz to collaborate with. When compared to last year's rather forgettable Lil Wayne collaboration ColleGrove, an album that was never sure on how to be anything more than a gimmick, Pretty Girls reflects like night and day. That's due to 2 Chainz' own proclamation that the album will show "growth and maturity," a statement echoed in the recesses of nearly every song. From the get-go, old man Trap becomes all too palpable. 'Saturday Night,' the album's introduction, wastes no time with production from Mike Will Made It that errs on the melodic side, with an electric guitar sliding in and out of focus. 2 Chainz' aggression here sets the tone of a flush trap house, just like the one on the cover.

However, if there's one thing I've learned with the genre it's to never judge an album by one well-equipped song. Ideas are so sparse that what's sufficient for one hit isn't for an entire album. On 'Riverdale Rd' though, Pretty Girls' immediate trunk-rattler, the expectations of 2 Chainz shifts dramatically. The beat, produced by Mano, is grimy as all hell, finding a droning low end competing with some ghoulish synths. 2 Chainz' personality and talents on the mic shine here, causing 'Riverdale Rd' to be Pretty Girls' best material. Then there's '4 AM,' which features our Trap emissary Travi$ Scott in a rather pedestrian role, but one that embarks on envisioning the great Rodeo era, rather than the lackluster Birds In The Trap one. Some criticism can arrive here, as '4 AM' truly sounds like a Rodeo outtake, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if it was. The same goes for a handful of other tracks, like 'Good Drank,' 'It's A Vibe,' and 'Bailan,' for feeling too similar to the works of the artists featured alongside 2 Chainz, rather than the man himself. That can be forgiven though when there's quality abound.

On lengthy Trap projects such as Pretty Girls, there comes a time when the quality diminishes and the tedium sets in. Rarely can hits be found on the back half, with Hndrxx's three-track outro being a distinct exclusion. With Pretty Girls though, 2 Chainz treats the LP with delicacy, sprinkling notables throughout the duration. 'It's A Vibe,' which features the crooning collective of Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz, and Jhene Aiko, tastefully finds a balance between Cloud Rap and Alternative R&B, releasing a weightless aura that feels similar to Kendrick Lamar's 'Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe.' Then there's 'Rolls Royce Bitch,' which, unlike its macho namesake, is quite hushed and refrained, with 2 Chainz reciting a humble phrase of "believe in yourself" over some pleasant acoustics. Lastly there's 'OG Kush Diet,' a track that maneuvers through the alleyways with fiendish intentions. The minimal percussive set FKi uses helps to instill this building dread, all the while using a playmate güiro at the same time. 'Door Swangin' and 'Trap Check' also bear a similar style with unusual instrumentation offsetting your typical bass and hi-hats. Pretty Girls is lush with diversity, even if it feels forced like on the tropical 'Bailan' or the down-to-earth 'Burglar Bars.'

While 2 Chainz' personality, aggression, and clarity drive up his rapping value, the content overall feels a bit stagnant. There's nothing inherently wrong with his style, in fact it's refreshing in the Mumble Rap age, but don't go into Pretty Girls expecting anything innovative or revolutionary. Accumulating wealth, flaunting the excess, and partying hard make up the bulk of the content here. Only 'Burglar Bars,' acting as your typical reflective finale, strays from that path. Apart from Nicki Minaj on 'Realize,' who continues to take shots at Remy Ma, the features don't stray far either. Overall, the singers tend to stand out, the rappers noticeably nondescript. Ty, Trey, and Jhene do an excellent job with 'It's A Vibe,' as does Swae Lee and his stylized vocals on 'Poor Fool.' However, Gucci Mane, not surprisingly, comes equip with a horrendous verse on 'Good Drank,' while Migos ('Blue Cheese'), Drake ('Big Amount'), and Travi$ Scott ('4 AM') parade their prototypical selves. These blended appearances, ironically, help 2 Chainz stand out more, failing to bore in even the most mundane of moments. For an hour long Trap project, that's basically a godsend. Standard issues aside, Pretty Girls' maturity and mixed bag of sounds help to make it a success relative to its watered down market.

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