You could ask 20 rap fans what their favorite 2 Chainz lyric is, and chances are you’d get 20 different answers. Some would stick with the so-simple-it’s-brilliant options (“She got a big booty, so I call her Big Booty”), while others would probably opt for something from one of his star-making guest verses (“I’m drunk and high at the same time/Drinkin’ champagne on the airplane”). But those Instagram caption bars only capture part of the Chainz story, and tucked away on nearly every one of his releases are smart, imaginative, and even poignant bars that point to a more fully-rounded sensibility.
What makes 2 Chainz so special is how much better he’s gotten since entering the public eye. He initially seemed destined to be a singles artist whose occasional hits could never match up to his stellar guest verses. Then, he began putting out complete bodies of work like ColleGrove and Pretty Girls Like Trap Music that showed he was so much more than just a punchline savant.
He’s no longer at the center of rap culture, but he held a place there into his 40s, which is truly rare. And he’s managed to transition into a stage of his career where a devoted fan base eagerly awaits his albums, something that was far from guaranteed a decade ago when “No Lie” and “Birthday Song” were dominating radio.
The seventh 2 Chainz studio record, Dope Don’t Sell Itself, is out today, and while it doesn’t reach the sustained heights of his best projects, it’s the perfect excuse to comb back through his discography and select the great deep cuts of his career. Here are 15 tracks, released between 2007 and 2022, that showcase the growth, greatness, and gusto of the larger-than-life rhymer.
“Dear Mr. L.A. Reid” (Supply & Demand)
2 Chainz’s rapping on the pair of albums he made as part of Playaz Circle is nowhere near his peak form. The flows are slow and simple, and the occasional excellent bar (“Walk into the Gucci store, honey, I’m home”) is overshadowed by a clunker (“I was so hungry, I could eat a house/Then shit it out, ‘til I figured out a different route”). But a charming earnestness came through, particularly on Supply & Demand opener “Dear Mr. L.A. Reid.” The song is a mission statement in the form of a letter to the then-Def Jam label head. At the time, it was hard to picture 2 Chainz–then calling himself Tity Boi–lasting in rap for well over a decade.
“You see, I’m something that you never seen/Dear Mr. L.A. Reid, ‘Duffle Bag’ is just a seed,” he raps resolutely. Thanks to an incendiary Lil Wayne hook and a booming beat from M16, Playaz Circle had scored a major crossover hit with “Duffle Bag Boy,” but the critical response to the album itself and the lack of a successful second single didn’t exactly signal longevity for Tity or Dolla Boy.
Yet here was 2 Chainz, standing tall and speaking a truly special career into existence. “See, my future looks bright as a tangerine,” he promises.
“Pimps (Remix)” (Codeine Cowboy)
2 Chainz never had the chance to work with Pimp C, but it’s clear from songs like “Pimp C Back” and the excellent “Pimps (Remix)” that the shadow of Chad Butler loomed large over him. He hadn’t reached his most lyrically potent phase yet, but just like Pimp, he brought a preternatural swagger that complimented the down-to-earth baritone of Bun B.
A true student of UGK, Eightball and M.J.G., Chainz makes the case that he could have thrived in the same era as his predecessors atop this bluesy, guitar-and-sax laden instrumental. The inclusion of Big K.R.I.T., another southern rap scholar, works masterfully, too.
“Murder” (T.R.U. REALigion)
“Murder” is not the best song on Chainz’s breakout mixtape T.R.U. REALigion, but it is certainly one of the weirdest. The presence of blog era lightning rod Kreayshawn makes the song feel like a relic of another time, and 2 Chainz is clearly having a blast with the nursery rhyme simplicity of his vocal cadence.
But there are some bombastic gems here, like “They said I was killing Tennessee when I was down in Florida,” and “Three cell phones and I still don’t ever call her.” Some of the best songs in 2 Chainz’s discography, like “Watch Out” and “Momma I Hit a Lick,” are empirically odd, and the DNA of those standouts can be traced back to “Murder.”
“Stop Me Now” (Based on a T.R.U. Story)
This soulful, contemplative reunion with Playaz Circle co-star Dolla Boy is one of the best songs on 2 Chainz’s inconsistent major label debut, 2012’s Based on a T.R.U. Story. While he was in the process of earning his reputation as a scene-stealing collaborator, he was frequently outshone on B.O.A.T.S. by Drake, Scarface, Nicki Minaj, and others. Perhaps because he was locked in with a longtime friend, there’s a calm and collected vibe to Chainz’s flex raps that makes “Stop Me Now” captivating.
“You couldn’t stop me with a bunch of uzis/And all we really do is shoot a bunch of movies,” he says at the end of the opening verse. But there’s more to the track than just braggadocio, and the song feels like something of an “I made it” moment for the longtime hip-hop journeyman. “When they saw me they used to think of dope/But now when they see me they just think of hope,” Chainz raps. It’s simple, but moving.
“U Da Realest” (B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time)
“U Da Realest” features one of the strangest non-sequiturs in recent rap history: “Rest in peace to all the soldiers that died in the service/I dive in her cervix.”. But that head-scratcher aside, the song is pointed and ferocious, with Chainz rapping over the kind of thunderous Drumma Boy beat preferred by Young Jeezy or Gucci Mane. Using such a hard instrumental on a song honoring deceased friends is a savvy move, because it mimics the harsh circumstances 2 Chainz and his peers come from. Even when you mourn you can’t afford to get sentimental. “Never seen a man cry ’til you seen a man die: closed curtain/Closed casket, blasted, breathe again, Braxton,” he says, honoring longtime friend Puerto Rican Johnny.
“Lapdance in the Traphouse” (Trapavelli Tre’)
The title pretty much says it all. The imagery is quintessential 2 Chainz, eliciting a chuckle for its brashness, but populated with just enough specific details that it still feels Real. When he says the house is filled with ceiling fans, you can hear the hum and feel the sticky heat they’re trying to dissipate. When he says he’ll use the bathtub as a makeshift jacuzzi, that seems just about impossible for a 6’5” guy, but he says it with such conviction that you believe he’ll make it work.
While it’s mostly known for “El Chapo Jr.” (and, on some versions, “Watch Out”), Trapavelli Tre’ is an important piece of the 2 Chainz discography, serving as the connective thread between the raw prospect he was on his first few solo projects and the poised veteran he became. It’s the mixtape equivalent of that summer LeBron spent learning post moves from Hakeem Olajuwon.
The friendship between 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne is one of rap’s most wholesome–just look at this picture of Weezy serving as Chainz’s best man, helping him get dressed for his wedding by standing on a couch. They’ve been collaborators for years, and Wayne clearly brought out the best in 2 Chainz on ColleGrove, an underrated project that features some of the Atlanta star’s career-best rapping.
The opener, fittingly titled “Dedication,” gives Chainz a platform to speak candidly and warmly about the influence of his friend, who just so happens to be the most important rapper of the 21st century. “If it wasn’t for Wayne, it wouldn’t be/A lot of dudes in the game, including me,” he says matter-of-factly in the opening verse.
ColleGrove is filled with excellent turn-up tracks like “Rolls Royce Weather Everyday” and “100 Joints,” so “Dedication” sticks out for its methodical pace and contemplative tone. And Chainz stuffs the track with vivid details, from meeting Wayne pre-Hurricane Katrina to being introduced to Drake on a tour bus in 2008 to Weezy encouraging his pursuit of music when Chainz’s original co-signer, Ludacris, cooled on his prospects. The writing here is rich and nostalgic, and Chainz smartly keeps the hook simple and pure. “That’s my dawg,” he repeats over and over.
“1 Yeezy Boot” (Daniel Son; Necklace Don)
Daniel Son; Necklace Don not only has one of the best project titles in a discography chock-full of them; it also contains several sneaky fun, low-stakes tracks. “1 Yeezy Boost” sees 2 Chainz in cruise control over jittery percussion, but he’s never lackadaisical. The track overflows with absurdist imagery: he’s trying to find a veterinarian for his .44 Bull Dog, and a big check gets him so excited he busts out the cabbage patch.
“Yeezy” also showcases Chainz’s impeccable comedic timing. On the second verse, he starts a series of rhymes with a classic she-likes-my-chain-that’s-a-chain-reaction bar, and ends the passage with, “Introduce me to your n***a, I had a lame reaction.” But instead of just leaving it there, he mutters a frustrated, “Had me all itching and shit.” It’s a brilliant little aside, proof that Chainz knows exactly how far to take a joke. And if none of this sells you on the song, the following couplet certainly will: “From head to toe, I’m wearin’ designer hats/If not, I’m somewhere tryin’ on a designer hat.”
“Rolls Royce Bitch” (Pretty Girls Like Trap Music)
2 Chainz can find his spots on almost any kind of production, but Honorable C.N.O.T.E. is like the Chris Paul to his Devin Booker, finding all the right openings to assist a historic performance. “Rolls Royce Bitch” is a pretty odd track–the clean guitar chords add a touch of psychedelia, and there’s an M.C. Escher staircase of a bass line that almost steals the show during the second verse.
But the song is so much more than a novel beat. “Rolls Royce Bitch” contains some of the most clever bars of Chainz’s career. Just four bars on the second verse see him bragging about his mansion (“100 acres on my property, man I might hit a deer, boy”), being an involved dad in a singularly 2 Chainz way (“Family time at the mall, n***a”), and cementing his O.G. status with a brilliant putdown (“I got felonies older than y’all n***as”).
If you need further proof that this is one of the best and most bizarre songs in the 2 Chainz canon, just remember Frank Ocean’s freestyle over it on his radio show.
“OG Kush Diet” (Pretty Girls Like Trap Music)
“OG Kush Diet” is Atlanta rap with a M. Knight Shyamalan-level twist. What starts off sounding like an homage to the city’s snap rap moment quickly becomes an acknowledgment of how Bankroll Fresh’s 2016 death really hurt Chainz. The titular “OG kush diet” is not some ridiculous flex, it’s 2 Chainz admitting he’s so distraught he can’t do anything other than smoke.
Then there’s a completely left-field beat switch–it’s sort of reggae-trap, but it works so much better than that mishmash genre description conveys. Chainz is rapping vigorously, throwing together absolutely biting non-sequiturs (“I’m V.I.P. at the yacht club, n***a you look like you not loved”), clever political statements (“Presence been felt everywhere/Except, let me see, the White House”), and colorful regional metaphors (“Sippin’ quavo, ridin’ offsets, guess I’m ’bout to take off”).
Pretty Girls is the most complete 2 Chainz record, and “OG Kush Diet” is a microcosm of why it works so well–the song blends emotional insights with inventive gasconading, atop a pair of beats that few rappers could make coexist this naturally.
“Lamborghini Truck (Atlanta Shit)” (The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It)
Perhaps because he toiled for so long as one of southern rap’s also-rans, 2 Chainz has become one of the best in the business at reflecting on where he came from. “Lamborghini Truck,” the best song on a very good, brilliantly-named 2018 EP, positions the rapper as the Forrest Gump of Atlanta hip-hop.
The lines range from wry (“Yung Joc still owe me a lil’ paper”) to earnest (“I let Rico Wade hear my last album/Then them boys in the Dungeon, ain’t no bandwagon”) to touching (mentions of the late Shawty Lo and Bankroll Fresh, two of the city’s most beloved local talents). It feels like half of today’s new rappers hail from Atlanta, but very few of them declare their love for the city as beautifully as 2 Chainz.
“NCAA” (Rap or Go to the League)
Given his background as a D1 college basketball player, there may not be a rapper better suited to critique the flawed system of college athletics than 2 Chainz. “NCAA” has a pointed message, but it’s also an absolute blast, with a whooping chorus that has the energy of a team getting hyped in the huddle.
The opening verse is unremarkable, the equivalent of a pregame shootaround, but on the second, Chainz starts playing high above the rim. “Let me get this straight, if I drop 40 today/You don’t care if I eat, you don’t care if I ate?” he asks pointedly.
He even cites the ubiquity of Johnny Manziel during his Texas A&M days as an example of a wildly popular athlete who wasn’t able to profit off of his fame at the college level. Since June 2021, the NCAA has changed its rules to allow players to earn money off their name, image, and likeness. We’re not saying it’s all thanks to 2 Chainz, but he certainly made a compelling argument.
“Statute of Limitations” (Rap or Go to the League)
“Ex-drug dealer, ex-athlete,” 2 Chainz raps succinctly on this efficient summary of two key tenets of his identity. “Statute of Limitations”, easily one of the standout tracks from his fifth studio album, focuses primarily on the first role (it was even originally titled “Ex-Drug Dealer”).
Over a rattling Mike Will Made-It beat, Chainz recalls his hustling days with the candor–and the name-dropping–of a tell-all memoir. He talks about selling to Atlanta stalwarts (Lil Jon, Young Jeezy) and out-of-towners like Young Buck and Raekwon. Hell, even a few NBA players get mentioned as former customers–even though it’s worth taking all of that with a grain of salt. The vocal delivery is first-rate, too. 2 Chainz is nimble and dexterous but preternaturally calm, the way you’d expect someone who made a living selling drugs to celebrities would be.
“Toni” (So Help Me God!)
Like a lot of what he does, 2 Chainz adopting the moniker “Toni” seemed like another goofy, bombastic quirk, but held a deeper significance. “‘Toni’ derives from the neighborhood I’m from, Old National: Everybody who sold powder or anything like that, their name was Tony. You would get called Tony: Black Tony, White Tony, Big Tony, Lil Tony—all the different likenesses. I’m just Big Toni at this particular point in my career. The biggest Toni,” he told Apple Music.
“Toni” is a real chest-pounder, right down to its brief inclusion of David Banner’s classic “Like a Pimp” beat. Chainz’s consistent cadence and the way both verses are entirely rapped in the third-person allows the listener to zero in on the lyrics and note the juxtaposition between outlandish boasts (“Toni used to buy the lean by the fuckin’ keg”) and the more nuanced (“Toni used the same stove for the turkey bacon”).
“Free B.G.” (Dope Don’t Sell Itself)
2 Chainz isn’t just a longtime friend of Lil Wayne’s, he’s a devout acolyte of the Hot Boys. They’ve inspired one of his most fun singles (“Used 2”) and are on the forefront of his mind on “Free B.G.,” one of the stronger tracks off Dope Don’t Sell Itself.
Atop a menacing, Mannie Fresh co-produced beat, Chainz sounds invigorated and in vintage form. He’s using a PPP loan to buy weight. He’s leaving his car parked in public, knowing no one would dare try to jack it. He’s taking his jewelry on vacation, which he says in a way that sounds more like he’s bringing the chains on a romantic getaway, and less like he’s just packing a suitcase. Clocking in under two minutes, “Free B.G.” isn’t a major addition to the 2 Chainz discography, but it can slot in on a playlist with any of his best solo tracks and keep the momentum going.