Favorite Tracks: “Million Dollars Worth of Game (feat. 42 Dugg),” “Vlad TV (feat. Stove God Cooks, Symba and Major Myjah)”
2 Chainz is an expert at the art of naming a rap project, treating his offerings as mantras for an enterprising hustler. While his latest, DOPE DON’T SELL ITSELF, continues the tradition established by gems such as PRETTY GIRLS LIKE TRAP MUSIC, THE PLAY DON’T CARE WHO MAKES IT, and RAP OR GO TO THE LEAGUE, it unfortunately fails to treat its mantra as seriously as past albums, lacking the salesmanship and forward-thinking cat-making that allowed 2 Chainz to remain one of the few fathers of Atlanta’s trap scene still standing prominently in the 2020s. Where once Chainz graced listeners with eclectic, top-shelf beats, outlandish bars, and a chameleonic quality that let him slide seamlessly next to presences as varied as E-40, Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande, and Westside Gunn, DOPE DON’T SELL ITSELF sounds like the rapper ticking boxes. His best qualities aren’t gone, but they’re fewer and further between, on an album that feels half-hearted compared to his past triumphs.
The glut of young, melodic rappers who blur the line between singing and rapping that litter the tracklist are a clear sign that 2 Chainz isn’t exactly leading the pack anymore. Yes, this stuff is popular, but I struggle to find the appeal in the millionth iteration of a half-sung hook from Roddy Ricch, Lil Durk, NBA Youngboy or Swae Lee, all of whom make appearances across the surprisingly scant 32-minute runtime. The tracks are short, and the few that do stand out deliver mixed results. On the less engaging end there’s “Pop Music,” a paint-by-numbers strip club cut, and “If You Want Me To,” the sort of raunchy track that gets harder and harder to tolerate as time goes on. Worse, 2 Chainz doesn’t stand out anywhere here, turning in boilerplate verses that stick to the plan and little else.
More compelling are “Kingpen Ghostwriter” with Lil Baby and “Million Dollars Worth of Game” with 42 Dugg. On the latter in particular, 2 Chainz finds a real groove in the raucous, whistling beat, snapping off sharp lines like, “The first couple shows the FN was my hype man / Way before the PJ I had a flight plan.” The album highlight is also the one track that recalls past tracklist surprise delights like “Momma I Hit A Lick,” melding 2 Chainz’ undeniable charisma with his keen eye for unusual features. “Vlad TV” is a banger, pulling together obscure talent from across the country on soaring, anthemic production. I couldn’t begin to speculate how the idea for a track with Syracuse powder-whipper Stove God Cooks, Bay Area up-and-comer Symba, and the nearly unknown Major Myjah came together, but it’s a total knockout.
DOPE DON’T SELL ITSELF isn’t a total throwaway—it’s saved by a couple tracks with real staying power that serve as evidence Tity Boi hasn’t fallen completely off his perch. But the short runtime, the lack of album buildup, and the generic liaisons with the melodic-trap flavors of the day keep the project firmly in the second or third tier of his discography.