A decade removed from his commercial peak and mesmerizing breakout run at the top of the 2010s, 2 Chainz has delivered a record that encapsulates his insatiable hunger while also showcasing how much he has grown as an artist.
“How many niggas you know, with that hustle?” 2 Chainz asks listeners in the closing moments of “Outstanding,” the fourth cut on his newly released album, Dope Don’t Sell Itself.
With a title like that, one might assume the veteran Atlanta rapper’s latest record is topically concerned with hustling in the sense of selling drugs, but on his seventh studio album, 2 Chainz is far more concerned with maintaining a hustler’s mentality than breaking down drug-dealing semantics. At age 44, the G.O.O.D. Music affiliate and former Playaz Circle rapper has built a resume that many aspiring rappers would fiend for. With a Billboard 200 chart-topping album, a top 5 entry on the Billboard Hot 100, 15 platinum-certified singles, a Grammy for Best Rap Performance, countless iconic verses, and his own record label, there’s not much else for 2 Chainz to cross off his Hip-Hop bucket list, save for that Jay-Z feature he’s been vying for. Many artists who have been in positions similar to Chainz have become complacent and stepped away from their craft, but according to 2 Chainz, the hustle that has guided him throughout his life and career is embedded in his genes.
“Shit gotta be in you, not on you,” he continues, when speaking on the outro of the Roddy Ricch-assisted “Outstanding.” “I’ll tell you that lazy shit gon’ get you nowhere really fast, though/You can’t buy motivation.”
That’s arguably one of the most significant takeaways from Dope Don’t Sell Itself, an album that arrives in the same year as the 10-year anniversary of 2 Chainz’s solo debut, Based on a T.R.U. Story. A decade removed from his commercial peak and mesmerizing breakout run at the top of the 2010s, 2 Chainz has delivered a record that encapsulates his insatiable hunger while also showcasing how much he has grown as an artist. Even with some admittedly peculiar creative choices, Dope Don’t Sell Itself makes for a worthy and intriguing addition to 2 Chainz’s solid discography.
For starters, Dope Don’t Sell Itself is by far the College Park native’s shortest album to date, with a total of 12 tracks and a runtime of 32 and a half minutes. While the lean format is most certainly appreciated in contrast to the norm of bloated tracklists and hour-long playbacks, the pacing and sequencing of the album make it feel a bit incomplete. After the attention-grabbing intro “Bet It Back,” Dope Don’t Sell Itself floats between tracks — which range from decent, club-ready bangers to truly great deep cuts — rather aimlessly. Its awkward flow is especially recognizable when you reach the end of the sultry Jacquees collab “If You Want Me To” and realize in a considerably anticlimactic fashion that the album is over. However, when looking past its strange construction, Dope Don’t Sell Itself has plenty of admirable qualities.
As one of rap’s elder statesmen, 2 Chainz has a remarkable way of keeping up with contemporary trends while not sacrificing the refined brand of Southern Hip-Hop that he established on projects like Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, Rap Or Go To The League, and So Help Me God. The long list of features— including Moneybagg Yo, Lil Baby, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Roddy Ricch, Sleepy Rose, 42 Dugg, Symba, Stove God Cook$, and Major Myjah, among others — definitely helps bring a more youthful energy to Dope Don’t Sell Itself, but to give 2 Chainz his due credit, he held his own when rapping alongside the new generation of Hip-Hop artists. In addition to going hard on raucous collaborations like the Moneybagg Yo and BeatKing-assisted “Pop It” and “Million Dollars Worth of Game” with 42 Dugg, 2 Chainz also brings that same energy to the solo endeavor “Neighbors Know My Name,” a spiritual successor to Trey Songz sensual 2009 track of the same name that built upon a nostalgic sample of D4L’s 2005 hit single “Laffy Taffy.” Beyond those fun moments, 2 Chainz balances out his latest project by injecting his veteran wisdom into songs like the Swae Lee-assisted “Caymans” and the stacked Stove God Cooks, Symba, and Major Myjah collab “Vlad TV,” sprinkling pieces of game about the cutthroat nature of the streets, living within your means, self-snitching, and more.
Furthermore, the beat selection on Dope Don’t Sell Itself is also worth mentioning. From the glitchy, speaker-rattling production on “Bet It Back” to the theatrical instrumental on “Vlad TV,” 2 Chainz’s new album boasts contributions from beatmakers such as Mannie Fresh, Buddah Bless, Hit-Boy, FKi 1st, LilJuMadeDaBeat, LordQuest, BeatKing, Caston Grigsby, WomaticTracks, Corey Swimmer, and a handful of others. Apart from Buddah Bless’ wonky flute-driven production on the NBA YoungBoy-assisted “10 Bracelets,” none of the production on Dope Don’t Sell Itself feels out of place, which is both a creative accomplishment in its own right as well as a testament to 2 Chainz’s ability to flow on any beat placed in front of him.
Yet with all of the impressive collaborations, veteran insights, quotable bars, and hard-hitting beats, Dope Don’t Sell Itself as a whole feels less like an album and more like a loosely narrated playlist that could be played on shuffle. What qualifies it as a step in the right direction, however, is the aforementioned hunger and passion that 2 Chainz talks about on “Outstanding” and embodies throughout the rest of the album’s runtime. Seven albums into his decade-spanning career, the hustler’s spirit and mentality is still strong, and that’s why Dope Don’t Sell Itself hits far more than it misses.