SINCE IT WAS ESTABLISHED that merging two similar artists with a unified collaboration album meant ballooning sales and rabid fan support, rappers have been aiming at working together rather than dismantling ties between one another through needless beef and stubbornness. ColleGrove, the long awaited project from 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, couldn’t have come at a better time for the two. With both of them well into their 30’s, seeking to reestablish their place in hip-hop as a new generation of Southern slangers was a smart move. And while this is technically a 2 Chainz solo album, due to contractual obligations from Wayne and Cash Money Records, the latter is featured prominently, appearing on eight of the 12 tracks. With ColleGrove, the two reach back into their Southern origins, dousing verses and choruses with syrupy jargon (2 Chainz) and autotune relief (Lil Wayne), benefited by a bevy of A-plus trap producers. The result is about what you’d expect: Mostly radio-friendly, club-hopping anthems that sacrifice what little originality existed in the first place for simple trap that teeters between the old-school South and the new. This leads to a handful of tracks witnessing the two at their prime, but a slew that fail to leave any impact.
The biggest hurdle these two have to overcome is the content. How cliched, trite, repetitive it is to hear talk of sex, drugs, fame, money, and the streets. So what’s most worrying about ColleGrove is the fact that the two songs that hope to distance themselves from this, “Dedication” and “What Happened”, are some of the worst on the record. The former kicks the LP off in a smart place, with 2 Chainz reminiscing on his first encounter with Wayne. The entire track focuses on this build-up, and lyrically it’s appealing by Tity Boi’s standards. His flow though, presented with a lazy, nasally sung pattern, detracts from the absorbing narrative, as does the chorus, lethargically repeating “that my dog” over and over and over. “What Happened”, a song that has a determined focus on a failing relationship, etches romantic redundancies through Wayne’s terrible autotune. That facet of his persona appears elsewhere—sometimes even done well, like on “Gotta Lotta”—but nowhere as ear-wrenching as here. It’s a shame that when these two come together with purpose they’re wasted, thanks to poor musical decisions.
The rest of the bunch split the difference between effective and ineffective forms of Southern rap, which seems to be par for the course with these two. There’s clearly nothing here as mythic as Wayne during his creative tidal wave in the mid-2000’s, but also nothing (apart from “What Happened”) as offensive as when he picked up a guitar. 2 Chainz is, as always, rarely ever impressive. A lousy lyricist, he’s known famously for his great verse on “Mercy”, and infamously for “she got a big booty, so I call her big booty.” The majority of the time he’s a mixed bag that tends to lean towards the latter, jumbling words and phrases up so much that the bulk of “I’m __, like __” one-liners make little sense. When their lyrical styles work though, it’s largely because the beat decided to join in on the fun. “Rolls Royce Weather Every Day”, “Blue C-Note”, and especially “Bounce”, all poke fun at the mockery with farty bass lines, congested chaos, drilling synths, and call-and-response backing vocals. For these reasons “Bounce” is—by far—the best track here, bringing the absurdity out of the two emcees.
With that we turn to the production, a hodgepodge of A-list producers who either decide to bring their best, bowing down to icons, or their most mediocre, seeing the sails fading on two former stars. Everyone, from Metro Boomin to TM88 to Mike Will to Mannie Fresh, can lay claim to a beat here. No one is allotted more than one track, giving ColleGrove a who’s-who approach to beatsmithing, where colleagues become mortal enemies. Surprisingly, the ones who’ve been around the longest are the best here. “Section”, with London on da Track, is a slammer, complete with thunderous drums and a pitter-pattered keyboard line that crescendos around stumbling synths. Despite the numerous instruments, the layers play off each other incredibly well. As far as well-to-do Southern trap beats go, “Smell Like Money” is golden. Honorable C.N.O.T.E. connects alluring low ends by their base, giving off airy textures to fill in the cracks. However, for every lively beat is one that struggles to take off. “Not Invited”, “100 Joints”, and most surprisingly, “MFN Right”, a collaboration between Mike Will Made It and Zaytoven, all fall flat with no motor to give them a spark. Lacking energy is possibly the strongest way to be ignored on an album intended to give it away.
Throughout ColleGrove, the dominant statement that seems to be made is one of discordancy and dullness. Wherever these two succeed, there is always an antithesis to mute the momentum. Good flows are rescinded by piss-poor lyrics, decent ideas are ruined by detestable musical decisions, fun banter is nullified by severe boredom. Most alarming of all is the interaction between 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, of which there’s hardly any. “Dedication” sees the former having flashbacks of meeting his idol, but if the next 11 tracks are any indication, these two would rather have nothing to do with each other. The fact that Cash Money’s contract with Wayne held back a true collaboration means many of these verses are phoned-in, as the two are hardly ever seen together. Many songs, apart from the unrepentantly fun “Blue C-Note”, act as barriers where one or the other are simply featured for one verse before disappearing, allowing the other to take over again. It’s with this that ColleGrove has a tough time reaching the greatness it aspires to, becoming more a beacon signaling 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne’s faltering energy and fading impact on hip-hop. C
Read more of Brian’s writing at his blog, Dozens of Donuts.