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Juicy J and 2 Chainz: Oft-Delayed Projects by Rap Vets Buck Major Label Expectations

In 2013, rap albums, you know, the kind that are still pressed onto CDs and shoved onto Best Buy racks, are embraced as either blow-the-roof-off-everything events that cannot be missed or “What took you so long?” anti-climaxes that should’ve arrive up six months ago. It reflects the bipolar mentality that pervades the music industry right now: They either throw everything and anything into the product and ensure it’s a success, or they don’t even try and let the thing die on the vine and, hey, maybe it’ll stay afloat thanks to word-of-mouth and a fervid core fanbase that didn’t need a major label to make them aware of the new record in the first place. It’s pathological, really.

Over the past few weeks, two rap LP anti-climaxes finally arrived: Juicy J’s Stay Trippy and 2 Chainz’s B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time. The warm, at best, praise these albums are receiving (save for SPIN, which rightfully handed 2 Chainz’s album an 8 out of 10) would make you think they are as perfunctory as, say, French Montana’s personality-free Excuse My French or L.L. Cool J’s cloying Authentic. But Juicy J and 2 Chainz’s albums are cohesive, fairly uncompromising rap records from men who are more than 30 years of age, yet are popular with the tween- and teen-rap crowd, and that’s pretty strange. They’re also selling pretty well, both nearing 100,000 units.

Juicy J is 38. He revived his career thanks to a free-mixtape hustle and web savvy after the major labels refused to make his group Three 6 Mafia into an event following an Academy Award win (Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow) and their highest-charting hit (“Stay Fly”). A free-culture, flooding-the-market mentality raised his profile again and got him signed to Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang. Juicy J had one of 2012’s biggest hits with “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” officially released almost a full a year before Stay Trippy. When Stay Trippy did finally arrive on August 27, it was an in-the-pocket product from one half of Three 6 Mafia. Nothing more or less. That’s worth celebrating.

Stay Trippy isn’t updated with the sounds that became cool or trendy since “Bandz,” and there are no guests who don’t belong. It’s a far more balanced affair tham Three 6’s The Last 2 Walk and it feels like Juicy’s Internet mixtapes with a few more condescending, though comfortable, nods to the radio — mostly, “Bounce It,” an EDM rush produced by Dr. Luke, and “Smokin’ Rollin,” which samples the Weeknd’s “High For This,” then pairs it with a posthumous verse from Pimp C and a signature Three 6 thump produced by Juicy himself. Even “The Woods,” featuring fellow Memphis boy Justin Timberlake, finds JT operating in Juicy J’s weed-noir world and not Juicy J wandering into Justin’s Wimp&B lifestyle pop (Timberlake kind of sounds like Yelawolf on the track).

More impressively, there are plenty of nods to the Three 6 Mafia sound. Not just the hedonistic fight-rap they were doing around the time of “Stay Fly,” but more specifically, their late-’90s run when their demonic club music was unmatched and damned catchy: “No Heart No Love,” “Gun Plus a Mask,” “If It Ain’t,” are comparable to the group’s most monotonously aggro classics. Stay Trippy is an enjoyable, and if you think about it enough, inspiring album. Here’s a chant rapper nearing 40, eaten up by the major-label system twice over, releasing a solo record in 2013, on a major label. that still exudes personality and regional-rap narrowcasting.

Meanwhile, on B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, 2 Chainz did what a rappers are supposed to do their second time out: Get a little more ambitious and challenge their audiences because, hell, they’ve earned it. In the case ofChainz, he really did earn it, having spent a decade with Playaz Circle before eventually landing on a hit (2007’s “Duffle Bag Boy”) and then typically languishing on a bet-hedging major label. Typically, he resurrected his career via mixtapes (and a name change from Tity Boi to 2 Chainz). B.O.A.T.S.’s first single, “Feds Watching,” was a yacht-trap track featuring Pharrell, which highlighted some of 2 Chainz’s most knotty and excellent rapping. He had become known for screaming out silly punchlines, but “Feds Watching” is breezy, fairly attentive spitting: “Mr. Comme des Garçons, Mr. Alexander Wang / Mr. Chain, pinky ring, flow insane, hoe insane/ Man, these shoes I got on, these the hardest I’ve done seen.” As a result, it has not reached the ubiquitous radio heights of Based On a T.R.U. Story singles like “I’m Different” or pre-album single, “Spend It.”

There’s an ATLien OutKast quality to B.O.A.T.S. II: On “Fork,” he accuses his mom of stealing his money and and captures some of ‘Kast’s folksy, rap-game Charles Burnett neo-realism. It’s also a song that finds the rapper in nightmare mode, imagining that he’s back on the streets selling drugs because no one’s buying records anymore. A nightmare that feels more real here because 2 Chainz had found success with Playaz Circle at the very moment when having a hit no longer afforded you much actual success.

“Black Unicorn,” featuring stellar spoken word from Sunni Patterson, is a little ridiculous, but it’s also Aquemini-like all-over-the-place. It’s trying very hard. At one point, 2 Chainz raps, “Lyrically, I could be Talib Kweli/ But with gold teeth, it’d be hard for some to believe,” explicitly quoting Jay Z, but also nodding to one of Andre 3000’s binary-breaking couplets, as well: “Now question: Is every nigga with dreads for the cause?/ Is every nigga with golds for the fall?” Appropriately, 2 Chainz, who sported the same pants as Grimes at the MTV Video Music Awards, has a clear Donda-designed vision behind his solo LP covers, with dreads and gold teeth. He’s aiming to be a binary breaker. He occasionally gets there. And Andre 3000 is probably kicking himself for not already penning a song called “Black Unicorn,” right?

Stay Trippy and B.O.A.T.S. II indugle their termite-art vision of Southern rap and refuse to let go or deviate too much from what they’re good at doing. Just by seeing release, they are major-label records that fight market-tested album-sequencing by smuggling in eccentricity, personality, and history. We don’t get many of those anymore. We need to celebrate them when they appear.