Album Review: 2 Chainz – So Help Me God!

[Gamebread/Def Jam; 2020]

The public may underestimate how relaxed 2 Chainz is. His Nardwuar interview from a few years ago makes this extremely apparent (“Yes, I enjoy real estate,” he says calmly). He’s 43, and has a boom bap album with Statik Selektah in the works. With his own roster of young artists, he’s reached a point in his career where he can invest in others and not worry about increasing his own popularity. With his sixth album, So Help Me God!, he finds strength in staying composed and reflective.

So Help Me God! is a self-described “time capsule of quarantine,” but it mostly strays from any mention of the pandemic. And given that the one song with this theme is the goofy “Quarantine Thick”, that’s a good thing. The first half of the album is a mixed-bag: the “young enough to fuck yo’ auntie” shit-talk of “Grey Area” or the Hall & Oates-sampling (huh?) “Can’t Go For That” are fairly unimpressive.

But Deuce is a skilled curator, and “Save Me” and “Money Maker” are really nice songs. On the former, co-produced by Mike Will and Chainz himself, BJ the Chicago Kid sings a lovely intro and Louisiana’s YoungBoy provides a verse and chorus with emotional heft. First single “Money Maker” takes a marching band cover of Guy’s “Piece of My Love” and throws Lil Wayne into the mix with fun results. 2 Chainz told Apple Music that the track “is an articulation of the Black experience, the HBCU experience, band culture, halftime, all of those things rolled into one.” The HBCU shoutouts at the end of the track in particular are a nice touch into what promised to be a college anthem, if only college parties and packed football stadiums were a reality in 2020.

In case you forgot, So Help Me God was the original title of Kanye West’s follow-up to Yeezus, and although we’ll probably never know exactly what that album sounded like, the world’s (least) favorite rap star makes an appearance here on “Feel a Way”. At a chill three-and-a-half minutes, it’s a smooth track that finds a pleasantly surprising Kanye in his hip-hop bag. 2 Chainz told Ebro that there “was way more than that on the record. I trimmed the record.” As intriguing as it would be to hear an eight-minute version with Kanye going off-the-rails, I thank 2 Chainz for this decision. For better or for worse, this must be the best Kanye verse in at least two years. He’s lucid and in the pocket, trading bars with Chainz and making this an excellent collaboration.

“Ziploc” could be seven years old (it’s not), but it wouldn’t matter. As a general rule Kevin Gates is always consistent, and the same goes for Chief Keef and Lil Uzi Vert, who delight on the Sosa-produced (yes!) “Free Lighter”. The run of these two tracks and the TM88 joint “Toni” form a kind of trapper’s hat-trick, three hits in a row that find 2 Chainz doing what he does best.

After “Toni”, we enter the final five-track stretch of the album, and this is where the truly special stuff lies. Put simply, this is the most beautiful music 2 Chainz has made in his career. He clearly worships Jay-Z, but whereas on last year’s Rap or Go to the League (yes, that came out last year) Chainz was making convoluted songs about tax payments, in the back half of So Help Me God! he finally finds his stride making songs as a Grown Man Rapper. “Southside Hov” references Reasonable Doubt’s “Feelin’ It”, and finds some tight couplets like “I’m sick for real ever since Enfamil / Tiffany-colored blicker shells the size of Zinfandels.” Granted, 2 Chainz will never make a Reasonable Doubt, but if he’s looking to attain Jay’s veteran status, So Help Me God! brings him one step closer.

An absolutely gorgeous Cool & Dre beat on “Vampire” allows Chainz the space to open up about his younger years in ways both defensive (“If your lights and water never been cut off, don’t judge me”) and regretful (“I should be ashamed for what I said to my mama”). David Banner and Swiff D provide an absolute vibe of a beat on “Wait For You to Die”, in which 2 Chainz conveys his pain and ultimately provides a cold revelation: “They wait for you to die so they can sit and talk shit about you.” Even the upbeat “YRB” has an interlude from resident Dungeon Family sage Big Rube, adding the kind of beauty and introspection that isn’t always found in a big budget rap album.

Had So Help Me God! ended with “Wait For You to Die”, 2 Chainz would have left things off on a harsh, if quite strong, note. However, things close out with “55 Times”, which, with its whimsical flutes and “God keep on blessin’ me” refrain, sets a much warmer tone. Still, there’s maturity at work here: the “55 Times” refers to the amount of missed calls you might get when something tragic happens and you aren’t around to answer your phone. It’s a heavy topic, but 2 Chainz has proven himself adept enough to sell experience as his greatest quality.