Nico Muhly Talks 2 Chainz’s B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME

There is something enormously satisfying about 2 Chainz, and his most recent offering, B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME is concomitantly released with...

There is something enormously satisfying about 2 Chainz, and his most recent offering, B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME is concomitantly released with a cookbook whose introduction advises us: “2 Chainz doesn’t write down his music, it flows naturally from his mind. Follow 2 Chainz, and feel free to freestyle your cooking until you (and whoever’s eating alongside you) enjoy it.”  Despite the casual introduction, there is a real sense of domestic calculation that pervades the album: the 90-second “36” is functionally a culinary throw-down, but about cocaine.  “Just made a mil” is, in a sense, the prevailing double-entendre of this project.  I always love a language game that requires a fluency in an accent; 2 Chainz, from College Park, Georgia, bears down on his side of the pin-pen merger.

On “Mainstream Ratchet,” 2 Chainz says, “I’m real, you ain’t/calamari, crab cakes.”  This is wonderfully snobby: while imitation crab is everywhere, calamari has yet to be synthesized. Other seafood references abound both in the album and the cookbook; one senses a larger dietary wisdom governing this project.  In the Pharrell-produced “Feds Watching,” he once again recalls imitation crab: “I’m raw, talking California rolls/Smoking California weed with California hoes.” Elsewhere, he rhymes Balenciaga with enchilada, which seems quite right.

“Mainstream Ratchet” also cites, with its pipe organ and near-constant piano arpeggios, Philip Glass’ score for the 1992 horror movie Candyman, a score which found itself sampled (by Lil Jon) and imitated throughout the early part of this century. The soundtrack to that film is daring: while the majority of the film takes place in the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, the soundtrack consists of amplified pipe organs, a music box and a piano, and a choir outlining simple harmonic cycles with increasing intensity.  This technique gives “Mainstream Ratchet” its power: the exposition of a cycle sets up the anticipation not of a chorus, or a bridge, but of an intensification of the same cycle.  You add an element, you take something away, or you insert a digital silence, changing the footprint of the beat.  It’s a slightly different musical economy, but one in which I think we will all be participating in a post-Yeezus landscape.

In the elegantly slow “So We Can Live,” 2 Chainz says: “Appetite for destruction/and I don’t need a menu.”  It’s a brag, but in this song — with its relentless vocal sample in the background — we begin to see a deeper horror story behind the winking and tongue-in-cheek mugging.  The built-in comedy of “Extra” (“Fucked your girl on accident, that’s a hit and run/Heaven’s sake, it’s been a hell of a day”) is undermined by the outrageous plodding tempo and the necessarily abstract and dragging delivery.

I will confess here that I am not somebody who has ever quite known what to do with Fergie (although I do derive enormous pleasure and security from seeing those pictures in which she has straight-up peed herself on stage; I have nearly been that woman a few times my own self), but I loved the strange juxtaposition of her with 2 Chainz in “Netflix,” in which they both sort of almost sing, creating a very 1960s experimental loft party effect.  Again, here, the tempo of the song forces Fergie to rap extraordinarily deliberately, and she mutates her own accent such that “can’t” becomes “cain’t,” which is particularly outrageous given that there is no other sound in that bar; it’s like the highly mutated “c’mere” from R. Kelly’s “Skin” in which all other sound ceases and he purrs, “C’murrrr” through the Auto-Tuner.  “Netflix” ends with a little vocal sample sinfonietta, which I hope was Diplo’s doing, because I love him.

In “Used 2,” there is a break in which 2 Chainz chants: “You can’t do it like that with a dick in you” which then delivers us into this chorus with a modal piano melody reminding us of Friday the 13th and an unforgivably dark bass line.  What draws me to #METIME is that the normal virtuosic wordplay is sitting just above what sounds like a river of horrors.  It’s the folksy vernacular delivered with a wink and a smile, hiding the really scary stuff just beneath the surface.

Nico Muhly is a New York-based composer and songwriter. He has collaborated with Björk, the National, Philip Glass, Usher, Antony and the Johnsons and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, among others. You can follow him on Twitter here and visit his website here.