We are the champions, my friend
And 2 Chainz is the MVP of all posse cuts — even Kanye’s — till the end
The more dope music Kanye West drops in 2016, the more it’s like Yeezus almost never happened.
ICYMI: here’s Champions
Last week, footage appeared of Big Sean and West in the studio working on new music. Which, considering they’re on the same label and have collaborated several times in the past, was about as surprising as seeing Golden State Warriors teammates Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shoot in practice. Plus, before the paint dried on his most recent brainchild, The Life of Pablo, West announced he’d be dropping a new album this summer. It’s one we now know of as Cruel Winter.
What no one saw coming, however, was Donda West’s only son cooking up a 2016 iteration of We Are The World. Neither did anyone anticipate a near-“riot” in NYC, not far from the venue of a rumored Kanye West “secret show.” Or a weekend set off by new Drake Music. West’s Champions premiered last week on Big Boy’s Neighborhood and features a gang of DJ-friendly artists — Quavo (of Migos fame), Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, Desiigner, Big Sean, 2 Chainz and Memphis’ own Yo Gotti. As for instant feedback? Let’s just say whatever team wins the NBA Finals now has its soundtrack.
Giant posse cuts are either smash (Craig Mack’s 1994 Flavor In Ya Ear (Remix)) or pass (DJ Khaled’s 2010 Fed Up). Champions,”fortunately, isn’t a hit. It’s a Barry Bonds Game 2 of the 2002 World Series moonshot. West’s got one here.
Apparently, his February prayers have been answered. The energy behind the lyrics of “Champions” (fresh outta debt in this m—–f—–) is like that of a man who just made his final Sallie Mae payment, and confirms that hitting the Ye button is “one of them good problems” Marlo Stanfield once waxed poetic about. Given this social climate, too, in which lyrics immediately become life updates, it’s tough to see how West’s I don’t wanna say nothing wrong / But it’d be wrong / If I ain’t say nothing doesn’t become every Instagram caption over the weekend.
Every artist holds his own on “Champions.”
Gucci Mane — the Zone 6 Berry Gordy who played a role in the careers of nearly every Southern rap artist to emerge over the past several years — is the record’s most surprising feature. Sporting an ankle bracelet and all, the East Atlanta Santa sends a direct shot: Now that Gucci home / It’s over for you Gucci clones. There’s bark where that bite is, too — Guwop’s back in the studio with producer Zaytoven. And only this happens when Gucci and Zay get together…
I took a nap in the pulpit / I never liked how a suit fit, 2Chainz raps, stunting. I got a pocket full of money / It got me walkin’ all slew-foot. His 2016 work has somehow flown under the radar — with quality releases like the album Collegrove alongside Lil Wayne and the wildly entertaining mixtape Felt Like Cappin’. Moments like Champions (and the 2012 banger “Mercy”) serve as reminder, that at his best, few in rap are more fun than 2 Chainz. I wear pajamas to Ruth’s Chris, he says on Champions. Because why wouldn’t you wear your pajamas to Ruth’s Chris? In the world of 2 Chainz, everything that doesn’t make sense actually makes perfect sense.
About the only regret from West’s surprise offering is no Dame Dash rant like the last time West had a posse cut named Champions. Back then, in 2002, West was just a producer who happened to rap, two years shy of his classic debut College Dropout. Fourteen years later, he’s a centerpiece of pop culture, for better and worse. He’s a reality TV star. And he’s self-anointed fashion guru who occasionally makes music.
But if West just re-introduced his G.O.O.D. Friday series, we might be in for a real hot summer and even more proof of John Gotty’s adage: Rap’s fun when West’s around. But rap’s a lot more fun when West is motivated. His voice matters more when it’s dedicated to music, and not tabloids. For years, his creativity, his introspection and willingness to bend the genre in new ways birthed a new era of superstars who molded pieces of their success after him.
“I didn’t come here to be liked. I came here to make a difference,” he told Zane Lowe last year. “As soon as people start playing games — I stop playing games. And at any moment, I can hit that ‘Ye button, and we can go right back to day one.” Much like the cousin who stole his laptop that inspired records like Real Friends” and No More Parties in L.A., the “ ‘Ye button” is inspiration. Don’t let West leave home without that “ ‘Ye button.”