Atlanta MC 2 Chainz, who had his first hit with Playaz Circle nearly 10 years ago, has persevered by being trap-rap's punchline king, never afraid to wield jokes that range from knee-slappers to groaners. But for his latest, he gets autobiographical: "You've got to know when it's time to tell the doctor, a.k.a. the microphone, what you've been feeling," he says. His fourth LP, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, is a funhouse mirror look at his journey from grams to Grammys.
Chainz spoke with Rolling Stone in Atlanta, after a photo shoot at an abandoned house painted Sherwin-Williams Jaipur Pink. He and his year-old son, Halo, had been modeling PGLTM merch for a pop-up, when 2 Chainz gently hinted, "cover," as in "put me on Rolling Stone's." Hours later, at a studio space his manager dubbed his "man cave," 2 Chainz repeated himself, raising his voice. He also talked pretty girls, trap music and his lyrical obsession with Benihana.
Noisey called you "the best rapper in the world for the past two years." Are you working harder or is everyone just catching up?
Maybe a little bit of both. I've been pretty consistent since my first album. Whether it's selling T-shirts, selling albums, touring or doing [GQ web series] Most Expensivest Shit. I guess I'm tired of playing with people. Before I used to play according to competition. Like I did in sports. Which was probably my downfall in sports. I only liked showing up when good people showed up. I applied that to music. Because if I did a song with Drake or Lil Wayne or Kanye, I could stand out. I could go hard and still be someone you feel on the track. If I did a song with somebody pop or somebody that doesn't have as many bars, I would still show up but I wouldn't embarrass the person. I wouldn't dunk on them. I'd just shoot a jump shot. For people following this interview, I'm hypothetically speaking. But yeah, if this was basketball, I'm trying to be aggressive every time.
What got you tired of playing around?
I was noticing a lot of the applause for the mediocrity. I'm looking at what people like and what they accept. And they basically do it because of what's available. Why don't I come with something new sound-wise, vocal-wise, confidence-wise that appeals to both spectrums: The beginning of the title, Pretty Girls, and then something I'm a great author at, Trap Music? I'm looking forward to the feedback.
How did you land on the album title?
It's always these beautiful girls who like this hustler – who you think would be attracted to a whole other type of music. But they like Migos, Future. You get with this girl, and you want to play Bryson Tiller. But she's like, "I want to hear Gucci." Shit. We're the pop stars. Trap rap is pop now. People's ears have adjusted to what we have to say and how we say it.
You mention Big Meech of early aughts drug organization Black Mafia Family. Why is remembering that era important to you?
I'm telling the people I hear rap about what I was around then, that I know they weren't around then. They weren't talking to Meech, who has already been in prison for 10 years – that's how fast time flies. He's like, "I've been here 12 years already. I never knew what a recession was because when I was out, everybody was eating." If they wasn't eating directly or indirectly off his movement, they were eating off the inspiration of the movement. I come from that cloth, being inspired by real hustlers who I saw do it 3-D, who celebrated and knew that didn't last forever. [Meech] felt like he lived his life and was looking forward to another chapter.
I come from that cloth. A trap rapper that was in the trap, that really dealt with that kind of activity. I want to be very transparent about where a lot of the inspiration comes from. … I ain't going to say "hero." I don't want to glorify some things to other people. Just for me, some of the moves that I saw made, some of the prosperity that I saw happen in front of my eyes, inspired me. I believe you can get a million dollars from the streets. I also believe you can get it from working every day, rapping every day.
In Pretty Girls you rap about being obsessed with the rice at Benihana, something you've mentioned multiple times over the years. Why?
Benihana's was, for somebody hustling and trapping, it was what you did when you got all your money together, once a month or once a week. For the most part, we ate fast food. We ate chicken wings from a stand. When I got older, I'd want to eat it when I came into the industry. There were executives: "I want to take you to Mr. Chow." But I really was content with the garlic butter at Benihana's. It was one of those things that symbolized getting money for me, or people around me back in the days.
You've said you memorize all your rhymes before recording. Has that changed?
Yeah, I don't like writing down anything. I feel like I could waste a good idea on just listening to a track. I don't want to hear 15 beats. I don't want to waste my studio time listening to beats. When I come, I want to work. Load them up. I'm going to come off the top. And out of the three [beats chosen by a producer], I hope one of them is something I can keep or keep going off of. That's what I'm banking on. For the last couple years, every song has been like that. Except my features – I have to get them so I can know what the fuck I'm going to rap about. I think most artists I work with know that I'm cuckoo like that.
Which was crazier, working with Organized Noize or De La Soul?
Organized Noize. I grew up with them. Andre 3000 is one of my favorite rappers in the whole world. I'm looking forward to building with them on my project or their project, period. De La Soul reached out, and I thought that it would be great for hip-hop, for a group of that caliber to reach out for a verse. No hesitation when I did that.
De La Soul originally thought of you for a hook.
Oh, they wanted me to put a hook on there? I'm not doing hooks with people. I know my hooks got me out the hood. I just like rapping, too. I did it for hip-hop. That shit made me want to rap.
You rap in Pretty Girls the last item on your bucket list is doing a song with Jay Z.
One of the bucket list items is to be on the Rolling Stone cover. That's what you do need to know. That's been on my bucket list since when I was walking Floyd [Mayweather] to the ring. I had Billboard's Number One song. I do an album with Lil Wayne. I've got three checklist items I need to fill in. Being on the cover of the Rolling Stone is one of them.