At the New York listening party for Based on a T.R.U. Story, held last night in Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club, gold bottles lined the walls, their bubbles and baubles glowing bright. Def Jam staffers worked the room, patting backs and tossing shots, their shirts emblazoned with the two 14 karat Cuban links seen on the album cover. Finally, by the DJ booth – wearing a Persian rug masquerading as a button-up and screaming into a microphone – was 2 Chainz himself, who went off-message by choosing to wear a heavy Anthropologie-like string of semi-precious stones around his neck.
At the age of 35, 2 Chainz finds himself in the very weird position of being both a new artist and a seasoned veteran. Just last weekend, “No Lie,” his much-played single, was certified gold by the RIAA, proving him to be an ageless wonder who appeals to everybody: young girls who scream for Justin Bieber, grizzled TI and Jeezy fans, Kanye’s art-haus followers. Two years ago, he was all but forgotten, a minor one-hit wonder at best, a Ludacris liner note at worst. Now he’s inescapable, his voice no longer a surprise feature on a song. Def Jam is shipping 450,000 copies of his debut record to stores ahead of its August 14th release date, anticipating to sell around half of that number.
“There’s a lot of big dogs in the building tonight, a lot of black cards,” 2 Chainz said, referring to the cavalcade of names who came to pay respect: DJ Khaled, Memphis Bleek, Hot97’s Angie Martinez. Rick Ross and 2 Chainz danced the tarantella, trying to get close enough to say goodbye to one another; rapper Gunplay dabbed at a small stain on his jeans with a giant stack of napkins while following Ross’ footsteps. Def Jam president Joie Manda observed the room from above, smiling.
Music videos looped on screens throughout the club: “Mercy” with the G.O.O.D. collective; “Beez in the Trap” costarring Nicki Minaj; “No Lie” with Drake. For someone who has built his career on short guest verses and cagey alliances, he has yet to prove himself on his own, and this album doesn’t really offer him the opportunity. With 14 songs listed, he has 11 guest spots, making his solo tracks the rareties. And so, on an album where names matter, there are names: Kanye’s “Birthday Girl” is a grower, not a shower, and Mike Posner’s whisper-singing mixes well with the rapper’s yell-rapping on “In Town.” (It’s a tender love song, if one’s definition of ‘love’ is sex as a result of geographical convenience.) “Countdown,” with Chris Brown, starts off with a beat that sounds like cicadas swarming, or maybe it’s rusty hinges, which turns Skrillex-y as Brown falls down a drain. Nicki mimics her “Beez” verse on “I Luv Dem Strippers,” where 2 Chainz tries singing over a thundering tick-tock beat. Later, Scarface and John Legend team up on “Ghetto Dreams.”
That being said, his album does allow him room to showcase his abilities from the get-go: “Cut the top off / Call it Amber Rose” is the first line of the album and, therefore, the first punchline. (There are far more quotable lines, but none more chronological.) He remains a welder of jokes, a locksmith of wordplay, injecting humor where other rappers would not or – in the case of many – could not. He obviously knows his strengths and plays to them: at the 40/40 Club, right as the Don Cannon-produced “I Feel Good” started up, 2 Chainz threw his hands and his chain into the air, screaming, “Oh my God, bring that back! 2 Chainz did it again!” DJ SNS dutifully started the song over.
As each record played, the rapper wagged one finger in the air while sipping from two cups, a party of one in the DJ booth. His hair reached down to the middle of his back, well-manicured and undisturbed by his dancing. “This one is called ‘I’m Different’…for obvious reasons,” he noted. The DJ Mustard-produced banger started up, the title repeated eight times in the chorus. (Search-replace the lyrics “rack city” in Tyga’s hit and you come up with pretty much the same result; it is, strangely, not necessarily a bad thing.)
2 Chainz closed the night with a call to buy his record. The room exploded in what sounded like booing, but was actually 50 or so people groaning, “Truuuuuuuuuuu.”