It may look like overnight success, but 2 Chainz has been bouncing around for over a decade, recording first under the name Tity Boi –as one-half of Playaz Circle, the duo that scored a 2007 hit with the Lil Wayne-assisted "Duffle Bag Boy" – before adopting his current moniker. After years of grasping at straws, he's finally popping bottles. His debut LP, Based on a T.R.U. Story, is out on August 14th.
On this early midsummer evening, the Georgia rapper's music is playing simultaneously on three stations – a song with Jeezy, a guest spot for Nicki Minaj and another for Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" remix. He's just finished his latest interview in a conference room inside Def Jam, with the team from Rap Genius, the popular hip-hop website that breaks down song lyrics. As someone who doesn't write down his rhymes, 2 Chainz marvels at this: "This is what my songs must really look like. That's crazy!" He asks to look at Waka Flocka Flame's lyrics, loving the explanations. Draped in black and glittered in gold, 2 Chainz – at the end of a long day, at the top of a meteoric rise – then stretches his 6'6" body into a chair and kicks back with Rolling Stone.
First of all, how was I so early on Tity Boi and so late on 2 Chainz?
Hmm . . . That's a good question. I never stopped working, that's for one thing. Just over time, I took myself underground and tried to run the underground scene with my mixtape game, my work ethic and my drive and my relationships that I built with Playaz Circle, and all of that. That kind of all helped.
It took you a pretty long time to hit it big in this industry – "Duffle Bag Boy" probably feels like forever ago. You were recently on Drake's Club Paradise tour. These guys are all 23, 24 years old, and coming into fame very quickly. How do you all relate? How does your road being more rocky make you different from them?
With everybody out there, I just think the game, period, has turned to more reality-based kind of music. It's seldom lies in people's music. When you hear people talk about rolling ghosts and having sex, whatever they're doing, more of it's just reality-based. I just think this era of artists bring in that experience in their music. It's less animated these days. It's more into bars, and into outwitting. It's more fashion, money, braggadocious, all things of that nature. It's all things I enjoy about music and art. Just the expression part of the fashion, and the wordplay.
The tour with Drake and French Montana and Meek Mill and Waka Flocka brought that energy to different cities every night, man. It felt like a real club. That was the concept that Drake was trying to put together, so I appreciate that opportunity. Every night it was just fulfilling for me, because I was able to get a new fan, or two, or three thousand. That's good for me.
Your album is about to drop, and you have a ton of guest verses currently on the radio. The only market you haven't really tapped is the Latin one. Have you talked to Gloria Estefan or Pitbull? Is there ever too much 2 Chainz?
[Laughs] I guess it could be, but not right now. I slowed down the features, just because I wanted it to be something that could help my campaign. Originally, I wanted to do features with everybody in the game, to at least be a part of the Googling process: when you Google anything, everywhere you see 2 Chainz. Everything. I'd just be omnipresent. For the most part, right now, I want to do things that are challenges – whether it's pop, reggae, rock or whatever. I want to challenge myself, challenge my styles. More than that, I just keep these dope verses for myself, because I got some more albums to go. I'm nowhere near my peak, and I've definitely having fun doing what I'm doing. I wake up each and every day with a smile on my face knowing I get to do something musically. Entertainment is such a great job to have.
French Montana said that he couldn't sign to G.O.O.D. Music because he would never be able to get Kanye on the phone, since, well, Kanye doesn't have a phone. You've got a giant phone on your hip – how do you keep in touch with Kanye?
I can get Kanye on the phone. He doesn't have a phone, but I can definitely get him on the phone. [Laughs] We talked last night. It's just a different relationship – different things for different people. Basically, he just became one of my better friends, better peers in the game, someone I highly respect, someone I can communicate with, definitely express creative juices with. It's no secret that the trap was in my resume, the streets is a heavy part of my resume. Him coming from where he's coming from and hip-hop being more book-baggy, it's cool. At the end of the day, we both just love competition. We love being creative, and we love bringing something to the table that's new and refreshing. He helped me with the design of my album cover, with DONDA. I feel like I am a part of G.O.O.D. Music. I'm on Cruel Summer. I had input on that. It's definitely extended family, and there's a lot of love.
Speaking of your album cover, you compared G.O.O.D. Music to the Louvre of rap. I was just wondering if you could explain the artistry of your album cover, because I don't really get it.
My album cover is iconic, it's epic, it's timeless. It doesn't have a charm on it, but it's got two Cuban links that represents two things in itself: 2 Chainz is my name. It basically makes people want to consume the physical copy, since we're in the physical age. The cover does numerous amounts of things. I only put out the front cover. The back cover's different, the inside folds out different. I just wanted to bring back the excitement of getting a physical copy, of opening it up, of reading it. That's what I did with the cover, me and Ye and DONDA and the whole team. We just wanted something that you always remember, but also something that you could understand as soon as you see it, you dig? That's been my theme, the whole thing of black and gold, and we took it to the album cover.
Your ad-libs have spread like wildfire, and your punchlines are actually funny, which doesn't often happen in rap. Can you talk a bit about comedy and hip-hop and where the two intersect? Who are your comedic influences?
I think my family's just sarcastic. My father's side especially – my grandfather was highly sarcastic, my grandmama was sarcastic, all my aunts and uncles. It's just a part of my personality. We're doing something that millions of people would like to do, which is make music and make money. I just figure, why not smile? Why not have fun while doing that? That's just kind of what I bring to the game.
What's harder to come up with: a good ad-lib or a good punchline?
It just depends on who you are. For me, it's just about being comfortable in your own skin, being competent and saying you did what you did. That's the only way it's gonna work. And when you come up with it, it feels so good when it catches on. I remember – I was just telling my engineer, he was here – I remember when I told him I was gonna start saying "Truuu." He remembers! And now we're in Def Jam, and they have it as a ringtone.
"Truuu" or False: The police should talk to you about any hairweave killings that come across the wire.
Hairweave killing is something that I took under my wing a couple of years ago, and it just involves grabbing and pulling hair during rough sexual activities. If police want to question me, I can tell them that no one was hurt while performing this act, but you may have to buy someone a visit to the hair salon. You might have to buy someone a new pack of weave. It's just like, I just always found it amusing. It's also that I feel I always rock clubs, so if a girl comes to the club with her hair done, when she leaves, it's over for her. Ov-vay for that weave. But a lot of it comes from bedroom booms.
"Truuu" or False: You graduated from Alabama State in four years with a 4.0 GPA, which is what Wikipedia says.
Don't believe anything on Wack-ipedia. There's a lot of false stuff on there, to the point that every time I try to fix one thing, something else comes out.
"Truuu" or False: There's a rumor that Shyne might be signing to G.O.O.D. Music. If that's the case, you still have the best hair on Def Jam.
You so stupid, man! You a fool! I don't know! I don't know.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that Obama's health care plan was constitutional. How would you say universal health care will affect your cough syrup prescription?
Man, I thought you were being serious. Damn. Well, first of all, I got Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and it's been giving me problems lately, but hopefully we can fix that. That's the truth, man. But as far as cough syrup goes, it is what it is. I'm gonna be okay. Too much anything will hurt you. However Obama want to vote, we gonna get that syrup in the 'hood. We gonna get it.
A lot of people have asked you the same surface questions over and over, like "What does Tity Boi mean?" and "Who are you working with?" By asking these sorts of questions, what are people missing about you? How do you view doing press, in general?
I feel like it's a very intricate part of success. I feel like most superstars – Eminem, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent – you just know so many personal things about them. You actually know the person without meeting them, so I feel like press helps introduce you to consumers and fans that . . . you know, when people yell 2 Chainz, I actually feel like I went to school with them! I'll be like, do I know you? They're like, "2 Chainz, what's up?" I'll be confused, like, "Do I know you?" I guess that just comes from . . . I'm very transparent. What you see is what you get. There's no facade. I'm fresh as hell on camera, I'm fresh as hell . . . we're not even on camera right now. My personality, it's no secret. What I do every day, what I do as far as my business, my work ethic, just having that strong mental capacity to outwork the next artist. You know, I'm a different breed.
I hate to bring this up, but I heard that your father recently passed away. I'm really sorry to hear that. I was just wondering if you could share a positive memory of him.
I really can't share memories of him right now, because it'll break me down. It's barely been a week old, so I'd rather not talk about it.