HOT NEW HIP HOP - 2 CHAINZ: ENLIGHTENED RAP STAR
Enlightened Rap Star
WORDS BY ROSE LILAHPHOTOS BY JAY ALLEN
The concept of the Rap Star is waning. In its place, we find the idea of the Rockstar -- led, of course, by the voice of all things millennial, Lil Uzi Vert, when he professed himself as such, and refused to rap over a DJ Premier instrumental during a now-infamous interview with Hot 97. 2 Chainz, however, is a Rap Star.
In this sense, Tity Boi is one of the few carrying the torch onwards from 2000-era rap kings. Tauheed Epps grew up in the era when careful calculation and meticulous attention went into any would-be rap star’s dress, persona and attitude; since replaced with irreverence across the board -- the less you care, the better. Despite the aughts generation of rappers rivaling in age to 2 Chainz, they are not necessarily his rap colleagues, present day.
Lil Wayne, who often referred to himself as an alien, was “out of this world”-- part of his persona was the fact that he seemed untouchable. In comparison, 2 Chainz’s humility, his overall mindset, and of course, his intelligence, make it easy and effortless for Chainz to connect with a variety of unexpected and diverse crowds on the most human of levels. Can *insert any 17 to 19-year old Soundcloud rapper* go on The View and comfortably converse with suburban mom-type figures? Tity Boi, even with this old moniker still in use, can. Why is he able to bridge a gap between the 10-year old kid who knows how to perform the popular elbow-pointing dance move, ‘dab,’ and the 42-year old white mom who may not even know what a ‘dab’ is?
The reason, according to 2 Chainz himself, is “transparency.” I’ll expand on that. In his lyrics, Chainz clearly has a knack to say something so simple, yet so true, or else, to say something obvious in a non-obvious way. He disguises his lyrics so any and every type of hip-hop fan can connect and understand-- putting the medicine in the candy, if you will. Joe Budden said it from the perspective of a fellow artist on Everyday Struggle, although it reiterates a similar point: “You are beloved by the n*ggas that can’t rap, and all of the lyricists-- not very many in that pocket.”
“What you see is what you get,” 2 Chainz tells me. “I’m really one of the coolest n*ggas in the world. I try to have that positive energy, I feel like energy attracts different things. I try to surround myself with people smarter than me” -- that’s smart.
2 Chainz is 39-years old and the artists we consider his peers are mostly half is age, or less. These kids go to great lengths to display their nonchalance, while 2 Chainz goes the extra mile to show just how much he cares, whether it’s through his interaction with fans, his interviews or his music. This is often where we see the greatest divide between this elder rapper and his peers: at 39-years old, there are some life experiences that Chainz will certainly have, that his colleagues will lack. By extension, there is a maturity and a sense of awareness (of self, and of the world) that his youthful rap peers are often missing.
Despite his rap star confidence, there is a sense of groundedness, and relatability, that 2 Chainz exemplifies-- this is the idea that the rapper connects with everyone, from “CNN to MediaTakeOut,” on a tangible level. To that effect, the rapper remains a local presence in Atlanta, where another artist of his stature would have moved out at this point, returning only for special occasions, while still keeping a distance. 2 Chainz, however, is a face we see entrenched in his community, actively giving back to those in need, and creating opportunities for those around him.
It would seem, then, that 2 Chainz is the perfect dichotomy of humble and confident.
I pull up to the Street Execs studio in downtown Atlanta around 6 PM. It’s my second day in Atlanta, and my second visit to the Street Execs compound within that time. Street Execs studio includes: a basketball court, a lounge-loft area, a fully-equipped kitchen (and chefs cooking up fuego daily), a porch and BBQ-ready backyard area, multiple studio rooms of varying size, and even some proper offices. We originally scheduled today’s interview for 4 PM, but this is rap-time and I’ve already adjusted my expectations to 7 PM, at the very earliest.
Street Execs-managed rapper Skooly pulls up to the studio digs at the same time as me. I met Skooly the night before, an introduction that came with high praise and glowing recommendations from 2 Chainz’s manager of seven years, Tek, as well as his day-to-day, Lacy Eakin.
Skooly and I enter the building from the backdoor, walking through a darkened corridor towards the B Room studio, where we find an engineer, Lacy, and 2 Chainz’s personal photographer, Joe Moore. This is one of the smaller studio rooms and space is limited, but there’s a sunken black couch pushed up against the wall, facing the soundboard and the booth, as well as an oversized table, cluttered with various items: junk food, beverages, electronics, notebooks. Now, I wait. When you’re in this sort of limbo, waiting for an artist, there may be a distinctly-not-chill attitude, but here is the exact opposite; warm, welcoming, chill.
I’ve put 2 Chainz on the spot. I’ve asked him about the book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. Written by Don Miguel Ruiz, the book provides four seemingly simple principles, derived from ancient Toltec wisdom, which, in practice, will help you live a better, happier life. The book runs rampant within rapper circles. We saw a newly-invigorated Gucci Mane showering the book with praise on Snapchat post-prison release, we saw Kehlani share it as a reading essential on Instagram, and the list goes on of hip-hop artists who’ve read the book, both quietly and vocally. I realize 2 Chainz falls in the former category. He’s unsuspectingly quiet. This is on purpose; energy is very important to him, so he speaks only as loud as necessary, diligently reserving energy.
It’s not that I’m putting him on the spot by asking if he’s familiar with the book— because he is—it’s that I’ve asked him to come up with own set of agreements. Tity Boi’s Four Agreements. It would take the average person (me) some time to not only conceive of these, but to articulate them properly. I quickly try to imagine an artist like *insert any 17 to 19-year old Soundcloud rapper* carefully expressing a personal set of principles like this. I fail in this exercise, low-key smiling. But, after only a slight delay, the elder MC replies, prefacing his response with, “You know, I’ve never thought about this stuff.” Still, Tity Boi's answers reveal his careful observance of the world, and of people.
Tity Boi’s Four Agreements
1.Be comfortable with yourself. “Being comfortable with one’s self would be number one. Like looking in the mirror, I got a fuckin scar, fuckin chip, you know whatever that we cannot control. Some of this stuff, even though it’s off a little bit, people have enough money that they can try to add little things but I’m talking about like past the surface. I look in my eyes like “this is me.” Swallow that reality pill. That’s the first thing I would do.”
2.Have clarity in every single relationship. “I think it’s important that everybody develop some sort of clarity out of every relationship. Whatever the relationship, whatever ends with a “ship.” Like fuckin’ friendship, working together...If everybody had that shit [clarity], nobody would have their car keyed up, nobody would have a busted window or tires, nobody would get hurt out of passion. You gonna do what you wanna do, right? You’re not gonna change. But the thing that hurts is when you feel like somebody tricked you out of some shit. That’s when it’s like, revenge. But if everything is super transparent like “this is what’s goin on,” people are can call you crazy or whatever the fuck it is but this is just your way. And every relationship you have - if you was the nucleus of it, and this is your relationship with your landlord, your fucking roommate, or whatever the fuck, your mom, whatever. But if there was just clarity between them lines— like this is what I sell, this is what we do, you’re my sidechick, know that you’re my sidechick. That could be [number] two.”
3.Work on yourself. “[Number] three, I guess is just trying to work on yourself. Water your own personal seed, try to grow. I know people are lazy and they don’t want to learn anything else, but if people just like…eat better, or you might not want to go to the gym, but if you go then that’s a plus. Or read a book. If you don’t wanna read a book, they got them audiobooks. Listen to the audiobooks.”
4.Do something different. “Just do something different than you’ve been doing the last ten or fifteen or twenty years. Try something different. I think that’s a good one.”
“I think it’s important that everybody develop some sort of clarity out of every relationship.”
I’m waiting to sit down with Tity Boi for a couple of hours before it comes to fruition. At one point during this waiting period, I enter back into the studio room where Skooly, Lacy and Joe are planted. The latter two are in a semi-serious conversation about how 2 Chainz likes his coffee. While being a silent observer of this conversation there are two things I realize. I realize that, despite his calm and welcoming demeanor, 2 Chainz is still a star in the truest sense of the word (without ‘rap’ attached, either), and there are certain exaggerated nuances that come with that, that we, as non-stars, allow-- weird specificities when it comes to how you drink your coffee, among them. The second thing I come to observe, is that, even when these two Street Execs employees are discussing the menial details that go into 2 Chainz’s coffee, it’s relaxed, light, and good-natured. They don’t live in fear, or worry about this task. It’s not as though the rapper is maliciously picky, nor is this conversation a bitter, or even petty, one. I imagine they’d have the exact same conversation were 2 Chainz also in the studio-- and I imagine 2 Chainz would part take, trolling to the delight of the Street Execs team.
Just as I’m getting hungry and about to head out to the nearest Chipotle or Chic-fil-A (either will do for someone who has neither in her city), 2 Chainz’s truck pulls into the studio parking lot. I decide to stay put, and I get to feast, instead, on homemade Southern food prepared by the Street Execs chefs. I’m served meatloaf, roasted chicken, the most delicious green beans I’ve ever tasted (no exaggeration), broccoli covered in melted cheese and white rice. 2 Chainz eats the same, but rather than a styrofoam takeaway tray, the DrenchGod’s meal is served on a real-ass plate, covered in tinfoil to ensure it stays warm. Star status.
It is only once Tity Boi has been fed that the interview is able to commence. As I walk into the studio room, with it’s multi-coloured low-lighting, leaving the room in a cyan-magenta hue, I feel like I’m in the V.I.P. area of nightclub. However, I am clearly not V.I.P. -- the spacious studio has a large conference table and chairs are loosely spaced out around either side-- on one side of the table, sits Tity Boi, and to his left-hand side, sits his best friend, draped in a shadow and turned to an angle so that I almost do not see him at first, Goat. I sit on the other side.
My visit to Atlanta coincides with the two-week notice until the release of 2 Chainz’s new album, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music. On the day I was interviewing him, 2 Chainz was holed up in the studio from around 11 PM the night prior, until 6 AM the day of our scheduled sit-down. He would then go home, and sleep a few hours-- three, to be precise, from 8 AM - 11 AM-- before waking up, likely to spend time with his children (he’s an adoring father after all, or perhaps, before all). His daytime hours are often scheduled with press, and while I visited, this time bled into the evening. Our interview finished off late, with the rapper heading straight to his music video shoot around 11 PM. He is there only for as long as he needs to be, no energy wasted, before heading right back to the studio, until 6 AM. Repeat.
2 Chainz does not tire from working on himself every single night by hitting the studio, even when a project is turned in. He would likely be in the studio more if it weren’t for the other commitments that accompany rap fame, a sentiment that Tek echoes. The T.R.U. rapper likens his penchant to stay in the studio to a super power: “Ok check this out. You’ve got this fucking strange ass super power that you don’t know how to use, and the super power really works more when you’re in the studio. So, the whole day you can’t wait to get, it’s like fucking WiFi, it’s like everyday is cool doing what everybody’s doing, but if I can get in the studio, then I can be like top tier everything. I can be the best so that’s that Kobe Bryant.”
“We just finished a project down there last night,” the former DTP rapper tells me, referring to an upcoming collaborative effort between his own brand, T.R.U., and Street Execs, which will feature himself heavily, and possibly arrive as soon as August: “Me, Skooly, Short Dawg, Strap Da Fool, Cap 1 and C-White.” Tity Boi continues, “Because I turned the album [Pretty Girls Like Trap Music] in [already], and I already know the title of my next album, we already got the cover for my next album. I was going to be so far ahead that I have to find something else to do. Because, I’m gonna go to work every night. So I called the boys in, and we called a producer in every night and we do 3 songs a night. So we went in with Drummer Boy last night,” before listing more favorite ATL beatsmiths: “We did Dun Deal, we did Mondo, we did Mr. 2-17, and we did C-Note. And every night we load up three beats, and we didn't go through beats, we made the producer pick the beats.”
Do not lose sight of that closing statement: “We made the producer pick the beats.” Seemingly innocuous, it offers a peek at how 2 Chainz does things “different.” This isn’t only a hit song to the artist, nor something he likes to iterate in interviews. It’s one of Tity Boi’s Four Agreements.
This idea, of having the producer pick the beats and go in blind, was also the creative process for 2 Chainz’s new album Pretty Girls Like Trap Music. Rather than go through packs of beats, prepare the ones he likes best, load them up, dwell on them for a bit, and then try them out, Tek tells me, 2 Chainz would simply ask the producer on hand to fire up a beat, and he would go in the booth and record, straight up-- without hearing it first, without necessarily ‘liking’ it, and definitely without writing lyrics down. “I put little raps in my head when I’m fuckin doing shit,” he says, making mental notes of rhymes throughout his day, which he is able to shelve and retrieve at a later time. (Amazingly enough, due to the elongated joint 2 Chainz is often seen holding, the same type of three-joints-in-one he was smoking on during the length of our interview).
Tek and 2 Chainz’s relationship dates back to Tity Boi era. Tek often refers to 2 Chainz simply as ‘Tit,’ which appears to be a nickname that those in the rapper’s inner circle use.
“I’ve known him for years,” Tek tells me, before regaling me with anecdotes from the past. “My introduction to him was a record actually. It featured Young Buck and Lloyd Banks, ‘Keepin it Real.’ A lot of people don’t know this and I don’t even think you can find it online.” Of course, this led me to doing a quick online search, to no avail. Your turn. “This was when G-Unit was G-Unit you know. I remember finding this record and I was like ‘who the fuck is Tity Boi?’ I was like, cause I was a big G-Unit fan. Anyway fast-forward, his cousin is DJ Black Bill Gates, he’s a DJ in Atlanta. We were doing mixtapes together, I’m a DJ too. Anyway, he puts out a mixtape and he [2 Chainz] had this song on the mixtape and I’d been looking for him, and he [DJ Black Bill Gates] introduces me to [Tity Boi] and that’s when the relationship started, and this was a while back. I don’t remember what year it was I think it was 2003 or something.”
“I was always a fan,” he continues, “I loved the music so I stayed in contact. Amazingly, I don’t know why. When Duffle Bag Boyz came around, Black Bill Gates called me and was like “Yo, I need you to help me break this record.” We did whatever we could do, and the record broke. I was always around, so fast-forward after that, you know we always stayed in touch, and Playaz Circle came and went. First album, second album, I did actually some of their mixtapes. I was always involved in Playaz Circle. So after Playaz Circle kind of died down, for some reason I always used to go to the studio, like “let me hear some new shit.” I was just a fan, like I was a super fan. And I used to listen, then one day I go to the studio and he plays me Trapavelli 2: The Residue, before it came out. This was in 2010. He plays me the mixtape and, I was blown away. So, I left, and I came back, and I had two business partners. I just randomly said to them, I said ‘What do ya’ll think about managing Tit?’ They were all like, ‘hell yeah let's do it.’ So we went back and had a meeting with him. We sat down and said look we want to manage you...He stands up, he laughs at us, and he walks out the room. Then he came back 15 minutes later and he was like, ‘you know what, what do I have to lose? Let’s give it a try,’ and the rest is history.”
From ushering the second coming of Tity Boi as 2 Chainz, the unparalleled amount of features, and a career trajectory we’ve never really seen before, this team has remained with the rapper ever since.
Goat is a presence throughout the interview, although a silent one-- I see him perk up and crack a smile towards the very end of our interview, when 2 Chainz also becomes the most animated. The B.O.A.T.S. rapper is telling me a story from back-in-the-day which involves Goat, the police, crack, and a Saturday night excursion. This story is one of many that sparked the inspiration for the first song on PGLTM, “Saturday Night,” a guitar-driven banger (“It feels like Guns and Roses meets the trap,” according to Tity) that opens up the album with ferocity and excitement.
“When I did that song, I channeled myself to being in the trap, and Goat was in the trap with me, and we saying stuff like, we’re going to go out tonight, like we ain’t going out every night, but gon’ go out tonight. So we’re gon’ get fresh, so we gon’ shut the trap down. You know what I’m saying, like I can remember stories. Me and Goat go out and we get pulled over and I’m like, ‘Oh shit,’ and he’s like, ‘What,’ and I’m like, ‘I got some crack on me.’ He say, ‘Nigga you can’t sell crack at the club! What are you doing?’ I said, “Bruh, I don’t know what I’m thinking.’ So, I jumped out of the car, threw it under the car quick. The police told me to jump back in the car I get back in I’m like, ‘Sorry, I’m just nervous,’ but I’m really like tripping cause I got dope on me, going to the club.”
Goat is low-profile, not only during this particular interview, but as a figure who seems to accompany 2 Chainz most places -- so much so, that apparently the RapGenius annotations of lyrics referencing Tity’s friend often confuse Goat, the person, for the rap definition of the word ‘Goat,’ Greatest Of All Time. Still, it is more evidence of the strong team that Chainz keeps around him, the type of team members that are also important persons to his life -- personal and professional -- and because of the personal life connection, do not need to be ‘yes-men.’
Prior to my visit to Atlanta, I’m texting with Tek about the new album-- I’m excited, even though I haven’t heard it at this point, but I have a good feeling about it, as seemed to be the general sentiment on the internet prior to it’s drop. I express this excitement to Tek, who counters it, telling me that he thinks PGLTM tops his personal favorite, Trapavelli 2: The Residue. I also express it to 2 Chainz, who confirms the feeling in a word: “definitely.”
Once I’m comfortably mid-interview with 2 Chainz, I tell him about my earlier text-convo with his manager, to which he replies: “You know, that’s why I fuck with Tek. There’s so much stuff that I don’t remember, and then I’m like, ‘damn, this shit cray,’ so I’m so into what’s next. This is probably my first album that I’ve listened to more than how many other times. Normally when I put music out, I’m hearing it like the fans, I’m fuckin the words up and everything, now I’m like…” I don’t let him finish his sentence because it prompts me to ask a question I’ve been wondering: how do you remember all your fucking verses? He doesn’t.
“If it’s not my song, if it’s a feature I do, I’m not ridin’ around listening to the feature that I did with somebody, ‘cause I’m doing something for somebody else. And I appreciate the feature, unless it’s something on the radio, and I can’t get away from it obviously.”
Chainz’s relentless work ethic, and by extension, the sheer volume of features in his catalogue, is something he’s become known for. The rapper tells me where he picked up this habit-- and further perfected it-- from Weezy F Baby.
“What happened was, I went on tour with Wayne, and he was like Lil Wayne ‘07, ‘08, he was already a millionaire, he went platinum a couple times, and he still went to the studio every night. That’s why I always go back to him and everything, cause I still enjoy learning. You can learn just from being in different experiences, being in different places. The night that his first tour started in Miami and he did my verse to “Duffle Bag Boys,” he was like ‘Boy you better come out here or Imma have to do this verse every night,’ and I was like ‘Oh hell nah.’” 2 Chainz tells me, referring to the transitional period when he began to really take himself and his career as a rapper seriously, “And then I was able to observe work habits from somebody who was successful and I just picked up on it and said ‘This must be the key.’”
“I understood a while back that, rap don’t have that little time-clock thing. This shit ain’t no clocking out, ain’t no clocking in, you’ve got to be ready to spend an extra day in the city if you have to, you have to be ready to live with some decisions you’ve made. You have to be able to motherfucking know how to network, make relations, whatever it is, that’s what this rap, or hip-hop, whatever you want to call it, is about, and that’s what I understand. I know if I stay in the studio, if I stay in the gym, if I stay anywhere, I’m going to get better at it. I can’t get better, doing something I don’t understand, it’s just not gonna make me better. That’s why it’s important that I have a studio everywhere I go, and that’s why I sound so refreshed all the time, I’m up on everything all the time.”
“I was able to observe work habits from somebody who was successful and I just picked up on it and said 'This must be the key.'”
Tity Boi isn’t afraid to dissect classic hip-hop albums, drop rare rap facts, and praise the OGs who came before him, and again, this is where we see a disparity between him and his generation-younger peers. “He’s one of my favorite rappers,” 2 Chainz told Big Boy of Lil Wayne, during the press run for their joint album ColleGrove in March of last year, calling him “a real friend in the game, a real brother type to me, I’ve known him for close to fifteen years.” Weezy then plays an important role in 2 Chainz’s life, not just his career: he’s a valued mentor, a trusted friend, and, of course, one of his favorite rappers of all time. This would all appear to lead back to one place: being a genuine fan of hip-hop music.
“I’m a huge 3k fan,” the ATLien told Bootleg Kev in a recent interview, while also diving into his personal favorite albums, which reveal the breadth of his interest-- he cites albums from across the nation, going back to a time when rap was much more border-restricted: The Black Album by Jay Z, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Doggystyle, Aquemini, among others, are listed.
2 Chainz, then, has a nuanced understanding of what it means to be a fan, thanks to many persistent years of fandom. When paired with his constant desire to prove himself, and simultaneously remain a fan, you have an extraordinary combination. “It has to be entertaining to a fan,” 2 Chainz replies when I ask him about the back-to-back concept-heavy EPs he’s released over the past three years, “I try to be a fan sometimes, and there’s so much stuff that a fan gets. Like, what keeps you entertained? So for me, it’s like an innocent point to rebrand. I think it’s important to rebrand every so often. Jay Z got a hundred names. And it’s about the growth too, it’s like a timeline: “Tity Boi I was fuckin wit you then,’ then it’s like ‘2 Chainz,’ and ‘Daniel Son,’” I interrupt swiftly, “and now it’s Drench God?” Tity Boi confirms, it is now Drench God.
“I think I’m a learner,” Drench God tells me at the very beginning of our interview. I’m asking how he learns specifically-- because there are different ways to learn-- “I like paying attention and I catch notes and symbols from whatever place and time that I can remember and lock [them] into my personal mental files.” He adds, “I know a lot of people who can pull up something online and put a fuckin train set or a house or whatever the fuck together. But for me, I still have those learning ways.”
It’s almost as though the soon-to-be middle-aged MC is saying that his way of learning is the more traditional method, an “older” method-- through a teacher. The new generation of rappers may not understand it, they may simply hop on YouTube and search for a tutorial (2 Chainz never has), they may not be able to articulate a sentence fully when put on the spot, and they may not even care enough to work on it-- but the Drench God will. Tauheed Epps will remain a staunch observer of the rap game and its players, with an incessant desire to look for ways to improve, grow, and to learn from those around him. Those around him will remain the same as well-- the tight-knit circle, whom Chainz knows personally, will keep him grounded professionally.
Although I can tell 2 Chainz wouldn’t be opposed to answering more questions, I’ve run out, at least of any I actually want to speak into existence. As the interview comes to a close, 2 Chainz and I are discussing the many years of “practice” he had prior to blowing up as completely as he has right now. He’s telling me that he’s “[practiced] so much behind the scenes,” I counter with the fact that we’ve also seen him practice-- it wasn’t all behind closed doors, simply because we were able to witness his career glo’ up in front of our very eyes. Is that not practice, too?
“Very true,” he replies, unintentionally staying on brand.
Via Hot New Hip Hop.