Much like Rick Ross, to buy into the 2 Chainz experience there has to be a certain amount of willingness to buy into the gimmick. The artist formerly known as Tity Boi might feel like a fresh new voice on the goofy side of trap rap, but he’s actually been in the public eye since his guest verses on Ludacris’ Chicken-N-Beer in 2003. That’s a long time for a guy to toil in relative obscurity other than the 2007 Playaz Circle track “Duffle Bag Boy”, a song most casual radio listeners probably assumed was a Lil’ Wayne song if only because his hook was the most obvious reason anyone would listen to the song on their own time.
As mixtapes became a more universally accepted path for artists struggling to make cracks in the glass ceilings of their record deals (see: Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Jay Electronica, etc.) Tity Boi decided to split off from his recording cohort, Dolla Boy, and try his hand at flooding the market. Somewhere between coining the “two chains!” ad lib and actually making the prescient decision to make that his stage name, Tauheed Epps also found a unique voice within the consistently saturated market of “I dress better, steal women better and drive better” rappers. The urgent yet monotone delivery of his lyrics is what will draw you in initially, and his absurd world view is what will either convince you to slam the pause button or press your ear a little closer to the speaker.
The best sample of 2 Chainz’ absurdity is, sadly, reserved for the deluxe edition here, on a track titled “Like Me” (which samples The Weeknd’s “Birds, Pt. 1” in somewhat creepy fashion): “My girl got a big purse with a purse in it / And her pussy so clean, I could go to church in it!” If this isn’t your idea of comedy, feel free to skip one of 2012’s most anticipated mainstream hip-hop releases, because that line is essentially the album in summary. But if you’re still curious what all the 2 Chainz hype is about, or how he came to be this year’s version of 2008 Lil’ Wayne, Based on a T.R.U. Story will prove to be a deceptively enduring listen that feels best as a nightcap to drunken endeavors, a sort of self-sufficient admission that you no longer have many cares in the world; more than anything, Based on a T.R.U. Story extolls the moderate virtues of indulging in ignorance as pleasure.
Unlike last year’s sacrifice of all common sense and good will, Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli, Based on a T.R.U. Story wouldn’t be very offended if you called it a typical mainstream rap album. There’s not much that’s dangerous about it, and the guests are guests you’d expect for someone who’s suddenly as famous as Rick Ross: Lil’ Wayne (atrocious, as is his modus operandi these days), Drake, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, The-Dream, John Legend and Scarface (surprise!) tag along for the album proper (along with longtime friends Cap 1 and Dolla Boy), while Chris Brown drops by for a dubstep/R&B hybrid similar to his Fortune album on the deluxe edition. And the album is sequenced unsurprisingly, although it may be some of the smartest album plotting we’ve seen from a major rap release in some time, and for fans of 2 Chainz that’s where the album will ultimately find it’s legs.
“Yuck!” opens the album with a StreetRunner beat that just feels like the start of a gigantic event, even if Wayne’s unending hook just grates and the track drags to its conclusion (if it had ended with 2 Chainz’ ridiculously out of place no-beat rhyme, at least that’d be something interesting). The album sticks with its opener’s high energy for the next five songs. There’s “Crack”‘s delirious (and offensive) language experiments (“I don’t give a fi’nuck / make her suck my di’nick till she hiccup / And when she call my ph’none, I won’t even pick up”) capped off by some seriously surprising scratching of the word “crack” (what is this, 1994?).
There’s “No Lie”, which anyone with a radio or proclivity for bars is well aware of and still not tired of; and “Birthday Song”, the leaked Kanye track that predictably boasts no less than six names in the production credits (Sonny Digital, ‘Ye and Mike Dean most notably) and feels as garishly ambitious as you’d expect a Kanye West track about birthday ass to feel like (this is a good thing). But most notable is without a doubt “Dope Peddler”, the Mr. Bangladesh banger that samples Tom Lehrer’s “The Old Dope Peddler”, a folk song from your grandparents’ youths (or, 1953). Transformed into a carnival-like soundtrack to 2 Chainz’s swagger, it fits perfectly between “Crack” and “No Lie”, creating one of hip-hop’s most unabashedly careless and enjoyable sequences this year.
It’d be too much to expect that level of quality throughout the album, being that his mixtapes were no wards of quality control, but it’s notable how few mistakes he makes throughout the rest of the album. “I Luv Dem Strippers” wouldn’t have been a mistake if he hadn’t invited Nicki Minaj to do her 11-year old-on-the-playground thing, and “Extremely Blessed” is only a bummer because 2 Chainz isn’t supposed to say nice things about women (as far as pace changers go, The Game and Rick Ross are a couple examples of how terribly wrong the practice can go compared to this). He fools around with rapping “like an actual rapper” on deluxe track “I Feel Good”, revisits the Roc-A-Fella days of soul for “Stop Me Now”, takes a vacation on the west coast for DJ Mustard’s (“Rack City”) “I’m Different” and lets a few demons out alongside Legend and Scarface for “Ghetto Dreams”. Having a Mike Posner track is perplexing, but I just don’t like that guy so I can’t say too much about it without devolving into message board agendas.
Based on a T.R.U. Story didn’t have much chance of living up to its hype, and for that I have to give it credit for coming so surprisingly close to most folks’ expectations. If you’ve come around to 2 Chainz previously, then Based on a T.R.U. Story is a worthy project to actually pay Epps some money for. If you’re curious but never heard his tapes before (check Trap-A-Velli 2 and Codeine Cowboy for 2 Chainz at his apex if the following statement doesn’t apply) and hate mixtape DJs, Based on a T.R.U. Story is a perfect tool for acceptance or denial of his ascent these past two years. It’s far from the best rap you could choose from this year, but I’m comfortable calling 2 Chainz the Will Forte of trap rap. For those that buy the angle, 2 Chainz’ debut single is a more than worthy validation of benchwarming for nearly a decade, and an encouraging moment for all the rappers who have and will experience likewise.