2 Chainz has a plethora of cash. It’s stored in a wad, held together quite precariously by a pair of rubber bands. As his fingers, each one wreathed in really big gold rings, move the bills into sequential order—tens and twenties to the center, hundreds to the outside—it dawns on me that the rapper is counting out about three months in cold, hard New York City rent. This is all, of course, on brand coming from the man who hosts a web series for GQ titled Most Expensivest Shit and once spit, “Hair long, money long / Me and broke niggas we don’t get along,” but a jarring intro nonetheless.
We’re huddled together in the towering MC’s Mercedes minibus, a temporary fix used to transport him from venue to venue down in Austin, Texas, where he’s performing a series of shows during SXSW to promote his new album ColleGrove—a collaboration with his mentor Lil Wayne, and a tribute to the man he says is “one of the greatest that’s ever lived” (the title is a portmanteau of his native College Park, Georgia, and Hollygrove, Weezy’s hometown in New Orleans). Together, they resemble a hip-hop exclamation point.
“I’m 6-foot-5, roughly 225,” says 2 Chainz, matter-of-factly. “Bitches love the kid, niggas rock with the kid because they know he must have some athletic background—which is some solid shit for me, because when you’re 6-foot-5 from the hood you should have a jump shot, finger roll, curveball, or something like that.”
It turns out the man formerly known as Tauheed Epps was blessed with a jump shot. He played ball at North Clayton High School, dealing weed on the side. At 15, he was busted for felony cocaine possession. Despite his extracurricular activities, he still managed to graduate second in his class, earning a scholarship to Alabama State.
“Truth be told, I was a felon before I was old enough to drive, vote, do a bunch of that shit,” he says. “But that don’t define who I am now, because I’m a success story. Me getting a scholarship and going to college, that had a lot to do with me being smart. In Georgia, they had a thing called the HOPE Scholarship where, back then, all you needed was a 3.2 grade point average. I could’ve stayed in Georgia, sold dope, and went to school, but I decided to sell dope and go to school somewhere else.”
He played D-I basketball at Alabama State before transferring to Virginia State after his freshman year, due to circumstances he won’t go into. “I got into some trouble, went somewhere else, and came back,” says 2 Chainz. “But I graduated, and that’s that. That was then.”
“I might be the mayor in a minute, so I don’t even need to be talkin’ about stuff like that,” he adds.
Yes, last year 2 Chainz told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution of his plan to run for mayor of College Park, Georgia, by the end of 2016. This, he reiterates, might still be in the cards—though some have questioned whether he satisfies the residency qualifications.
All this talk of past peccadilloes has, it seems, inspired the rapper to reach into his pocket for a perfectly rolled blunt and fire it up.
And on the subject of politics, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore recently began airing a segment titled, “2 Chainz Explains,” featuring the artist describing what political terms mean, e.g. “a brokered convention,” in ways only he can.
In real life, however, the topic makes 2 Chainz pretty uncomfortable.
So let’s talk politics. What do you think of the circus that is the 2016 presidential election?
“New day new age, man. A lot of new, unexplainable shit going on there. With reality TV, that’s really what a lot of shit today is based on. Even though reality TV is staged, people still base their ideas around it—being nosy, wanting to know about other people, or negative things. That’s why that little tabloid National Enquirer was very successful when I was growing up, because all they did was tell bullshit lies.”The National Enquirer is still around!
“Is it still around? Bruhhhh. You’d go to the grocery store and it’d say someone was pregnant with an alien or something. They’re still around? And they still have great placement?! Think about it, fam, it’s still right there being given ideal placement right by the register, while you’re getting gum. Bullshit, fam! Think about that!”
How do you feel about the rise of Donald Trump? “[Trump’s] clearly who I’m not fuckin’ with, you dig what I’m sayin’? You know who I’m not fuckin’ with. I don’t have to do a bunch of PSAs, though some people may need this from me. But I don’t agree with any violence at none of the rallies, I don’t agree with the separation of Americans, I don’t agree with none of that shit, so to wonder if I do is bullshit. What do you think about it? For me, bruh, I don’t even need that energy. Because what I can tell you is, I don’t give a fuck—when it come down to the comedown, my kids still have to eat. That’s the real trickle-down from Washington down. My kids still have to eat, they still have to go to school. So as Americans, we have to try to protect that.” He takes a big hit of his blunt and exhales, filling the van with sweet smoke: “But I try not to get too caught up in politics, man. Politics is like a reality show. It’s like Love & Hip Hop.”
In the late ’90s, he formed the rap group Playaz Circle with his high school pal Earn Conyers, and adopted the rap name Tity Boi. They were discovered by fellow ATL rapper Ludacris, who signed them to his label Disturbing Tha Peace. The group’s debut album, 2007’s Supply & Demand, proved to be a minor success thanks to the hit single “Duffle Bag Boy,” featuring Lil Wayne.
Following the release of their sophomore album, Epps left Playaz Circle in 2010 and struck out on his own, rebranding himself as 2 Chainz. Mainstream success soon followed, with two chart-topping albums and several notable guest appearances, including on Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap,” Kanye West’s “Mercy,” A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problems,” Juicy J’s “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” and Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” just to name a few.
The name change, he says, played a substantial role in his recent success. “That’s a no-brainer, it definitely did,” says 2 Chainz. “Tity Boi and 2 Chainz are different. 2 Chainz is more kid-friendly, especially if you don’t know the real meaning behind Tity Boi—and even if you do, it’s just uncomfortable for some people. I’m a Southern guy and our nicknames are crazy as hell, and one of my nicknames was ‘Tity Boi.’ It’s got nothin’ to do with being derogatory towards any female, it actually came from my mother, being an only child, and being very spoiled.”
On his hit tune “Birthday Song,” 2 Chainz famously raps, “It’s your birthday, it’s your birthday, bad bitch contest you in first place.” So this raises the question: What are his top five baddest women in the game?
“The top five baddest women in the game are: Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé—obviously—and, um… who else we got?” he asks, puffing away.
Then his phone rings loudly, startling him. “Oh man, this is mine right here!” says 2 Chainz, laughing hysterically. “As soon as I start talkin’ about other women it’s like brrring! The phone pops!”
It took 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne about a year to lay down ColleGrove, and the rapper hints that there’s at least an additional album’s worth of music ready to be released. “I really need to holler about these extra songs,” he says, chuckling. “I got a whole other project if I want to. We got some hard-ass songs. We got a song called ‘ColleGrove.’ I need to get that out there.”
At 38, 2 Chainz is no spring chicken, and says that hitting it big later on in life gave him “a different appreciation for the game.” Now, he approaches hip-hop with a do-or-die, athlete’s mentality.
“Everybody initially wants to be a rapper, but they don’t know the ingredients it takes to become one,” he says, finishing off his blunt. “It’s not just having a song; the field of competition is so broad, you need to do something to set yourself apart. It’s a race. You need to figure out how to keep up your conditioning and be in shape. Rap is the biggest sport there is, man. It’s a sport. We should get ESPYs. You can’t just eat bullshit, not exercise, and rap at the same time.”