Georgia rapper 2 Chainz's solo debut, Based on a T.R.U. Story, went No. 1 on Billboard's album chart in its first week (selling 147,000 copies), but he says he's still got a lot of work ahead of him. He's already put in plenty to get to this point.
2 Chainz (aka Tauheed Epps), who began rapping as half of the duo Playaz Circle in 1997, has been in constant motion since early 2011, when he adopted his new stage name. After creating buzz on the mixtape circuit, he has been featured on songs by more than a dozen artists, including Rick Ross and Kanye West. He spent summer touring with Drake and Nicki Minaj and kicks off his first headlining tour Thursday in Norfolk, Va.
"I've been working hard the whole time," says the 35-year-old Def Jam artist, who previously went by the seemingly misogynistic Tity Boi, a childhood nickname that he kept professionally. "I used to start a lot of my verses by yelling '2 Chaaaainz,' and people would call it out. It has always been one of my aka's along with Hair Weave Killer and it's just more family-friendly. (The old name) came from being an only child and a spoiled brat. My family still calls me that."
That new identity has been key to the change in 2 Chainz's fortunes, says Chuck Creekmur, co-founder of allhiphop.com.
"He's always had talent, but it's not like you can put something with that name in Wal-Mart or Target," Creekmur says. Also, since leaving Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace label, "he's no longer viewed as a crew member, but as his own man."
The 6-foot-5 ex-Alabama State University basketball player started Playaz Circle in College Park, Ga., with high school friend Dolla Boy (Earl Conyers). They signed with Ludacris, who knew them from his pre-stardom days as a DJ, and first single Duffle Bag Boy would turn out to be their biggest hit. He and Dolla (now Dillion Saks), who appears on T.R.U. Story, still own an Atlanta studio together.
So far, T.R.U. Story gotten mixed reviews, but has spawned the hits No Lie featuring Drake and Birthday Song with West. He's shooting a video for single I'm Different and has an underground club hit, I Luv Dem Strippers, with Minaj.
He's been working closely with West on the G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer, but says he hasn't signed with the label. "Kanye and I are just picking each other's brains and bouncing around ideas about how to make the game better and keep the music fun," he says.
He's looking to expand his reach by building a stronger Internet presence. "We need to do more to connect directly with fans online."
He'll also connect on tour, where intimate theater and club venues will allow for fan participation. "We're going to rock out and throw a party on stage."