2 Chainz’s profile has expanded to such dimensions during the past year as to demand media scrutiny for his debut record, Based On a T.R.U. Story, in excess of the album’s actual quality. Not that T.R.U. Story is a bad recording, per se, it’s just that when held up against other offerings on pop hip-hop’s variegated menu, the LP betrays its comparatively bloodless hue.
For 2 Chainz, stardom has come after such a prolonged campaign of accommodation and concession that it’s hard to tell which parts of his original talent have survived the process intact.
2 Chainz (Tauheed Epps to the government) started dropping mixtapes back in 1997, when still kicking around Georgia with Playaz Circle, a duo that included himself (then referred to by nom-de-mic “Tity Boi”) and Shevas Hicks, a high school friend who went by “Dolla Boi.” The duo had its share of setbacks and frustrations, but it eventually released a decently received debut in 2007, after which point Epps left the group in order to focus in his solo career. Things didn’t take off for him in a major way until 2011, at which point he changed his name to the more “family friendly” sobriquet of 2 Chainz and started taking guest spots on tracks from major pop players such as Drake and Kanye West.
The history of Epps’s gradual rise warrants exposition because it goes a long way towards explaining why T.R.U. Story turned out the way it did. With guest spots from Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj, tracks that touch with exhausted repetition on the subjects of crack and women, and adequate, mid-tempo beats, the album seems to have been tracked with a greater attention to its potential audience than to its creator’s whims.
“Birthday Song,” with its baroque production and guest verse from Kanye West, bears a remarkable similarity to recent G.O.O.D. Music singles “Mercy” and “New God Flow.” The track distinguishes itself by offering a measure of energy (thanks mostly to West) absent from most of T.R.U. Story’s run time.
Though festooned with adequately swaggering drum lines and rhymes of acceptable cleverness (“Got the present for the present and a gift wrapping / I don’t feel good, but my trigger happy”), nothing on T.R.U. Story feels especially necessary. Even 2 Chainz’s lyrical call sign of “Yeahhhh” sounds somewhat like a yawn.
When T.R.U. Story dips into various genres of the moment, as it does on “I Luv Dem Strippers” (strip club rap) and “Countdown” (dubstep), the results sound like adequate impressions of their source material, rather than engaging experiments in their own right.
Throughout this mid-tempo menagerie, 2 Chainz acquits himself adequately, though without the vision or charisma of a superstar. Say what you will about Kanye West’s general reprehensibility as a human being, but when the man starts making music, it’s hard to ignore the results. 2 Chainz aims for similar brilliance on T.R.U. Story, but makes the deadly mistake of playing it safe.