2 Chainz said he almost missed his cue to walk onto the stage at Masquerade Sunday night because a woman backstage was trying to find an ashtray for him. Eventually, the rapper, who launched his own cannabis line a few months ago, made his way to on of the black leather chairs on the stage without one, joking “the Earth is the ashtray.”
Despite the bevy of young Atlanta rappers who have come up behind him, 2 Chainz remains one of the city’s most endeared hip-hop exports and one of few who can both rap about selling drugs to his mom and have his own Super Bowl commercial. How does the College Park native remain relatable when he travels the world in search of obnoxiously expensive items (including a $100,000 martini) as the host of Viceland’s Most Expensivest? Sunday evening’s chat with hip-hop journalist Elliott Wilson, who currently works as an editorial director for streaming platform Tidal, provided insight into how 2 Chainz retains his authenticity and mainstream success. The conversation was a part of Wilson’s CRWN series, which is live-streamed on Tidal and features intimate conversations with hip-hop artists.
Much of the CRWN conversation centered around the rapper’s latest album, Rap or Go to the League, which boasts NBA star Lebron James as an A&R, consulting the rapper on tracks for the project during studio sessions. A testament to the rapper’s industry connections, 2 Chainz says he and James—who is known for promoting both unknown and superstar musicians on his Instagram—first discussed the idea of collaborating on the album via text message. “I had this crazy-ass idea,” 2 Chainz said. “People laugh at my ideas a lot, too. That’s when I say I might be onto something.” The rapper added the album’s title and theme, which plays on the stereotype that black men have to rap or play sports to be successful, was partially inspired by James’s More Than an Athlete ESPN series.
Although 2 Chainz says he started working on the new music last year, the album wasn’t released until March 1. He pointed to the oversaturated music market, a high-profile wedding proposal at the Met Gala followed by a ceremony at the Versace mansion, and filming a new season of Most Expensivest as causes for the delay. But fans were treated to a headlining set at ONE MusicFest and a popular feature on YG’s “Big Bank” while they waited for the album.
Rap or Go to the League, which 2 Chainz said is his favorite album to date, is as introspective as it is braggadocious. The album finds the rapper reflecting on traumas such as witnessing two of his best friends lose their sons to gun violence and watching his father die, but also lamenting the “rich people problems” of paying higher taxes. Like most of his work, the album is also packed with local references. (On the opening track “Forgiven,” 2 Chainz raps about shopping for sneakers at Greenbriar Mall.)
2 Chainz expounded on these topics onstage with Wilson and also talked about how he got Lil Wayne to record the 2007 hit “Duffle Bag Boy” and shoot the music video on Godby Road back when 2 Chainz was a member Playaz Circle, a rap duo signed to fellow College Park rapper Ludacris’s Disturbing Tha Peace label. He also discussed his decision to stop selling drugs and focus on rapping (“I told them my 16 [bars was] gone cost more than a brick.”) and the evolution of Atlanta rap.
“I explain it like an Olympic torch. People are afraid to drop the torch,” he says. “When I get it—or Future, Thug, Gunna, [Lil] Baby, I can go on for a hundred days—it’s like nobody wants to drop the torch. That’s why the music is so lit down here.”
2 Chainz made it clear throughout the discussion that he is big on manifestation. That’s how he’s gone from growing up in the trap house to repurposing that house into a mainstream symbol of hard work and community. The pink house has become so synonymous with 2 Chainz that singer Ariana Grande was recently criticized for using the imagery unattributed in her music video for “7 Rings.”
The prolific rapper isn’t done yet, though. He told Wilson he hopes to one day have a headlining show at State Farm Arena and, then, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And anyone who has paid attention to the rapper’s career thus far knows not to doubt him when he says he’s going to do something.