2 Chainz’ “Dedication,” the intro to he and Lli Wayne’s Collegrove album, starts with a clip of Wayne jokingly telling him to sign to Young Money. “Tity Boi, you need to tell Cris, gon’ let you go,” Wayne urges. The clip, which is likely from 2009, is a portal to a bygone era.
“Cris” is Ludacris, the rap superstar who signed 2 Chainz, fka as Tity Boi, to Disturbin’ Tha Peace (DTP) as one half of Playaz Circle. But Tity wanted off the label by the late aughts. He left DTP in 2010, and instead of actually joining Young Money, he signed directly to Def Jam (DTP’s parent company). Tity said he didn’t want to sign to Young Money and seem like he was “clique hopping.” He took a bet on himself, and hit the jackpot, representing the best rebrand in rap history.
He changed his name to the more family-friendly 2 Chainz in 2011, then went on a tear with classic mixtapes, verses, and punchlines. By the time ColleGrove was released in 2016, 2 Chainz was an established artist in his own right, capable of matching Wayne on the mic and nearing him in terms of cultural stature.
“Dedication” was a tribute to Wayne, but Chainz is deserving of his own salute these days. He started his solo career at 33, and crafted a discography that can compete with many of the Southern rap legends who preceded him. His career path is a testament to perseverance, self-reliance, and the wits to read the room.
The fact that he even made it into the rap game is astonishing. Last year he reflected that “all I ever known is drugs or drug dealing,” during an Uninterupted conversation with Matt Barnes. His father was incarcerated, which forced him to drug dealing as early as 14 to pay his family’s bills. He also recalls his first drug arrest, at 15, coinciding with his mother’s own incarceration. He told The Urban Daily that cops raided his home, thought the drugs belonged to his mother, and took her in. They then came to arrest him at school, starting a cycle where “every other year I would go to jail,” as he said.
He was still talented enough to make it to South Alabama State University on a basketball scholarship, before transferring and graduating from Virginia State University. Around the same time, he had formed Playaz Circle with high school friend Earl Conyers. His friend named himself Dolla Boi, and he was Tity Boi, in part because he was such a mama’s boy. They caught the attention of then-burgeoning star Ludacris after their 2002 United We Stand, United We Fall project started buzzing in the region.
They dropped their debut Supply & Demand album in 2007, which featured the “Duffle Bag Boy” classic with Lil Wayne. The song began a professional relationship that had the two join Lil Wayne on his 2008 I Am Music tour when Wayne was music after going platinum in Carter III’s first week of sales.
In 2009, 2 Chainz, tried his hand at solo success in order to take advantage of an Atlanta power vacuum, as he told Urban Daily:
Around ’09 and ’10, I don’t know if anybody remembers but Gucci was incarcerated, T.I. was incarcerated, Jeezy was working on an album, Ludacris was busy, so the Atlanta market was wide open. That’s where me and Future kinda came into play, just bringing the music from the streets. There was a void and I filled it.
He dropped four mixtapes in twelve months between August of ‘09 and ‘10. The meager numbers of Playaz Circle’s 2009 Flight 360: The Takeoff album may have further fueled his solo desires, and he left DTP after paying Ludacris $100K per remaining album to leave his contract. In 2011, he officially changed his name to 2 Chainz, a nickname he first uttered on “Dear Mr. LA Reid” from Supply & Demand, and had been adlibbing before his verses. He has downplayed the name change, saying that it wasn’t overly strategic, but sometimes brilliance is simple.
The rap gods immediately rewarded his decision, as he broke out with his 2011 T.R.U. REALigion off the strength of “Riot,” a charismatic mic presence, and witticisms like “9-1-1 I’d like to report my ceiling missing” from “Stunt” with Meek Mill. With an entrenched relationship with Young Money and burgeoning proximity to Kanye and GOOD Music (as well as Ross’ then mighty MMG), 2 Chainz took advantage of his bustling industry Rolodex and hit the fast track to stardom.
One can’t tell the story of 2010s rap without going through his timeline: in 2012 alone there was the star-making “Mercy” verse, “Beez In The Trap” with Nicki Minaj, and Based on a T.R.U. Story which featured “No Lie” with Drake. ColleGrove with Wayne was one of the most underrated lyrical exercises of 2016. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music went platinum in 2016, and 2019’s Rap Or Go To The League was acclaimed.
2 Chainz’ formula of unmistakable mic presence, hilarious punchlines, and infectious ad-libs was always in him — he just needed the right time and circumstances to share them. The Atlanta MC likely would have been just as good a solo MC as Tity Boi, but his polarizing name may have turned off many of the fans who ended up making him massively popular. His name change was ingenious, and to this point, doesn’t have a close competitor as far as rap rebrands go.
The Versuz series is cultural exaltation, and 2 Chainz may have had the most improbable journey to the platform. There was a time when being a 30-year-old rapper with subpar sales was a death sentence, and labels would never deal with them. But 2 Chainz’ rebrand worked, and set a new precedent for what a rap career path can look like.