Tauheed Epps just may be one of the most overwhelmingly mediocre rappers in the game today, but he’s a damn good business man. Exhibit A: if your old moniker is Tity Boi, you can kiss your dreams of superstardom goodbye. Even if you’ve been performing for over 10 years, even if you’ve helped to establish Playaz Circle as a decent dirty south duo, you can’t expect to get a Burger King licensing deal with a name like “Tity Boi.” So you pick something more family friendly… 2 Chainz? It’ll have to do. Now that we’ve got the nomenclature out of the way, there’s only one thing left to do: get thee a feature spot. There’s no time to pick sides or dip your toes in any beef — just take what you can get. “Beez in the Trap”? Awesome. “Mercy”? Even better. That Kreayshawn song about breakfast? Why the hell not?
If you’ve flipped across any channels broadcasting music videos, if you’ve turned on the radio in the past three months, if you still read the feed from that awkward rap fan in your 10th-grade health class on Facebook, you’ve probably heard a 2 Chainz song — or, at the very least, a 2 Chainz guest feature. You’ll know it when you hear it, as Mr. Epps has several strange quirks to differentiate him from the rest of the masses: a strict adherence to a one-syllable-per-quarter-note style of rapping, a tendency to utter “YAHH” or “TRUTH” or even his own name by means of introduction, and a cadence that falls somewhere between self-parody and complete seriousness. He’s an enigma in the same way Lil B and Wacka are — interesting personalities presented in the context of underwhelming rap that may or may not be part of a larger joke that we’re not all in on. Unfortunately, there’s no #BasedGod magic to redeem this debut, nor is there a moment where things completely come together in anything else but a hip-hop zero-sum.
That said, there are some hilarious lines on this album. They’re buried in otherwise insufferable, repetitive trap rap songs, but they’re there. Memorable gems include:
• She got a big booty/ So I call her “Big Booty”
• Turn that nigger into hot bologna
• Eee-err Eee-err, sound of the bed/ Beat it up, beat it up, then I get some head
• Dippin’ it like fondue, spinach dip, cheese stick
• Going so hard you’d think I mixed a Viagra with a Soda
So, yeah, this might be one of the funniest rap albums of 2012 so far, from a lyrical standpoint. But the price to pay for such hilarity is steep: despite an impressive roster of producers — Bangladesh, DJ Mustard, and Streetrunner, among others — none of the heavy hitters can seem to offer anything but rehashes of their earlier smashes. “I’m Different” plays like a de-fanged “Rack City,” while “Yuck” can’t help but sound like an over-inflated Lil Wayne B-side (with a subpar Weezy hook to match; I guess Trukfit’s taking up too much of his artistic effort right now). And then there are the songs that are just strange, such as “Money Machine,” which contains an annoying beep buried in the backing track.
And we haven’t even gotten to the slow songs, which make my eyes well up with tears at the prospect of a re-listen. It’s not enough that they’re generic (that’s pretty much to be expected by any slow-jam that isn’t “Trapped in the Closet”) or that the lyrics are on par with those of an SNL digital short (the line about “dippin’ it” referenced earlier is from the entirely serious sex jam “In Town,” and against Mike Posner’s Beiber-esque croon, it only becomes more laughable). They’re just so unremarkable, so un-sexy, so boring, that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything worse — I’d rather listen to Brokencyde, and that’s saying a lot. This album is full of filler that fails, and when the album’s highs (“No Lie,” “Birthday Song,” Playaz-Circle throwback “Stop Me Now”) are more like plateaus than peaks, that can prove to be a killer.
Maybe there’s some bigger joke that we’re not in on. Maybe we’re supposed to love 2 Chainz because he’s the anti-Killer Mike: apolitical, material, unrefined. Maybe we’re supposed to love this album because it’s the musical equivalent of a KFC Double-Down, filled with fancy co-stars and production, deep-fried, and devoid of any intellectual or nutritional value. Regardless, there will be hip-hop fans who love this album because it isn’t Cancer 4 Cure, R.A.P. Music, or even White Flame. And there’s pecuniary proof for that: at press time, Based on a T.R.U. Story was the top album on the Billboard charts, beating out the likes of Yellowcard, Insane Clown Posse, and the latest NOW That’s What I Call Music! compilation, with sales in excess of 147,000 units. Maybe those hundreds of thousands of consumers hear that damn beeping in “Money Machine” and hear the voice of an angel. Or maybe, substance is just passé these days. Take your pick.