“The same energy of character which renders a man a daring villain would have rendered him useful in society, had that society been well organized”—Mary Shelley
Shepherding a 2 Chainz album at Def Jam should have been one of the easiest jobs on earth. You put Tity in a studio, you let him loose over lazer-guided trap beats, and watch the references to cars being the color of condiment sauces pile up. Dual Necklaces has built up a reputation as the funniest knockout punchliner operating right now (“9 months after that, Similac!,” etc.) and he made that reputation rapping on seventh generation DJ Drama beats, and giving away masterpieces of ridiculousness on guest verses. He built up a legitimate fan base at the same too. How hard can it be? Let Tity Boi be 2 Chainz and leave him to it; what would be the problem with letting him recreate T.R.U. REALigion on a label’s dime? He did “Spend It” on his own, after all.
Which is why it’s tempting to blame the fact that Based on a T.R.U. Story is as thoroughly middling and disappointing and bloated as it is at the feet of whoever is working with 2 Chainz at Def Jam. The label is still holding out for four quadrant hit albums, when that isn’t possible for anyone anymore. That Kanye can pull that off is a testament to him, not Def Jam: I’m sure there are still execs sitting in Def Jam offices right now saying “Runaway” was a bad idea.
So this is how 2 Chainz, who, again, scored his biggest commercial hit on his own, ends up with Mike Posner on his album. In what universe is that an idea that makes it off a piece of paper with the words “A List of Ideas That Are The Worst, Because Mike Posner Is An Embarrassment For Everyone” at the top? This is how 2 Chainz ends up allowing Lil Wayne on his album’s first track (“Yuck”), even though Weezy is a worse guest than Kreayshawn was on T.R.U. REALigion; at least she seemed like she had something to prove to people who think she can’t rap. This is how 2 Chainz ends up with The-Dream on his album (“Extremely Blessed”), seemingly just welding a pre-conceived concept (a woman is pretty awesome) to a 2 Chainz verse about taking a woman on a date to the waffle house. This is how 2 Chainz delivers an album that almost wouldn’t fit on one CD; Look, I love Tity more than most, but I can’t think of any circumstance where 80 straight minutes of lines like “I’m a fucking example of a fucking example” is desirable.
This atrocity exhibition had to have been perpetrated by some shadowy A&R dude at Def Jam, as T.R.U. Story represents a grinding down of 2 Chainz into a blandly commercial prospect. It won’t take long for people to realize that he gave away an album full of songs that are infinitely better than the ones here for free back in November. But maybe he really did want to do a song with Mike Posner, and all of this is just me blaming a straw man for the fact that this was the album I was most looking forward to this summer, and I’m not sure I’m even going to listen to it after today.
“She got a big booty, so I call her big booty”
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that this album is just a slog of radio rap moves and A&R Frankensteined collaborations. It can seem like it most of the time, but there are still some stretches of unabashed absurdity. Lead single “No Lie” is the best track by a decent margin, with 2 Chainz matching Drake’s straight-faced tone, and throwing out bellowed ad-libs behind him. “Birthday Song,” the stupid great song of the quote above, finds Kanye and Tity calling themselves the new Snoop and Dre (that makes more sense than you think initially).
Ultimately, Based on T.R.U. Story is less of a star-making album, and more of a victory lap for 2 Chainz. He’s had a couple years of false starts—“Dufflebag Boy” made him a star for three months five years ago, and he’s released barrels of unnoticed mixtapes—and now he’s the third in command for Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music empire (behind Pusha, obviously). T.R.U. Story is as bloated as the corpse of the mainstream rap industry, but that 2 Chainz is inside that system taking some shekels before he goes back to being the most entertaining guest rapper on earth is the only selling point for the album.