What is the true story -- er, excuse me, the T.R.U. story -- of Tauheed Epps, better known as 2 Chainz? The past year of the Atlanta rapper's life has encompassed a remarkable comeback story in which a 35-year-old man the world knew as Tity Boi changed his alias, became BFF with a score of major hip-hop artists, signed with Def Jam and started shaking up the charts as a lead artist ("No Lie" featuring Drake) and a guest star (G.O.O.D. Music's "Mercy"). This is not a story often told in mainstream hip-hop. How did such a whirlwind resurrection happen, and how does 2 Chainz -- a rapper whose radio aspirations were an afterthought at the beginning of 2011 -- feel about it?
Unfortunately, "Based on a T.R.U. Story," 2 Chainz' much-anticipated new album, does not really reveal that story, or any substantial story, for that matter. That's not to begrudge 2 Chainz for making an album filled with sinewy beats, repetitive hooks and comically constructed one-liners -- all of those elements made mixtape cuts like "Spend It" and "Stunt" knock hard against any preconceived notions of who 2 Chainz was. The problem is that the hints of personality underneath the braggadocio overflowing on "Based on a T.R.U. Story" exist as faint flickers, pointing to a storytelling skill that has yet to be given the spotlight.
The highlights are enjoyable enough: "No Lie" still pops out as the most immediate cut, while the Nicki Minaj-assisted "I Luv Dem Strippers" is a logical follow-up to "Beez in the Trap" that may offer even more unadulterated joy than that "Roman's Revenge" track. Too often, however, the best parts are bogged down by what could have been -- "Birthday Song," for instance, could have been 2 Chainz' next trap smash, but the chorus lands with a thud and the "skip" button is pressed before its five minutes roll by. 2 Chainz is still a vibrant character within the hip-hop universe, and has a knack for tossing off zany sayings like they're pennies falling out of his pockets. But "Based on a T.R.U. Story" is based on an interesting artist we don't get to know well enough. At this juncture, 2 Chainz' comeback tale feels incomplete.
What are the best songs on 2 Chainz' new full-length? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of "Based on a T.R.U. Story."
1. Yuck! feat. Lil Wayne
An epic introduction to a major label look that's reminiscent in stature to Gucci Mane's genre-splitting "Classical." Lil Wayne staggers in midway through, but this is 2 Chainz' time to shout shine.
2. Crack - "No matter where I'm at, I got crack!" 2 Chainz boasts in this toast to the hustler lifestyle. Ridiculous lines abound, and the best may just be "I'm from the A, and you a C-plus!"
3. Dope Peddler - Bangladesh engineered this sparkling beat that injects some urgency into 2 Chainz' drawl. If only the MC didn't trip over the hook as it winds its way sloppily toward a nursery rhyme that serves as some strange framework for the track.
4. No Lie feat. Drake
The most cohesive example of what 2 Chainz can offer to a track as a lead artist, with the rapper patiently tip-toeing over an opulent beat and then handing over the chorus to Drake. It's No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart right now, and with good reason.
5. Birthday Song feat. Kanye West
And right after Drizzy picked up the slack with a sterling hook on the previous song, "Birthday Song" whiffs on its trap-ready chant, and sinks a pair of sneering verses from 2 Chainz and his special guest, Kanye West. Whatever the song's failings, the image of 2 Chainz being buried inside of a Gucci store is pretty incredible, though.
6. I'm Different - 2 Chainz blacks out over twinkling piano keys and tries to prove that there are bigger differences to him now than the fact that he's no longer called Tity Boi. The synthesizer riff that's introduced nearly two minutes into the track gives the rapper's nihilistic second verse some more weight.
7. Extremely Blessed feat. The-Dream - Terius Nash swings by to produce and co-star in this thankful sex jam that, thankfully, keeps 2 Chainz' humor intact. "If you a chickenhead, go somewhere and lay some eggs!" he shrugs, before quickly threatening to kill people and shouting out the Waffle House.
8. I Luv Dem Strippers feat. Nicki Minaj - It's everything that a 2 Chainz track should be: massive, boneheaded, grimy and irresistible. After the rapper's elastic voice moves effortlessly from 'crooning' to 'bird calls,' an energized Nicki Minaj delivers a guest verse that progressively slows down to match 2 Chainz' delivery.
9. Stop Me Now feat. Dolla Boy - A brief moment of introspection from the Atlanta rapper, as he impressively recollects his humble beginnings and uncertain future with playful wordplay. "If I ever fall off, I'll be hopping back/Got a bad bitch with me, told her 'hop in back,'" he winks.
10. Money Machine - Another complex piece of production that ups the ante for 2 Chainz' outlandish microphone ruminations. He's got some nifty rhymes here, but with a banger rumbling beneath him, 2 Chainz should have rapped in double-time here.
11. In Town feat. Mike Posner - Posner, fresh off of helming Justin Bieber's hit single "Boyfriend," once again stretches his legs and goes toe-to-toe with 2 Chainz' riotous declarations about a remote part-time lover.
12. Ghetto Dreams feat. Scarface and John Legend - The drums echo and John Legend's downcast words resonate on this thoughtful collaboration, which also features Scarface waxing poetic on the inescapability of sin. 2 Chainz' style doesn't really fit with the song's mission statement, but he gamely contributes to the frustrated mood on one of the album's stronger tracks.
13. Wut We Doin? feat. Cap1 - One last audacious ode to the good life for the road (at least on the standard edition of the album), as 2 Chainz' voice slams hard against the dripping synthesizers. With a hook that plays out like a sequel to "Spend It" and a slew of memorable one-liners, watch out for this one if it becomes a single.