It reads like a boast.
“I just feel like I’m one of a kind.”
But it doesn’t sound like one, coming from 2 Chainz, delivered on a snowy afternoon in his native Atlanta, one of his kids chattering happily in the background.
At 37, the veteran rapper is a success story with a 100-page prologue, the hip-hop equivalent of the minor league ballplayer who bounces around on the team bus from one Howard Johnson to the next for years before finally graduating to the majors and making a name for himself.
“I paid my dues,” he says.
“I paid my dues,” he repeats for emphasis. “It’s time for somebody else to pay theirs.”
And so when 2 Chainz, whose given name is Tauheed Epps, brands himself “one of a kind,” he is in today’s hip-hop landscape, where he’s a working-class presence on the fringes of stardom who doesn’t encompass many starlike qualities.
He’s not a fashion plate like Kanye, a charmer like Drake or a master of technique like Jay-Z (or the other two, for that matter).
What he is, instead, is a tireless striver, with a charisma and confidence born of decades of careful attention to his craft.
He’s not a great talent, but a man who’s become great at making the most of what talents he does possess.
Think about what his success tells us: It doesn’t always matter if you’re the best if you work the hardest.
That’s a reassuring notion, one that’s not lost on Epps, who’s quick to underscore his own fortunes.
“My main thing is just to remain humble with everybody,” he says, a standard line to be sure, but hear him out. “I believe that you can meet someone who valets cars and in two years he can own the building. So you don’t want to be the one who cusses out the valet, because when you’ve got to come back and try to get in the same club, you might not be able to. I believe in so many things happening in a year, because that happened to me.”
Well, two years is more like it.
After signing a solo record deal at age 35 two years ago after a long tenure performing under a different, unprintable moniker with duo Playaz Circle, Epps has since earned a trio of Grammy nominations, sold close to a million copies of two albums, and is on his first major headlining tour after serving as an opening act for the likes of Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj.
On the day we speak with Epps, he had recently returned from Hawaii where he performed during the NFL Pro Bowl festivities.
Before that, he was in Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival.
“They were talking about skiing and snowboarding,” he recalls of his trip to the indie movie mecca, “and I said, ‘If I was from this environment, I would know how to ski, I would know how to snowboard.’ But I’m from the trap, so I know to how to do other things, which is hustle and get out of certain situations.”
These days, Epps is far removed from the streets, at least spatially, but it’s still where much of his music emanates from, his catalog divided between bawdy, first-person strip club testimonials and tales of his drug dealing past (he was allegedly convicted of felony cocaine possession at the age of 15).
“Coming from the environment that I came from, I touch on that all the time, because, to me, it’s like a zoo, where animals run wild,” he says. “People don’t want to actually go in that zoo and get eaten alive. They want me to tell the stories, ‘What happened in there today?’ I’ve been in this environment since I was a kid. My daddy was a hustler. It’s almost hereditary for me to be this way.”
Epps says he still visits his old stomping grounds from time to time.
He sees some of the same faces, but those faces don’t see him the same.
“Some of the old police officers who used to run us off, now they want pictures with the same camera that they were taking pictures of us back when we were doing the wrong thing. It’s a joke now,” he says.
“They’re not looking at me with a white T-shirt on, trying to blend in with the block. Believe me, I’ve graduated from that. I pay taxes now, I have employees. I’m a business.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.