Watching the caterpillar that was Tity Boy transform into the butterfly that is 2 Chainz has been nothing short of astounding. Originally a member of the Playaz Circle duo under the umbrella of Ludacris’ Disturbing Tha Peace crew, the Atlanta rapper has gone from a Southern rap also-ran to a near-ubiquitous presence on the radio: Consider his knockout verses on Nicki Minaj’s “Beez In The Trap,” G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy,” Young Jeezy’s “SupaFreak,” as well as a slew of others. His guest-verse saturation is not without reason, though. He’s become something of a winking trap savant with a killer ear for beats, his verses governed equally by absurdity and entendre. Somewhere along the way, his Lil Wayne-Meets-Dave-Chappelle-Doing-Rick-James shtick collided with new cohort Kanye West, whose penchant for nonsense has seemed to rub off on Chainz.
2 Chainz is a punchline rapper, and Based On A T.R.U. Story leans heavily upon the template that he’s previously established. Its themes include 2 Chainz, 2 Chainz’s abilities as a rapper, 2 Chainz’s relentless pursuit of remaining real, and 2 Chainz’s inherent awesomeness as a human being. For a few songs at the beginning of the album, his transition from bit player to main attraction feels organic. But by the time the album’s mid-point hits and The-Dream’s tender hook on “Extremely Blessed” is negated by 2 Chainz rapping about taking girls on dates at Waffle House, it becomes evident that 2 Chainz has a wealth of ideas but suffers from an inability to flesh them out into fully formed song concepts.
In many ways, Based On A T.R.U. Story finds 2 Chainz mining the same territory he’s been exploring for the past couple of years throughout his Codeine Cowboy and T.R.U. Realigion mixtapes, but fleshed out by the hollowness that comes as a side effect of spending too much time with Kanye West. Despite its boast of a title, “I’m Different” sounds nearly identical to Young Jeezy’s “OJ.” The end of the song “Crack” is simply 2 Chainz screaming the word “crack” over and over, loudly, and while it’s brilliant in a “Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell” sort of way, he already did the same thing with a different word on “Call Teisha” from Codeine Cowboy. The beat to “Wut We Doin?” sounds eerily similar to T.R.U. Realigion’s “We Got One,” and the organic instrumentation of the Scarface and John Legend-featuring “Ghetto Dreams” follows the same formula as “Pimps” did, except that time he was with Bun B and Big K.R.I.T. Only “No Lie” and “Birthday Song” sound like truly original revelations, but he shares these tracks with Drake and Kanye West, respectively. 2 Chainz is only truly comfortable with being a star, it seems, if there are other names on the marquee.