Backstage with 2 Chainz at Hill

Ruby Wallau/Daily
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By Adam Theisen, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 11, 2014

“Put your hands up if you believe in God,” 2 Chainz screamed into the microphone in the opening minutes of Thursday night’s show at Hill Auditorium. At least 90 percent of fans put their hands up as 2 Chainz — formerly known as Tity Boi, born Tauheed Epps — launched into “I Do It,” one of the hardest-hitting songs on last year’s killer LP B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time. Throughout the night, the packed three-decker crowd of students at Hill pogoed and danced to every song, shouting 2 Chainz’s lyrics back at him and finishing his sentences with roof-raising energy whenever called on to do so.

Bursting onto the scene a few years back with hits like “Mercy” and “No Lie,” 2 Chainz hasn’t receded from the spotlight since. Dropping successful single after successful single, he has cultivated an adoring fanbase, one that loves his enjoyable escapism, decadent beats and quotable lyrics.

Dressed in mostly simple, non-flamboyant clothes, except for his titular gold chains, the 6’5” Epps dominated the crowd, shaking the place all the way up to the top deck with his incomparably charismatic brand of hip-hop. As he moved from hit song to hit song, fans got wilder and wilder. The audience was glued to 2 Chainz’s energetic stage movements all night, never staying still for more than a moment and making waves on the rollicking main floor.

Thanks to two massive-selling albums and tireless feature work, 2 Chainz is now one of the most beloved and successful rappers in the game today. However, this superstar is no up-and-coming young gun. 2 Chainz didn’t even have a solo record deal until he was 34 years old. Proving those who think rap is a young man’s industry wrong, 2 Chainz has lit up the scene with his success. Thursday’s show at Hill, the culmination of SpringFest, only proved 2 Chainz’s commercial clout.

Throughout the night, 2 Chainz threw smash after smash at his adoring fans, playing to the first few rows and projecting himself all the way up to the nosebleeds. Practically every song has had a long run on radio within the past two years: “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” “Birthday Song,” “Feds Watching” and “No Lie” just to name a small few. Beats from superproducers like Mike Will Made It, Pharrell and DJ Mustard blasted out of the Hill’s speakers at an eardrum-shattering volume that could’ve possibly made this the loudest show in the history of Hill Auditorium. “I’m Different” and “Mercy” probably got the loudest, most shout-along crowd reaction, but with as many hits as 2 Chainz has, every song played is going to be somebody in the audience’s favorite.

But what is it about 2 Chainz that makes him connect so well with fans? To hear him say it, the answer is his transparency.

“What you see is what you get,” he said backstage after the show. “The energy from the crowd is organic. People like it, and I appreciate it.”

The answer fits in with the titles of his first two albums—Based on a T.R.U. Story. While other rappers tire themselves out by ceaselessly elevating themselves as much as possible, bragging about all the cars they buy and women they’re with, 2 Chainz conveys an unparalleled confidence and swagger around his performances. Unlike some of his pipsqueak imitators, he’s so blunt and strong when he boasts about money and status that you can’t help but believe everything he says. You forget about the artist-fan divide when he performs because his style is so conversational and his mindset seems so similar to yours. 2 Chainz is the easiest rapper to imagine yourself wingmanning at a house party.

Adding to this organic and honest image is 2 Chainz’s engaging onstage persona, he teased the audiences about the University’s basketball team, saying that he had the Wolverines going all the way and that “you fucked up my bracket.” He’s the last rapper you’d ever accuse of being pretentious. His songs cut right to the point, and he has no qualms about trying to make music that’s accepted by a wide audience.

“Being consistent and working hard” is what 2 Chainz says is the key to a hit song. In just the span of a few short years, he has built up an impressive following through music that’s built on earnest, confident fun. The audience knows that with every 2 Chainz verse they’re going to get the perfect combination of quotable phrases, charismatic swagger and technical confidence. He’s created a brand based around the exact kids who went to see him at Hill — young kids who want to have a good time to hard-hitting rap music. It’s almost unheard of to see a rapper as old as 2 Chainz connect with youth culture as much as he has, but he does it at his shows night after night. In every 2 Chainz song, and at the Hill Auditorium show, you can hear a man who has traveled a long, long road to stardom. 2 Chainz knows that he got where he is now because of his fans, and now he’s committed to give back to them by recording the music they want, and performing for them with all he’s got.