(The Root) — "Old dude met mom it was on/Then he named me over a phone, prison term," raps 2 Chainz in "My Moment," referring to how his imprisoned father named him Tauheed Epps. The Georgia rapper's dad cycled in and out of prison, leaving his mother to largely raise him alone. Despite doing well in high school and attending the University of Alabama on a basketball scholarship, a young 2 Chainz was also defined by his father's criminal ways. "I've been a felon since I was 15," the 36-year-old rapper told The Root.
But spitting rhymes for money eventually became his career path. His first taste of rap fame was as Tity Boi, part of the duo Playaz Circle, best known for the moderate 2007 hit "Duffle Bag Boy," with Lil Wayne. The name change to 2 Chainz came when the duo split ways after their second album in 2009.
Now Rick Ross, Kanye West, Drake and Nicki Minaj are just a few of the artists who have sought 2 Chainz's "swag" on their records. On the strength of monster party anthems "Birthday Song" and "I'm Different," his album Based on a T.R.U. Story has shot up the charts. He's nabbed three BET Hip Hop Awards and is also nominated for two Grammys, including best rap album. It seems that going solo was the right decision.
The Root recently caught up with 2 Chainz to discuss how he has advocated for felon voting rights. Plus he shared some parenting tips for anyone worried about how he, Elton John or even the Rolling Stones might be corrupting youths.
The Root: You've come a long way. How is Tity Boi different from 2 Chainz?
2 Chainz: Those are still the same people. I've been "Tity Boi" my whole life. That's what my family calls me. As it relates to my music, that will always continue to evolve and change. I'm definitely a wiser businessman. At this level, I understand the nature of the business, and that helps me grow. Gives me the information I need to continue to build my brand.
TR: You've done some important work on social issues to encourage people to vote in the 2012 presidential elections. Can you explain your involvement?
2C: I'm very excited to see that the people's voice has been heard. I campaigned all fall for Hip Hop Caucus' "Respect My Vote" Campaign. My platform was focused around the felon vote and reversing the disenfranchisement of the vote of color, but the real point of it all was explaining to people how important it was to use their voice as a way to effect change in their communities. This was very important to me.
As I've shared before, I was introduced to the street element as a young teen. This affected some of my choices, and I found myself in some not-so-positive circumstances. And while I've been able to completely turn my life around, there are still many youth out there facing the same circumstances. So it was important that I use the 2 Chainz influence to change some lives and shine light on the issues.
TR: Rather than hip-hop just being represented by "gangsta rap" or money triumphalism, we are beginning to hear more stories of black poverty and oppression from artists like Kendrick Lamar and Slaughterhouse. But hip-hop that unequivocally calls for fighting for social justice is still largely underground, like Immortal Technique, or "old skool," like Public Enemy and Dead Prez. What are your thoughts about the different trends in hip-hop and how it might evolve lyrically?
2C: I see hip-hop growing artistically. Don't get me wrong, I understand the role music has played in black people's history, period. From slavery through today, there's a deep connection. It was a form of communication.
But at the same time, if hip-hop is really an art form, then why shouldn't there be different types, different reflections? There are fans for all of it. My lyrics may not necessarily be for everyone. But that doesn't mean that they don't represent a time and place in some people's lives.
TR: People complain about how women are treated in hip-hop as bitches and hos. Do you think the misogyny will ever end, and why is it such a key part of the music?
2C: Elton John had a song called "The Bitch Is Back," the Rolling Stones were misogynistic at times. But the focus is on hip-hop? Music can sometimes be offensive. Musicians are always going to do or say something people don't think is correct.
I'm not ignoring the fact that young people hear these lyrics. But it's important that parents raise their children. Period. Don't just put them in front of the television and let society raise them.
I have two daughters, so of course I'm concerned about what they'll listen to. But I'm also their parent. I don't play just anything around my daughter. We monitor what she hears. It's up to parents to teach their children.
Leila McDowell is a journalist and former broadcast reporter. She also serves as managing director for communications at the Advancement Project.