2 Chainz is on an unimpeachable streak of greatness in 2016. He’s released three projects, including a well-received joint album with Lil Wayne, and laid down a number of impressive guest features with Chance the Rapper, Future, Post Malone, G.O.O.D. Music, and more. The Atlanta rapper is also making big e-commerce moves, and his touring schedule is packed as well. Complex hopped on the phone with 2 Chainz to catch up with him about his business ventures, his daily inspirations, and his new Karate Kid-inspired mixtape Daniel Son; Necklace Don.
What’s your connection to The Karate Kid? Are you just a big fan of the movie?
The movie is about an underdog, someone who’s been overlooked. Different things taught him a skill set that he used to turn things around for him. I feel like rap is a sport, and I do a lot of things that I feel like prepare me for big matches. One thing about the game, there’s somebody on top. Every month it’s a new wave. I’ve been the Necklace Don since day one, but the whole Daniel Son thing is just conceptual, it has a theme to it. I just used that kinda motivation to really turn the tables for myself. It’s a lot of correlation between the actual Daniel Son imagery and what I’m doing with the music.
Are you influenced by karate and martial arts culture generally?
I think every kid took karate whether they wanted to or didn’t, it’s just stuff your parents put you through. People know I’m a huge Wu-Tang fan, and that was their thing. Karate has a certain discipline to it. There’s levels to it, and you can compare it to what’s going on in the rap community. Like I said, rap is a sport. I like karate, I like boxing, I like MMA, I like a lot of that business. But karate is definitely one of those things that teaches kids hard work. It takes a certain level of focus. So does rap. To be upper echelon in rap, you need to be focused and disciplined; you need to carry yourself a certain way, you need to know how to use your brain.
You’re really talking to the future godfather of selling things via tech.
“Big Amount,” your new Drake collaboration, is a big departure from the other work you’ve done with him. What made you decide that this record was going to be your reunion?
I haven’t been in the studio with Drake since we did “All Me” in Atlanta a couple of years ago. He was in town for a couple hours. He was actually at the strip club that was around the street from my studio, so I just went to rock with him. I was like ‘Yo, bro I’m like walking distance from here.’ So he pulled up, and we got a couple of records done that night.
It was something that I actually missed. Dude is at the top tier of his game. I’m very competitive. I like working—period. To get in the room with one of the top dudes in the game, it’s just a dope experience. Not only that, he’s one of my day unos, one of my partners. We’ve been rocking with each other since the “I Am Music” tour with Lil Wayne. To watch each other grow and do what we’ve done for our families and friends, it was no pressure. There was a lot of smoke and bottles and it was just a good vibe. And the song is unique—I don’t think we should do the same thing twice. Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.
How do you approach a beat like that, one that’s so different from what you usually do and for hip-hop in general?
I try to put on a fan’s shoes, I try to put on everybody’s shoes. As a promoter I always try to think outside of myself. So when I heard this beat, I thought it was some swag. I saw a couple of the comments about it being a flute beat and blah blah blah, but I didn’t really look at it like that. I’m not so much a producer. I know how to pick beats, but at the end of the day I feel like when I’m listening to what’s going on on the radio, what’s going on in the club, I have to be someone who can find the void and find out what’s missing. What I can add to the game that’s missing? They’ve already got this, so let me find this.
Buddah Bless won a contest with my DJ one night, a beat contest. My DJ brought him to the studio, and that’s how it all worked. He came to the studio because he won, I picked a bunch of his beats, I rapped over a bunch of his beats. It just so happened that one of his beats Drake got on. That’s not a bad first placement for an up-and-coming producer, ya dig? To anybody out there reading this, I would never stop what I’m doing. All it takes is one time, one experience, and it can be life changing.
A lot of artists outsource their merch to other people—why do you feel that being directly involved with it is so important?
Because I’m a trend starter. Every time you see me, I’m the freshest nigga in the room. So I can’t have nobody else designing clothes that I’m not gonna wear. With CEO Millionaires, the whole acronym behind CEO is Create Every Opportunity. That’s been my inspiration for the last year or two, that everyone around me needs to become entrepreneurs, needs to become a boss.
I’m using the T-shirt as a platform to infiltrate the Millennials, but at the same time, I want the little black girl in a low socio-economic status to know that she can be a millionaire. I want to encourage the youth by using my platform, by using style. And this is something that I can say and that can’t no other rapper duplicate. I know that we have a lot of smart people who don’t have parents that have the sensibility to give them IQ tests, or whatever. We’ve got geniuses in the hood. I honestly feel I’m very close to or was down the street from being a genius. So I know there’s other people that are smarter than me, younger than me, and it’s just about taking that responsibility on.
Since the success of Dabbing Santa, since the success of CEO Millionaires, the strip club venture, and the Trapavelli line, we’ve really figured out e-commerce. We’ve figured out how to sell things socially. That’s something these big brands, Nordstrom, Marshalls, Macy’s, fucking Footlocker—they haven’t figured that out. You’re really talking to the future godfather of selling things via tech.
My whole thinking wave is just different right now. I’m really on some Daniel Son shit. I’m really out here creating that motivation. I’m on my loner shit, I’m on my only child shit, but at the same time I wanna be a better person, I wanna be a better man, a better friend, all of the above. So to do that you’ve gotta do better things, you’ve gotta surround yourself with better people. So that’s what’s going on, everything from top to bottom, that’s what I’m planning on doing. So the music will be better, the vibe will be better, the clothes will be better, the relationships will be better. That’s what I’m doing right now.
It seems like it’s more than just good from a business and personal branding perspective because it also has a message and an inspiration behind it.
Yeah, man, why not? My first song on Daniel Son is “Get Out the Bed.” I mean that shit. I’m not understanding what people think life is. This is not a DVD that you can start over or rewind. Once this day gone, it’s gone. Me, I’m one of those people that think there’s not enough time in the day. But you’ve got people that got all the time in the world in the day, and they healthy, they not strung out on drugs, they not in jail, they not disabled. Even if you are those things, we’ve got the Paralympics where people are getting gold medals and are disabled. I don’t wanna hear what you can’t do, how you feel, your back, your knees, I can’t go for it. I don’t even want you around me if you’re aching and you ain’t feeling up to it because I think that shit all nothing. That’s where I am right now. I would love to get the youth going. Get them to notice life shit. If you don’t go to college, go to trade school. Man, figure it out! But you don’t have to be stealing and robbing. That’s not my message right now. My message is all about being a boss. That’s me.
How has the work on Cruel Winter been going?
I went up to work with those guys a couple of months ago. Everything is coming along. That’s the thing—it’s ‘Ye’s project. Obviously I’m with G.O.O.D. music, but who knows? “Champions” is a record that I did a while ago, and just like a lot of these records, when they come out I’m eager to hear the changes in the level of greatness—it always steps up. You think a record is already on a certain level, but bruh just put his jumper cables [on it]. For the most part I don’t know where he is with finishing it, but I did do some more work on it.
Pusha T’s one-year anniversary as the head of G.O.O.D. Music is coming up. How do you think he’s doing?
I guess it would be the same with any person in their first year, there’s gonna be a transition. You really can’t judge or base anybody’s first year as president. I think Pusha T has a great mindset. He’s an awesome leader, a trendsetter, and I think he really did the things he said he did. So with any other business, any other operation in life, it takes a minute. I’m in full support of him. I just saw him go to Obama’s birthday party, so I ain’t got nothing but double salutes to what the boy’s got going on. We’ll just see. I guess you’ve gotta keep your eyes open and see what’s going on.
What are your thoughts on this year's presidential election?
Man, I’m talking about Daniel Son, I ain’t thinking about the election. Hopefully it’s a great turnout, hopefully we have something historic happen. We’ll see, but I don’t wanna talk about that.
On your Reddit AMA, you said you have a new project in the works. What can you tell us about that?
Something is going on, I can tell you that. I want to give much props to Statik Selektah. I think he’s cool, down to earth, and a very great producer. So something is going on, be on the lookout. We’ve got a couple of things in the bag before the year is out. I’m looking forward to the rest of this year; it’s been pretty good 2016.
You’ve been very busy this year.
I’m a family man at the end of the day, but my girl’s not pregnant right now. Usually when she’s pregnant I turn into “What You Need” mode. I focus on other things. Now I know what’s up and they know what’s up. I ain’t never had a lack of confidence, that’s never been the issue. It’s just that I’ve got time now. Music is very therapeutic for me. I was an only child, and I’ve gone through a lot of things inside and outside the music game, losing real real homies out here in the struggle. A lot of my newer composition has become a psychology sit down so to speak, very therapeutic to get off my chest. I’m looking forward to putting out more compositions, but really appreciate the feedback on Daniel Son, I can’t even front. It just gives me that idea that I am heading in the right direction, just doing me and not worrying about what other people is doing. I gotta continue to hit that nail on the head and eventually it will go in.