It’s been 10 years since 2 Chainz dropped his T.R.U. REALigion mixtape with cover art showing the rapper in head-to-toe True Religion denim. The mixtape proved to be a boon for the artist as it prompted the release of his Grammy-nominated debut studio album Based on a T.R.U. Story. And, according to True Religion’s creative director Zihaad “Zee” Wells, 2 Chainz solidified the brand’s prime position in hip-hop and streetwear culture. “The album cover was such an acknowledgement of the brand and its evolution,” Wells tells Complex. “It was an honor.”
Over the past decade, 2 Chainz and True Religion have built lasting legacies based on the idea of sticking to your roots. “My style has evolved just as I have,” 2 Chainz says. “[But] it’s always been about being true to myself, standing out, and separating myself from the crowd.”
2 Chainz even made sure “TRU” found its way into the name of his nonprofit and record label, which both support families and artists in Atlanta. “Atlanta was where it all started for me,” shares the artist, who was born in College Park just outside the city. “Need I say more?”
To celebrate all this history, including the 10-year anniversary of his mixtape, 2 Chainz and True Religion recently announced a new collection featuring exclusive merch designed with the star. The items are officially available starting today in select stores, online, and on stops along Chainz’ five-city tour promoting the capsule collab—which will kick off in Chicago on November 23 and make its way to Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Silver Spring, Maryland.
Keep an eye out for all the action complete with an ultra VIP after-party event in Atlanta hosted by 2 Chainz himself. Then, once you’re ready to add some denim to your cart, make the Super T denim jacket (a 2 Chainz favorite) your priority. “Denim is timeless, it’s almost impossible to mess it up,” 2 Chainz adds. “The denim jacket and the trucker hat are must-haves.”
All in all, this is a full circle moment and the nostalgia is hitting hard. To learn more about how this collaboration came to life and what it was like to create with 2 Chainz, we hit up True Religion’s Wells for an insightful behind-the-scenes convo below.
First off all, it’s amazing you were at True Religion when 2 Chainz’ mixtape originally dropped in 2011. What was that moment like for you?
I was the first designer ever hired at True Religion. When I started with this brand in 2006, the founder told me I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, which is so rare. And we built up this huge following. It was really exciting for me to see the evolution of the brand from this Malibu-based, California-cool vibe into something that was adopted by the streets [thanks to] artists like Chainz and Chief Keef.
Can you elaborate on what inspired this collaboration?
The front cover of that mixtape was iconic without any help from us. [The collaboration] was about recreating the nostalgia from that mixtape, whilst also making sure that we did something that felt like we have come together over the last 10 years.
So it was always part of the idea to use the original cover art in whatever you created?
Yeah. We took his iconography and ours and mixed them together in a way that just felt like it had always been that way. That, for me, is what you strive for. As an example, we took our back patch with our arch logo, our Buddha, and “world tour,” and we mixed in the best part of Chainz and the best part of us. So, instead of being just True Religion on top, it says T.R.U. REALigion like the mixtape.
This was your first time working with 2 Chainz. Was there anything that surprised you about his creativity or his sense of style?
For me, it’s the fact that 10 years later, as successful as he’s become, we are still important to him. He didn’t have to come back to True Religion. But for him, there is this thing about always being ‘TRU’… he always talks about being true to himself.
How did 2 Chainz’s music influence the designs?
I think the music speaks for itself. It was more about trying to bring two icons, True Religion and 2 Chainz, together in a way that felt natural. I think we did that by nodding to the past in a way that feels very much still relevant today.
What do you love about 2 Chainz’s style?
He’s unapologetic about who he is in the same way that we are as a brand. If you love us, you love us. If you don’t like us, you don’t like us. We could care less. Chainz has that exact same attitude. He also talks about straddling the line between cocky and confident. And I think that’s who we are as a brand.
What do you hope people take away from this collaboration?
That we’re here to stay. And we pay attention to what the people who love us have to say and to what they want to see from us. People called out all the time, ‘Hey, you know what, you need to do a collaboration with 2 Chainz?’ And we listened. I think, as a brand, giving your customers what they want in a way that’s authentic and true to you is where your longevity lies.
Do you plan to do more partnerships like this one?
Absolutely. And I don’t want to be a brand that takes a logo and slaps it next to our logo, just for the sake of doing it. It should be something that feels natural. For example, when we find artists who customize our products, we try to work with them instead of just knocking them off. Obviously, there’s a quid pro quo in that we’re able to attach ourselves to their audience and they’re able to widen their range by working with us. Hopefully, through ongoing partnerships, we’re all successful. And, so far, [we] have been. Take BluBoy, who adds tons of patches to our products. The denim we just did with him sold out within 13 minutes. And the full collaboration sold out within three hours.
Finally, what’s your favorite piece from the collection?
I love the band tee, which is a throwback to the hip hop merch tees from the early 2000s, the hoodie, and then the denim jacket is by far my favorite piece. We had taken our backpatch and added Chainz’s logo and name into it. He took one look at it and was like, ‘I love it. It’s sick. Can you put that on the back of the jacket? I want to wear that on tour.’ We hadn’t thought to do it as this oversized patch until he suggested it, but we did. And it looks fantastic.