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Coachella 2013: 2 Chainz -- an unlikely rock star is born

April 21, 2013|By Gerrick D. Kennedy
  • 2 Chainz is seen after his performance on Day 2 of the second week of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
2 Chainz is seen after his performance on Day 2 of the second week of the Coachella… (Bethany Mollenkof / Los…)

2 Chainz’s tour bus is almost a disappointment. After its packed set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival early Saturday afternoon, you expect revelry. This is, after all, a rapper who has based his persona on three topics: busty strippers, drugs and flashiness.

But the bus for the 35-year-old born Tauheed Epps -- formerly known by a semi-unprintable name -- is surprisingly low-key.

Despite anthems tailor made for strip clubs and college parties, there's no chaos. No scantily clad women hanging around (two pretty girls passed through awkwardly), no loud music, and the only evidence of a long night is the nearby bottle of nearly empty Ciroc.

FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2013

As Epps predictably ran late for the interview,  Will Smith's “Men in Black” played quietly on a flat screen. Two other members of his crew  plotted their escape from the pounding heat of the desert.

Nearly 40 minutes later, Epps finally emerged and slunk into a seat.

When it was announced the Atlanta rapper was on the bill for this year’s festival, it as a curious, albeit risky, choice for Goldenvoice.

How would Epps, better known for ratchet trap rap and a flurry of splashy guest verses on smashes from Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and ASAP Rocky fare on the Coachella stage?

His major label debut, “Based on a T.R.U. Story,” opened at No. 1 last year and earned a Grammy nomination for rap album (he lost to Drake), despite largely negative reviews of the disc.

In Times pop music critic Randall Roberts’ one-star review of the disc, he wrote that Epps is  “not a very good lyricist, his flow is a little clumsy and his phrasing is monotonous” and passed off his style as one “that values bounce over brains, is created for clubs and not hipsters, and conveys its message simply and unapologetically.”

That raises the question of just how the music -- while prim for loose dancing under the desert heat -- would stack up against classic hip-hop touchstones from acts such as Wu-Tang Clan and Jurassic 5 and rhymes from indie blog darlings Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt and Pusha T.

In other words, was there a place for rap’s most overtly commercial player whose tunes are inarguably more disposable than durable -- a quality often frowned upon by Coachella dwellers?

The answer came rather swiftly during Coachella’s opening weekend.

Despite a low billing -- an early afternoon slot on the Mojave stage before the dreamy pop of Bat for Lashes -- and a late start time the rapper's draw was overwhelming. Festival-goers were packed shoulder to shoulder during the  25-minute set and shouted every word to the slew of hits, including "No Lie," "Birthday Song" and "I'm Different" and ubiquitous guest verses currently crowding radio dials.

Epps managed to pull in massive audiences both weekends of the festival. It was an impressive feat considering crowd retention was a challenge for bigger names -- for example, alt hip-hop stalwart El-P couldn’t score a quarter of Epps' draw, despite starting a few minutes after his set ended on the neighboring stage.

Back on the bus, Epps is modest about the breakout performance. As modest as a performer whom the New York Times praised as being “among the festival’s most electrifying performers” could be.

“Yeah, I heard,” Epps laughed, when asked about the steady stream of praise. “That’s dope.”

“I mean, it was cool,” he continued. “The more [people], the better for me. I love the stage. I love being the center of attention."

"I feel like if it's five or 5,000 people, you’re supposed to put on the same type of show,” he said.

If Weekend 1 of Coachella didn’t affirm a brewing superstar, the closing weekend did.

In front of another over-capacity crowd, he wowed the audience with radio hit after radio hit and then showed  his crossover potential by offering up his unlikely collaboration with reunited pop punkers Fall Out Boy, a remix to their single, "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)."

It was the festival’s oddest surprise guest spot, next to Phoenix and R. Kelly, and an incredibly big deal for the thousands of post-college twentysomethings in the crowd who  hoisted smartphones in the crowd and took to Twitter to rave about the moment.

“They reached out … they told me how big a fans they were and they felt like I was the next hip-hop superstar that has potential to be a rock star,” Epps said of the collaboration. “They kinda saw something that I didn’t see.”

What exactly makes him a rock star? “Besides my long hair,” he joked.

“Basically my I don’t give a … ness,” he continued. “My reckless abandon. My consistency. My strive for perfection. My work hours. My business hours, period, make me a rock star.”

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