WORDS JAYSON RODRIGUEZ (@jayhovawitness)
Pusha T and 2 Chainz may be new to the solo stage, but they're no rookies. Each MC has a track record that dates back over a decade; Push as part of the coke rap outfit Clipse, and Chainz, then known as Tity Boi, as a member of Disturbing Tha Peace group Playaz Circle. Still, with all the accomplishments between them, the pair—separately and together—have been pitched as 2012 XXL Freshmen by the online masses and industry insiders alike. There’s an argument to be made for both.

Since rebranding himself in 2009, 2 Chainz, 34, has set the game on fire with an enviable run of mixtapes, chiefly Codeine Cowboys and T.R.U. REALigion. The latter produced the Atlanta MC’s breakout hit “Spend It” featuring T.I. and led to a string of cameos on projects by Rick Ross, Young Jeezy and DJ Drama. He’s arguably the hottest MC out right now without a proper solo album under his Gucci belt. His studio debut, T.R.U. 2 (Def Jam Recordings), still isn’t expected to arrive until later this year.

Push, 33, on the other hand, has consistently drawn praise for his Pyrex-tinged rhymes. In 2010, though, Kanye West recruited The Neptunes protégé to join his G.O.O.D. Music roster as a soloist, and later that year he featured Pusha on the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy standout “Runaway,” on which the fiery wordsmith rhymed with an emotional depth he had yet to showcase. That cameo, in addition to the Virginia native’s last March Fear of God mixtape, propelled the lyricist to new heights, helping him brand both himself and Re-Up Gang Records, the label he co-owns with his older brother, the other half of the Clipse, Malice.

Here, 2 Chainz and Pusha T speak to XXL about why they don’t see themselves as Freshman candidates, the similarities they see in one another and how each would have been just fine if they never dropped a solo album.

XXL: You got a ton of people who pushed for you to be a Freshman this year. Has that buzz gotten back to you?

2 Chainz: I’ve heard people say “Don’t worry about it” or “You should be okay,” but I haven’t gotten caught up in it.
Does it make you feel any type of way to be viewed like that? Honestly, I didn’t feel any way. I think being on the cover of any magazine for any reason is a good look. But I know being on the cover of the Freshman issue is a big deal; it’s like who is gonna be on the cover of the Madden [NFL video game] this year. It’s an indication of who is steaming. But in my opinion, and from previous issues, it’s not always accurate, you know? I didn’t want that to define me. ’Cause you could have people with that look with no buzz. As long as I’m getting acknowledged for working hard and recognized, I appreciate that look.

You were able to transform your career in the past few years, specifically by changing your name. Are you satisfied with where you’re at today as a result of the route you took to become a solo rapper?

Definitely. It’s widened my lane and opened up more ears and added a few more [people] listening. People who once judged a book by its cover now open the book. So it’s cool. It was nothing that I can just take all the credit for, as far as being brilliant to come up with a name change and good timing. It was something natural and a part of my music, the jewelry, the collection of charms and crosses. I’m just a product of God’s word and hard work, that’s where it comes from.

The name change gets the most headlines, but what was the key behind your recent rise?

The consistency and the presence that I’ve had virally on the Internet for the last year or so. Just getting one fan at a time, taking it back to the grind. One day at a time, one step at a time, one fan at a time. I just took it to that origin and it’s been working with me.


XXL: We were bombarded with people calling for Pusha T to be a Freshman this year. Were you receiving the same attention?

Pusha T: Yeah, people bring it to my attention, that this whole solo look for me is me in the Freshman stages. They all let me know or reminded me that I’ve never taken this platform before. But I can’t honestly look at myself as a Freshman. I been in this game, like, what, we 10 years deep now. It’s definitely a new chapter, but me being a Freshman, I don’t even think that’s too fair, to the other people who are on the cover. That spot needs to be held for somebody who is just coming out.

Do you take offense to the idea?

Nah, man. Definitely not offended. ’Cause I know where they coming from; they not calling me a new jack. Just in the sense of me never stepping on the solo platform, and that’s true. I’ve never done anything solo, ever.

Since you joined Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music crew and had success with “Runaway” and then “My God,” does it feel like your career has a clean slate now?

It really does feel like a different point in my career. I feel like my fans and the hip- hop community in general want to see something different from me. It’s funny because at one point, I can remember feeling like, Damn, it was enough for my fans just to have a hot 16. But now they’re championing album sales for me. And it’s funny because my Clipse fans never really cared about that. But they want to see me win. I love it, man. I can only do what I can do and that’s rap to the best of my ability, and hopefully the rest pans out.

How do you handle your business differently as a solo artist?

I think a little bit more. It’s funny, because when I’m with my brother, he’s older, so I don’t have to think as much. And that’s the honest-to-God truth. I don’t have to. And I can say whatever I want to, and whether he agrees with me or not, he’s gonna ride. So now I have to think a little bit more just to make sure I’m playing the game a little bit differently. That’s the biggest thing, just watching my steps.

Do you ever stop and think how crazy it is to have fans clamoring for you like you’re brand-new?

I think it's nuts. It’s crazy that people are paying attention to these things, the numbers and accolades, more. And I think that’s partly because of us, the rappers, putting so much emphasis on it. But it gives you something to strive for; it raises the bar higher and it makes you want to capitalize on all of the fanfare and [have] people go out and buy your album. All it is, is making your fans love you more and all speak in unison.

Did you ever think you’d get to this point of working on a solo album, especially considering the Clipse’s history of label disputes?

It was always in the Clipse’s plan to do such. ’Cause we were trying, through the label hang-ups, to brand Re-Up Gang as a label. So to expand the brand, we had to put out more product besides the Clipse; we couldn’t just be the sole entity putting out music. So we had to put out solo projects and Ab-Liva and any artists that we came across that was a part of the team. That was always a part of the plan. With all the hang-ups and all the drama, we didn’t think anything was ever gonna stop. We thought, We’re gonna fight through the bullshit and we’ll get through it.

Would your career be complete without a solo album?

Yeah. If I never had a chance to do another solo album and was doing a Clipse album, I would have been fine with that. In all honesty I would have been. People don’t realize, we were gonna start another Clipse project, but my brother decided not to, so with that being the case, it was, Okay, now I’m gonna do this. I jumped into it and it was, Oh, I like this. This is it, baby. I’m running and I love it. But it’s always been first and foremost about Clipse.

In our December/January issue, you said one of 2 Chainz’s lines in “Spend It” was your favorite of the year. You obviously respect him and are now labelmates at Def Jam. What similarities do you see in your travels and his career?

The length of time in the game. I been seeing him forever now. I’ve watched him go from Playaz Circle to listening to him on Ludacris’ albums. And I’ve watched him musically evolve as well. When people hear my album they’re gonna see the growth in the way in which I’m making songs, and he’s really capitalized on that as well. He’s put out more mixtapes, he’s made records that have been really club- friendly and bangers, and people that know him know he comes from a real rap background. He’s a definite rapper. You can watch how he’s playing both sides of the fence, from the cleverness and metaphors that come with rap, and infusing those things into a more digestible way when he’s putting out his music today than he would have back in the day.

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