NEW YORK >> Rapper 2 Chainz has a thing for luxury, so when he was in New York this month to promote his new Viceland TV show, “Most Expensivest,” he made a beeline for Christie’s New York, on the eve of its postwar and contemporary art sale.
Wearing a black Supreme hoodie, red-and-white track pants, white Balenciaga sneakers and maybe 5 pounds of gold chains, 2 Chainz rolled into the auction house a few minutes after 4 p.m. on a windy Tuesday, with a crew that included a stylist, a personal photographer, a publicist and a bodyguard.
“I’m a creative soul, so I’m intrigued by this all,” he said to Ana Maria Celis, a Christie’s vice president and specialist in postwar and contemporary art, who met him in the lobby of the airy, museum-style space at Rockefeller Center.
Celis, who had spent the previous two weeks ushering prospective buyers through the much-hyped sale, which included Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” had a proposal.
“Let’s just say you’re my client today,” she said.
2 Chainz wasn’t having it.
“We’re going to be friends,” he said, as he wrapped his arm around her. “Let’s walk and talk.”
He moved through Christie’s with the eager, excitable air of a dutiful student, fist-pounding and taking selfies with security guards. He respected fine art but knew little about it.
Celis first led 2 Chainz through a back door into Gallery Six, on the west side of the building, which housed Andy Warhol’s 28-foot-wide “Sixty Last Suppers,” a composition of 60 black-and-white silk-screen interpretations of da Vinci’s iconic painting, and one of Warhol’s final works. It was valued at $50 million (and ended up selling for $60.87 million).
“This is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said 2 Chainz, temporarily struggling for words as he gazed at the gargantuan piece of art. “This makes me want to be a billionaire. Can you imagine having this over your dining room table? Oh my God. You’d have to have the longest dining room table in history.”
The group walked to Gallery One, and as Celis was describing another painting, 2 Chainz was distracted by a 40-carat yellow diamond ring displayed behind a wall of glass. As his stage name suggests, 2 Chainz is a jewelry fanatic.
“Put it on me!” he said, taking a detour into the jewelry section. “I’m going to marry myself next year.”
A call was placed to Caroline Ervin, a junior jewelry specialist, who promptly arrived and fetched the ring. The rapper was taken aback by the $2.5 million price tag.
“I got a couple dollars laying around,” he said, “but Jesus I better start rapping all night.”
He’s accustomed to working for his riches. 2 Chainz, born Tauheed Epps, grew up in the poor Atlanta suburb of College Park and played basketball at Alabama State University before dropping out and selling drugs at a carwash. He started rapping and fell in with local rapper Ludacris, who signed him to the Disturbing Tha Peace label as part of a duo called Playaz Circle.
In 2007, Playaz Circle had a small hit with the song “Duffle Bag Boy,” which featured Lil Wayne, but it wasn’t until Epps changed his name to 2 Chainz around 2011, and made luxury and outsize riches a part of his brand, that his career took off.
He contributed quotable, often comical guest verses to songs by Kanye West and Nicki Minaj, and released his debut album, “Based on a T.R.U. Story,” with Def Jam Recordings in 2012. It went platinum and was nominated for a Grammy for best rap album.
“That helped me take care of my family,” said 2 Chainz, who is now 40, married and has three children. His latest album, “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music,” hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in June. “But really, I’m still grinding. I’m still learning.”
In 2014, 2 Chainz started a GQ online video series on the most expensive stuff in the world, and over three seasons he sampled outrageously priced items including a $1,000 ice cream sundae and a $4,000 German toothbrush. A weekly 30-minute version of the show debuted on Viceland on Nov. 15.
Christie’s certainly has its share of outrageously expensive items. In Gallery One, 2 Chainz was drawn to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Il Duce,” a manic and surreal rendering of a demented face, valued at $25 million. He summoned his photographer to take a picture of him posing in front of it, and when the rapper sensed other patrons were put off by this behavior, said, “I’m making these white people mad right here.”
After he got his photo, 2 Chainz moved along to “Paramount Pictures,” a collaboration between Basquiat and Warhol that reimagines the film studio’s iconic logo. He took a selfie in front of the work, and contemplated buying it.
“Tell me, if I spend a million on a painting, what do I think when I wake up the next morning?” he asked Celis.
“Well,” Celis said, “if you were able to get this at a million, that would be an incredible price.”
Indeed, it went the next day for $2.77 million.
It was nearing the closing hour of 5 p.m., and 2 Chainz was growing impatient.
“Take me to the big one,” he said, referring to the work that Christie’s has called “The Last da Vinci.”
A line of about 100 people still were waiting to catch a glimpse of the rare painting by the Italian master, but Celis led 2 Chainz again through a back door to view it without waiting.
“Oh my God: $100 million,” 2 Chainz said, referring to the estimated value and shaking his head in disbelief as he gazed upon the revered painting of Christ. (It would sell the next day for a record-shattering $450.3 million.)
“This is essentially the most famous painting in the world,” Celis said, before outlining the multiyear painstaking process involved in authenticating it.
A crowd of roughly 20 people still hovered around “Salvator Mundi,” but with Christie’s set to close in 10 minutes, security guards informed everyone it was time to leave. Being a keen arbiter of luxury, 2 Chainz remained skeptical of the painting’s worth.
“So,” he said turning to face Celis. “Tell me one more time, how do we know it’s not a copy of a copy?”