Friday, August 18, 2006

T.I. Review

Atlantic, 2006

For fans of: Jay-Z, Hotlanta, Southern drawls.

Since this site is dedicated to more indie and obscure releases, it makes perfect sense that I review T.I.’s “King”, a mega-produced album that was accompanied by a media blitz AND a movie starring T.I. (ATL). The Source, XXL, Spin, Rolling Stone, New York Times, and now Carry Like Mariah.

I bought this because a) I heard him compared to a Southern Jay-Z and I miss Mr. Carter’s musical presence, b) I don’t like Southern rap, and I figured this might convert me and c) I wanted to at least pretend I knew what was going on in the music world outside of Stones Throw and whatever 10 year old discs I was listening to. I decided to write about it because, goddamn it, it’s a good record.

First off, Pharrell was right – Tip truly is a Southern Jay-Z, and not just because he is a former drug dealer. Both MCs share the same easy, effortless flow that combines arrogance, humor, and charm. Both MCs assemble a solid production team to supply them with Grade-A beats to rhyme over. Both MCs can shift between being a thug, a ladies man, and a successful hustler-cum-business man.

In fact, Tip’s first lines on this album could have come out of the mouth of J. Hova himself. On “The King is Back”, T.I. raps:

“I welcome you to get acquainted with the youngest in charge
Respected from East to West like he was running the mob
Dictating, ain't taking orders from no one but God
I know you niggaz is broke 'cause I know what you charge”.

The fact that he is working with Just Blaze, who also did his share of production for Jay-Z, doesn’t hurt. Still, that sounds like exactly the same time of boast and dis that the Jigga is/was famous for. Plus, with a title like “The King is Back” he obviously has an ego the size of Jay-Z as well.

While the soulful fan fare of the first track may be more NY that ATL, things quickly get countrified on a collab/remake of UGK’s “Front Back”, one of many tracks on here about flossin’ and driving (like, for example, “Ride Wit’ Me”). On the hit “You Don’t Know”, T.I. reaffirms his greatness over a shuffling, sythed-strings beat. I’m normally not a fan of this kind of song, where there isn’t a solid beat and the MCs mostly grunt and yell, but T.I. pulls it off.

One of the better songs on the album is “I’m Talkin’ to You”, a dis track to rival “The Takeover, where T.I. calls out an unnamed hater:

“You’s a lame you’s a shame to the game
I say it you know what ya name is (I'm talkin to you)
We can shoot it out whenever you wanna
Whatever you wanna do boy I'm talkin to you.”

The song also shows Tip’s skill as a rapper, because he moves to double time in the song to fit in longer lines like:

“I'm the best you ever heard about, fresher than you heard about
yeah I'm strapped now pussy nigga this ain't just word of mouth
for niggaz wit dirty mouths, I got a lotta clean pistols to wash 'em out.”

He manages to mix up the speed and cadence of his flow without it fucking up the beat or groove of the song – he just goes from eighths to sixteenths in the same four four beat. Some MCs shove a bunch of syllables into a bar and it sounds all wrong, but T.I. makes it work.

While the album mercifully keeps the number of skits to just two, it is still bloated at 18 tracks, and not all of them are solid gold. I was not the biggest fan of his cheesy r&b collab with Jamie Foxx, and , I ain’t gonna lie, he started losing me by the end. Notice how all the songs I talk about are at the beginning? I just never quite make it the whole 79 minutes.

Still, there is enough that is good on this album that you can forgive the mediocre; His duet with Pharrell (“Goodlife”), his lecherous track for the ladies (“Why You Wanna”, with such endearing gems as “How you keep saying no with yo panties so wet?”); I was even feeling his mindless club track (“Stand Up Guy”). This is one of those rare and welcome cases when a label puts a shitload of money into an album, and actually ends up creating something enjoyable rather than just an obvious attempt to appeal to market research demographics.

T.I. unfortunately shares the limited subject range that Hova had on his earlier discs. Lyrically, “King” can be summarized as follows: “Hello. My name is T.I. I came from the projects of Atlanta. I used to be a drug dealer, but now I am very wealthy. To give you an idea of the extent of my wealth, I’ll describe some of the items I have bought recently. Even though I am wealthy, I still remember my roots as a thug, and I am ready and willing to use violence and perhaps even commit homicide to protect my reputation. I also like driving my cars, and having intercourse with women. Especially your girlfriend.”

Just like early Jay-Z Tip’s got mad skills but doesn’t have shit to say. I’m not too worried, though. His next album will be his cocaine-and-champagne party album, but the album after that will show a more mature, more thoughtful side of this diminutive Southern hellraiser. Either that or he is just going to put out shitty record after shitty record in an attempt to regain his former glory. Either way, at least he’s made a certified hit.

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