posted April 07, 2006 12:00:00 AM CDT | 83 comments

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Over the last few years T.I. has constantly dropped heat for the streets. Album after album, he's managed to stay lyrically superior to many of his peers, while at the same time maintaining street credibility. However, he's had to use various approaches to reach this point in his career. On I'm Serious, he was a rebel in the trap, speaking on hood tales. Trap Muzik saw more of the same, but with an elevated rhyme style, iller stories and better topics. Urban legend certified Tip as a man who could make hits. Now, he's got movies and more on his plate, so you'd think he'd slip, right? Contrary to those beliefs, T.I. doesn't fall, but rather rises to take another step towards the throne. He manages to bundle up the trapper and the rapper in one package. He mixes the lyrical with the club hits throughout the album, trying to maintain the balance that Jay-Z perfected.

Lyrically, T.I proves he's still got it. He shines on story telling tracks like the Jamie Foxx-assisted "Live in the Sky" and the stand-out flow glows on "I'm Talking To You." His charisma is also on display as he thrives with braggadocios records and goes rhyme for rhyme with Common on the Neptunes produced "Goodlife." The emcees discuss the triumphs and struggles in life over a wonderfully smooth beat.

It's a star-studded affair when it comes to the boards. Mannie Fresh, Just Blaze, The Neptunes and others round out a solid production team. The bounce is refreshing on "Front Back" while the bass rattling "I'm Talking to You" adds fuel to the blaze. Sure, "Stand Up Guy" and "Get It" are repetitive and lazy, but overall, the production work is impressive. He's got soul and party-anthems mixed in with hardcore street records and somehow it doesn't sound too contrived.

Now, is T.I. truly the King? Tip seems convinced, and he has seemed to convince a lot of people both by his skill and force of will (dude does say it A LOT). His latest effort is the showcase of a business-savvy man who knows he has to cater to the streets and the clubs in order to maintain and gain fans. With King he further solidifies himself as a star in the industry who is capable of making songs with substance. Still, once he realizes he can expand his creativity even more and stop making filler songs like "Stand Up Guy," he may get a better shot at an undisputed rule.

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