T.I. vs. T.I.P.

posted July 02, 2007 09:14:49 AM CDT | 257 comments

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Clifford "T.I." Harris declared himself King of the South long before he did anything to warrant the title. With 2001's I'm Serious, he emerged as the embodiment of arrogance, flashing a brooding and cocky attitude that made his claim to the throne seem less outlandish.  Harris became so emboldened by the success of his following albums, Trap Muzik and Urban Legend, he titled his fourth record King - just in case anyone questioned his position at the top. But the ruler was "T.I." in name only. As he ascended to the throne, Harris still felt the vigor of "T.I.P.," his unruly alter ego, wrestling to take the limelight. His latest offering, T.I. vs. T.I.P., plays out as an operatic clash between these two personalities - one wants to rule an industry while the other lusts only for control of the streets.

Since 2003's Trap Muzik,  T.I. has cleverly remained the smooth-talking charmster, allowing the ferocity of T.I.P. to escape only when necessary. This made for a two-headed monster with the wisdom of a king, mind of a dope boy and the guts of a kingpin. But as the two personas wage war against each other, they leave withered shells to pick up the pieces and try to return to their former glory. T.I.P.'s once boisterous attack is uncharacteristically anemic on "You Know What It Is." His humdrum boasts of paper chasing and gun blasting sound phoned-in, as do Wyclef Jean's terrycloth string arrangement and dancehall ad-libs. A smoky guitar melody for "Watch What You Say to Me" helps bring back hardheaded T.I.P., but the 'S' on his chest shines brightest with the album-leading "Big Shit Popping." Backed by a blood-pumping opus from Mannie Fresh, the menacing trash-talker raps, "You do it for a day or so, we do it for a month or two/I do it for my partners, gon' make sure them niggas stuntin', too/We do it with them choppers, ain't no problem - where you runnin' to?"

T.I. inflates his ego and power as well, but he uses unflinching self-assurance rather than intimidating brutality. He validates his past dominance of the warring mentalities on "Help Is Coming." An organ-driven melody rages as he tells wary Hip Hop fans they need not worry about the culture's musical direction. "And for anyone whoever said that Hip Hop's finished/It can't be dead while I'm still in it," he says to quell nervousness. The fear of Hip Hop's direction quickly reappears on "Show It to Me" and the Eminem-assisted "Touchdown." Once heralded for his gifted wordplay, Em has somehow regressed to delivering whiney rhymes about candy-paint and bass in a faux-Southern accent.  This can't be the help that T.I. promised.

T.I. vs. T.I.P.is a civil war in the kingdom of southern Hip Hop, and as countless historians and philosophers have stated, war is seldom a good thing. It appeared the competing egos had already resolved their issues with T.I. vs. T.I.P. (the song on Trap Muzik), but that initial heart-to-heart has proven futile. Their schizophrenic conversation concluded that each half needed the other in order to be successful; they were the proverbial yin and yang of beats and rhymes necessary to rule with an iron-first. T.I. and T.I.P.'s decision to ignore that lesson and seek independent acclaim has resulted in a decent but misfortunate drawback from what they have accomplished. It may be true that there is one life, one love, so there can only be one king; however, an empire in turmoil doesn't serve anyone's best interest. Maybe we were better off when the throne had room for two.

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