T.I. T.I. vs T.I.P.

[Atlantic; 2007]

Rating: 2/5

Styles:  hip-hop
Others: Young Jeezy, Mannie Fresh, Jay-Z, Eminem

After a pretentiously failed attempt at translating the pedestrian culture of Madison to Austin, I finally broke down and bought a shitty Nissan Altima a while back. The car had a nice aftermarket stereo, a perk that, while not very important to me, made the myriad headaches of daily commutes in Texas a little easier to stomach. On a particularly fine evening in the winter last year, T.I.’s epic “What You Know” came on the radio. I couldn’t resist the urge to play it very loudly, the creaky pleas of my car’s decade-old frame being drowned out by DJ Toomp’s mammoth bassline. The following morning I found my windows smashed in and my stereo gone — the handiwork of thieves, to be sure. But I like to tell people my car went into a sort of anaphylactic shock and spewed the stereo after deciding it just couldn’t handle all that T.I.

And God help you if you tried using puny earbuds to listen to any other part of 2006's King, an album too big to be contained by just about any conventional sound system. T.I. undoubtedly benefited more than anyone from the dearth of star power in hip-hop last year, but there's no denying the infectious swagger and singular vision he injects into King's disparate parts. After a year of blowing up (including his notorious turn as the "candle guy" on Justin Timberlake's "My Love"), it's more than a little deflating to see T.I. turn that singular vision directly to his navel.

After reaching his creative apex, is there a more predictable and plodding step down for an artist than a concept album? Did anyone even know (or care) that the two iterations of Clifford Harris' moniker represent, respectively, his business and street sides? T.I. vs T.I.P. is mercifully light on the requisite skits illustrating its dichotomy, but you almost wish there were more of them to explain the album's weird alchemy of simultaneously overwrought and undercooked production and flaccid, self-absorbed lyricism.

On first single "Big Shit Poppin' (Do It)," T.I. meanders alongside an annoying Mannie Fresh guitar sample before resigning himself to a toothless hook. A similar problem plagues "Da Dopeman," a would-be pushers' anthem that sounds like T.I. is trying to convince himself of something he no longer believes ("You da dopeman nigga/ Da dopeman nigga/ Da dope dope dope dopeman nigga," ad nauseum). T.I. possesses enough raw ability to carry even the most rote hip-hop exercises, but he's undermined on the album's standout tracks by a guest roster (including Busta Rhymes, Nelly, and Wyclef Jean) that reads like a list of candidates on Carson Daly-era Total Request Live. Even the Eminem-aided "Touchdown" is predictably dour and inconsequential. Come to think of it, T.I. vs T.I.P. has the perfect sound for the old boombox I now rock in my car.

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