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.