Words By Gottyâ„¢

I remember working part-time @ Champ's a few years ago. My white boy Glenn was the manager, hooking me up with the cool little side hustle that basically involved more standing around bullshitting about sports, clothes, partying & music than anything else. Like every store, Champ's had those corporate videotapes that played constantly all day, blaring thru the store's TVs for a month or two, until corporate would send out another.

One video that was a part of one month's collection was T.I.'s "I'm Serious" with a hyperactive Cliff Harris jumpin around in a "Gucci AF1s" (I made a killin selling those out the back, another reason for working @ Champ's) & attacking the camera's lense with an energy like no other. This was around the height of the Air Force one craze that had taken over the retail and hip-hop worlds, so Glen used to ask "who is this lil motherfucker, man?" and laugh. I remember constantly trying to tell him that the frail, 135 pounds when water wet MC was gonna be the next dude to blow out of the South. "Trust me, man, lil dude got 'it.' His 'Forces' song is killin Nelly's and he got a dumb street following."

After years of grindin, T.I.'s ascension to the top has finally come.

And this album will be the reckoning to whether he can remain the unofficial King of the South, thus the most important of his career.

1. People are growing somewhat weary of the South...

Snap and the dances it spawned are perhaps dead (finally) in the current wave of hip-hop. Wayne won't succeed unless he sobers up & quits allowing everything he says in the studio while inebriated to be recorded and leaked to the public as songs. Houston's quick fifteen minutes of fame has seemingly come and gone (but we'll wait on UGK's new joint to create a buzz again). Outkast is still on hiatus and even though Goodie Mob is supposedly releasing another album, the attention isn't there. Killer Mike may never get a full-fledged official album out...so the stalwart Dungeon Family collective of years ago isn't here in capacity to fully rep the South & Atlanta. That said, the weight of the South as continued leader of the hip-hop pack falls deftly on the shoulders of T.I.'s small frame.

2. He can't retire yet...

..Musically, that is.

Financially? Sure, as he's got plenty of legitimate endeavors including a construction company, a club, the prerequisite clothing line, etc. With ATL under his belt and the upcoming American Gangsters, everybody knows movie money is shittin on music money so his burgeoning acting career is a sure cash cow.

But, musically, his "Memphis Bleek" - Young Dro - isn't ready to take over & lead the Grand Hustle team to the top. As the obvious heir to that throne, Dro still needs grooming and the helping hand of TIP, in the form of appearances on verses and hooks. Plus, if you listen to tracks like street gritty of "Trap Or Kill Yaself", and "Tell'em What They Want To Hear" for the ladies, there's a certain chemistry present that still warrants alot more music to be made.

3. Someone likable has to represent hip-hop...

50 could come out & sell however many mil he will sell. Unfortunately, he's alienated far too many who make up hip-hop's core, whether it be fair or not, to the point where if he sells no one will care...and if he flops, some might actually rejoice. The only other artist capable of selling big numbers this summer AND create a good album is Kanye, but there's not enough struggle & rough edges about him to rep hip-hop to the fullest in his chase focus on being the Black Fonz in terms of cool, dress & arrogance.

That leaves T.I. - the last big seller, the last percieved underdog still hangin on to that moniker & wearing it like a badge of honor, the last one with hungry spit - slated to release an album. Hip-hop loves to root for their favorites to make it to the top, showing a cocksure swagger but still humble enough to know that "I could be back in the same bricks with you next week if this shit fails." Let us not forget, he was in jail when his first big splash onto the scene came with Trap Muzik. After five albums each with greater success, can he keep the balance of being aggressively marketed, ever present and still maintain that same hood love? If I were to bet, I'd say "yes" without a doubt.

4. Creatively, hip-hop still needs those @ the forefront to push the envelope...

Nas has continued to do it with a mixture of successes and fumbles along the way. Jay has tried, but honestly, Kingdom Come recieved a lukewarm reception as he tried to show his growth. As aforementioned, Kanye will undoubtedly do it with his production. There's always hope in the form of Lupe, The Roots, Saigon, etc etc. But the top shottas are the ones everyone is watching, taking cues from and T.I. is one of those individuals.

Lyrically, his voice and content have always been what made T.I. Even with a ample bank account, he still has ample material to continue to reveal that side of himself that's growing into a man in front of his audience's eyes. The death of his partner Phil, the loss of a child, his rocky but still ongoing relationship with his child's mother...there's plenty there. As stated, the closest comparison is Jay, who tried to make the jump & show that he could still face struggles as a multi-millionaire. The difference is Cliff has always charismatically and comfortably managed to wear struggles on his sleeve, exposed for all to see and actually embrace, with tracks like "Still Ain't Forgave Myself," "Live In The Sky" and "I Still Luv U." It'll take one or two more of those tracks on this album to keep boys in the trap, pockets steadily rising with cash but still experiencing the same pitfalls, relating and in tune with him.

Conceptually, TI is the one who needs to take that leap of faith and he's done it by cultivating this T.I. Vs. T.I.P, dual personality to frame this album, having done it successfully with one song by the same name on Trap Muzik. While it's nothing new - Cassidy, RZA and others have done it while Kool Keith has made a career of it - artists of that upper echelon status haven't. In music as an art, reinventing yourself is key to maintaining attention & it's a worthy and needed risk to take if you want to leave your mark.

The final question will be, if the album doesn't do as well as expected, sales and/or critical, who will be to blame?

T.I. or T.I.P?

I doubt we'll have to worry about that though...

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T.I. VS T.I.P. is in stores July 3rd.

Official Site - www.trapmuzik.com

"Big Things Poppin' (Do It)" (Video)

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Over @ The Smoking Section we're reminscing over Big L's born day, developing hip-hop's Chuck Norris with Hell Rell Facts, giving respect to Tank and giving you summer fashion tips. Stop through & smoke one with us.