Not known for his selflessness, T.I. recently surprised fans by admitting to MTV News that “as good and perfect” as he may be, there are still “things about myself I’m working on.” Say what?!
This humility provides thin, amusing and temporary wrapping paper for his new album, T.I. vs. T.I.P., a back-and-forth, split-personality battle between the suave celebrity rapper (T.I.) and his rough, grassroots alter ego (T.I.P.). The battle examines in particular T.I.’s anxiety about his recent rise to fame: T.I.P. “Knows bullshit when I see it”; calls T.I. out for his “Hollywood motherfuckin’ outfits”; and reminds him that he wouldn’t be “King of the South” without T.I.P.’s influence. Whereas T.I. reminds T.I.P. that he’d “get all locked up every chance you get, if I let you.” This tête-à-tête (‘Act III: The Confrontation’) ends with both characters claiming, “You need me/no, you need ME,” emphasizing T.I.’s only slightly schizophrenic self-obsession.
The album is, according to T.I., “The absolute best hip-hop has to offer right now.” He also claims it’s both his best album, “hands down,” and “the best [hip-hop] album since… Aquemini, All Eyez on Me, Reasonable Doubt, and Ready to Die.” Not quite, T.I.
As good and perfect as he may be — and T.I. is pretty good and perfect — this album is no classic. But it shows maturity. Although none of the tracks has the instant, raw appeal of ‘What You Know’ or — my favorite — ‘Rubber Band Man’, the album shows impressive attention to detail, even if those details trend toward formulaic and have been sanded of any appealingly jagged edges. A Miami-summery feel pervades throughout. The album’s first single, the catchy and robust ‘Big Shit Poppin’’, will rightfully earn its airtime this summer, but other tracks, though they feature artfully (and almost too heavily) layered sound and clever appearances from unexpected instruments and high-profile guest artists — aren’t particularly infectious. It’s a good album to keep as background music, but nothing to keep on permanent rotation.