T.I.’s songs require more than one listen for the listener to truly “get it.”
Not that they’re so complex — often they’re so mindless that a five-year-old could reasonably duplicate his rapping — but because his heavy drawl is basically impenetrable… borderline in The Sound and the Fur at times. Not to mention the fact that his hooks are so annoyingly repetitive that it takes at least a few plays to get past suicidal thoughts every time he asks, “What’s up / What’s haapnin’.”
However, when Tip gets down to the business of rapping, there’s no denying his talent. His drawl, which serves as something of a barrier for first-listen comprehension, might be God’s greatest gift to flow since Notorious B.I.G.’s Shaq-like bass.
In fact, his flow is the only thing saving him at times from dropping into “Soulja Boy” territory — his beats are far from original, and he sometimes does things like compare his weed to celery. When delivered by Li’l Wayne, these nonsequiturs seem charming and authentic somehow — we sense he’s too high to deliver lyrics that are more comprehensible — but coming from T.I., it just seems lazy and half-baked.
T.I.’s main weakness is his extreme calculation and how manufactured his sound seems. His beats sound almost exactly like everything else coming out of the South for the past 10 years. Although T.I. is far from a studio gangsta — he’s currently in danger of going to jail for trying to buy machine guns from a federal agent in a Walgreens parking lot — his raps sound like he’s run them past a tribunal headed Young Jeezy and Jay-Z for approval before they pass his lips. However, unlike Jeezy’s tendency to punctuate every third word with an exuberant “Yeah!” Tip’s flows are without a nod or wink as he bridges choruses together.
For all his failings, however, T.I. can craft one hell of a fun album. The “Numa Numa”-sampling “Live Your Life” is T.I. at his finest, with an all-too-rare playful spirit breaking through his mostly unsmiling verses, giving his swaggering, boastful drawl something to wrap itself around. The unquestionable high point is the Danja-produced “No Matter What,” which cruises close to “Shoot Me Down” with its bluesy organ beat. T.I. reaches a kind of unsettlingly synergistic relationship to the track and shies away from stupid boastfulness.
He also is uncharacteristically self-reflective throughout the album, dropping Alcoholics Anonymous-referencing gems like: “Wonder how I face years and I’m still chillin? / Easy — let go and let God deal with it.” On the other end of the spectrum, though, as evidenced by the brainless “Porn Star,” Tip hits all the right notes as he coasts over a childish concept and track.
Whatever faults his premises have — and there are many — his execution is pitch-perfect. It’s almost unfair to criticize T.I. for anything. He is so self-actualized and so on-point that calling his aspirations substandard is pointless. While his too-cool-for-school persona can at times be tiresome, he does what he does well so often and so precisely that he can be forgiven for his lack of imagination and, perhaps, celebrated for it.