T.I. vs. T.I.P.

(Grand Hustle/Atlantic; 2007)

By Mark Abraham | 18 July 2007

If ever you were sitting around your house wishing, "gee. I wish more artists would write songs about the paperwork they're forced to do to be musicians," this is the album for you. You thought "Jenny from the Block" was funny? You died at the unintentional hilarity of "Glamorous"? Waiting with baited breath for the reunion of the two Coreys? T.I. has gone and done something I never thought he would do: he's released the equivalent of a Mischa Barton vanity rap album. There are gunshots firing in the background of these tracks; I hear them signaling the beginning of a short race to career irrelevance. T.I.P. tells us he "didn't sign up for this shit." Which shit? Pass the T.P. So: T.I.P., the hip hop artist we've come to know and love for his guttural flow pivots and ability to make hustling sound romantic battles the administrative business tycoon he's grown into, T.I. Why T.I. is the suit and T.I.P. the sweat (the only reference I'll make to Nelly's guesting on "Show It to Me") when T.I.P. is the one pushing paper in "Act I: T.I.P." and T.I. is the name associated with "Rubberband Man" and "What You Know" I don't know. I don't want to know. I don't want to try and figure it out, because the concept is so weak that it's painful to even think about. The videos for "Big S**t Poppin' (Do It)" (his censorship; not mine) and "You Know What It Is" make the simple duality so confusing--one is wearing sunglasses! One isn't! This puzzle is cracked!--that trying to parse it through the lyrics of these songs where it's barely mentioned in the first place is migraine-inducing. Is he reacting to the fact that people like "What You Know" more than "I'm Talking to You"? That would at least make sense. Those two singles represent a real dichotomy in T.I.'s approach. These two do not, and it's not just because T.I.P. gets both singles as if Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) hadn't already provided a ready-made template for this kind of maneuver. "Big S**t Poppin' (Do It)" is a fun but disposable secondary album track. It would sound good between singles, but it just doesn't bear the weight that "What You Know" or "Rubberband Man" did, whatever my problems with the former or the incendiary nature of the latter. This track is just T.I.P. talking about being T.I. Or T.I.P. Or something. I keep getting lost. Basically he's just talking about himself, lost in the indulgence of self-aggrandizement without any clear idea of why he's decided to swag himself beyond the fact that I guess he feels he's reached that point in his career. His hero Jay-Z's fifth album was about a lot of the same things. Except that, y'know, The Blueprint (2000) was awesome. "You Know What It Is" is also not "What You Know" though it fares better than anything else on the album, the beat a carefully crafted funk gem from Wyclef Jean. It's the only song where T.I.(P.) keeps a little of that old swagger in his lilt and avoids the world-weary I'm-too-old-for-this-shit-drawl. Because he's not Tom Waits, though "Watch What You Say to Me"'s hook may trick you for a moment. Jay-Z shows up to wow us, which he kind of does, and then T.I.P. tells us about how his lawyer is already paid. Again: which persona is the businessman? Oh: it's the one who raps over violins! T.I. tells us "Help Is Coming." The help I was hoping for wasn't soundtracked by hockey organs. And then we get our booties down for a bit, T.I. the pop magnate shilling for our sexy selves. None of these tracks hits "Big Pimpin'" (and, uh, I can't believe I just wrote that, 'cause I hate "Big Pimpin'"). Most of "Act II: T.I." is obsessed with material possessions--again, weird, 'cause how does T.I. find the time to be so fly when he has to deal with all of the paperwork that T.I.P. was complaining about earlier? This is the usual filler of a T.I. album, 'cept here, lumped all together, it's particularly grating, proving nothing except that businessmen have nothing to rap about. I've got a solution for your tragic personal psychology: hire a manager. (Okay--I kind of like the track with Nelly in the same guilty way I like "Country Grammar." Shut up. Dude says he's going to make my "g-spot leak"! Even funnier is third single "Touchdown," which is mostly notable for Eminem trying to sound like T.I.) "Act III: T.I. vs. T.I.P. The Confrontation" isn't much of a confrontation since it lasts for less than 2 minutes and ends with T.I. dismissing T.I.P.: "I'm done talking to you." The three songs that follow are supposed to represent both personalities, I guess, though there is very little interaction, and the lyric sheet (yes, the album comes with a fucking libretto) doesn't shed much light. And if there was no resolution, that would be fine. It's just that there's no conflict in the first place. And while there's certainly a shitload of music hear, there's a dearth, rap or trap or otherwise, worth getting excited about. You wanna see the story I think this album is supposed to tell? Watch Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale during the first three seasons of The Wire. You wanna hear a mediocre hip hop album with a few decent songs? That's the T.I. I've come to know and love.