Words by Alex Goodwin
Although this goes without saying, plenty has changed since 2001. Gas was 1.42 cents a gallon, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal guided the Los Angeles Lakers to the second of three consecutive championships, I was in kindergarten terrorizing Mrs. Hobbs and the rest of my classmates.
In addition to the goings on in the sports world and cellar level oil prices, a brash young wordsmith from Atlanta named Clifford Harris, better known as T.I. released his first studio album, I’m Serious. Fast forward 18 years and gas prices are a lot higher, Shaq is a fixture on our high definition televisions as a member of “Inside the NBA,” and I’m now a 23-year-old doctoral student. Like the rest of us, T.I. has evolved as well.
He’s now more known for weaponizing his voluminous vocabulary on social media to tongue wrestle with foes such as Floyd Mayweather and Kodak Black than he is for his lyrical dexterity. However when it’s time to pick up a mic he’s still sharp as ever, as evidenced by his 10th album, 2018’s The Dime Trap. In his nearly two-decade career, he is undoubtedly one of the best MCs to emerge South of the Mason-Dixon line, has lived up to his self anointed title of “King of the South” and even spawned a sub-genre of hip hop known as “trap music.” Here are the best 10 songs in The Kang’s rich 10 album discography.
Here are the songs that just missed the cut:
The Amazing Mr. F*** Up
Dead and Gone
I’m Talking to You
U Don’t Know Me
10. About The Money
By 2014, T.I. was coming into a new role as an elder statesman of the rap game, and there were legitimate questions regarding if he could still produce records that have commercial appeal, as his last two albums Trouble Man and No Mercy bore no singles that were big chart successes. The King put all of those concerns to bed with this Young Thug-assisted banger which peaked at number 12 on the hip hop charts and at 42 on the Hot 100. Produced by frequent Young Thug collaborator LondnonDaTrack, “About the Money” features uber-soulful instrumentation which was the perfect soundbed for Tip and Thug to inform the public that without any discussion of the legal currency, there’s no need for elongated conversation or debate.
9. Live in the Sky
T.I. has always had a rare skill of versatility, having the ability to make music with vast swaths of artists, and having the ability to sound as comfortable on a track with Pimp C as he would with Pink. Another skill possessed by the king is his depth and introspection when the occasion calls for it. This ability was evident on this cut from his fourth album. With the uber-talented Jamie Foxx handling hook singing duties, it allows T.I. to solely focus on offering a heartfelt memoriam to deceased friends and family members. With delivery and cadence similar to 2pac’s, you can feel the emotion and pain in words uttered by the King.
8. Doin’ My Job
For some, it’s an arduous task to give glowing compliments of Kanye West these days without getting more than a few side-eyes. But there is no denying that from 2001-2005 he was one of the rap game’s best producers. After producing classics for Jay Z such as “This Can’t Be Life” and “Takeover,” Kanye branched outside of the Roc-A-Fella Records umbrella to provide T.I. with a sped-up vocal sample from Bloodstone’s “I’m Just Doing My Job.” The chipmunk soul production gave T.I. a perfect sonic canvas to discuss the moral dilemma he quarrels with as a former crack dealer who sold drugs merely to survive day to day. Tip explains that he and his buddies weren’t looking for trouble or to cause disturbances, and with little legal employment opportunities available to him and other children of the Reagan era, they turned to the streets to help keep the lights on any way they could.
7. Bring ‘Em Out
After the success of Trap Muzik, which sold more than a million copies and a high profile beef with Lil Flip, T.I. was one of the South’s hottest MCs. He would keep the heat coming with this Swizz Beatz produced high energy cut from Urban Legend. Built around a vocal sample from Jay Z’s “What More Can I Say,” complemented by a trumpet-centric production fit for an HBCU halftime show, Tip effortlessly displays lyrical prowess without sacrificing commercial appeal, becoming the King of the South’s first top 10 hit.
6. Whatever You Like
As discussed earlier T.I. has faced his fair share of legal issues. However, those scrapes with the law were dull in comparison to his arrest on federal weapons charges in October 2007 hours before the 2007 Bet Hip Hop Awards, put his life and career in serious jeopardy. Facing three decades in prison, T.I. agreed to a plea deal for a reduced one year sentence on the weapons charges. Following his guilty plea Tip returned to the studio to craft one of this biggest hits of career. Produced by Jim Jonsin, who also produced smashes like Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” Whatever You Like” became a crossover hit, landing at number one on the Hot 100, was nominated for a Grammy, and helped the Paper Trail album sell more than one million copies.
5. Live Your Life
Before his arrest, as mentioned above on weapons charges, T.I. regularly waxed poetic about life in the trap, dodging the law, and gratuitous materialism set to trunk-rattling instrumentals. In 2008 his subject matter pivoted to cover new terrain such as being much more thankful about his blessings, how rash decision making had an adverse effect on his life, and perseverance among other themes. I guess a year of house arrest gives a man a ton of time for reflection. This was evidenced on this third single from Paper Trial. Featuring Rihanna on the hook, this Just Blaze produced track peaked at number one on the Hot 100 was the Kings highest charting and most successful single worldwide until his feature on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” in 2013.
4. Rubber Band Man
After the commercial failure of his first album, T.I. and the Grand Hustle team hit the streets, cutting their teeth doing shows all over the south from everywhere like Macon, Georgia to Memphis, Tennesse. After pounding the pavement, Tip got his first authentic taste of national exposure with “Rubber Band Man.” With slick lines synonymizing his recklessness with that of the Taliban under nursery rhyme background vocals and organ driven production from David Banner, “Rubber Band Man” peaked at number 30 on the Hot 100 and established the Bankhead native as one of the South’s best up and coming stars.
3. Swagga Like Us
Very rarely do the biggest names in a given profession collaborate as a unit, and when they do, extraordinary things happen. We’ve seen this occur with the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Big 3 with the Miami Heat, or most recently Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors. Rap had never seen a collaboration like “Swagga Like Us” before with music titans Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Kanye West, and T.I. teaming up on one track. Built on a clever M.I.A. sample, the cast of characters all got busy on the instrumental, but Tip bested them all, giving one of his best lyrical performances of his career. The King’s verse oozed with such an overabundance of charisma, ferocity, and swagger that it left me wanting another 16 bars for Tip to sneer at his opponents.
2. Still Ain’t Forgave Myself
Though his first album didn’t sell well, I’m Serious provided glimpses of what T.I. would later become. Tip flashed his lyrical promise on this the opening track of his debut album. Backed by dense piano chord progressions, the King discusses his adolescent years. He begins by explaining troubled upbringing in which by 7th grade he had “crack rocks in his socks, and Glocks in his toy box,” his first arrest at the age of 16, and despite the fact he is now a success, he cannot reconcile the past life he lived as a drug dealer that resulted in multiple friends ending up dead or in the penitentiary.
1. What You Know
By 2006, DJ Toomp and T.I. were approaching Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre levels of chemistry, after combining for hits such as “24’s,” “U Don’t Know Me,” and “Motivation.” “What You Know” cemented their place among rap’s elite producer-rapper duos of the modern era. Based around a Roberta Flack sample of “Gone Away,” Toomp gifted Tip with a horn-based soundbed to run a metaphorical victory lap around his lyrical opponents. “What You Know” peaked at number three on the Hot 100, was nominated for a Grammy and helped the King album achieve platinum sales. This song is number one and there should be no discussion about it.
Talk about your favorite Tip tracks below and check out this playlist of T.I.’s best work.