They say royalty's got it rough—I guess that's especially true for the kingpins of rap. Claiming top status on last year's masterful King, T.I. now pushes the new product, T.I. vs T.I.P., onto an eager serfdom. Loosely structured around his dual nature (the T.I.P. persona is grimier and hungrier, while mature T.I. is the savvy businessman), the concept shows signs of either 1) serious self-reflection, or 2) delusional self-importance (or, most likely, both). But regardless of whether the dual-personality concept here is contrived or intriguing (again, it's both), the man still knows how to deliver heat.
T.I. is a master when it comes to constructing pleasing bangers. The only (considerable) problem remains the lack of a certain je ne sais quoi. While his signature swagger and menacing vocal presence still intoxicate, and his hard-hitting sonics still pound out the speakers, his strict adherence to rigid formulas is maddening. It's almost worse that there are 18 quality tracks; the sheer number of joints reveals what isn't here—namely, introspection, growth, and vulnerability. Part of the problem is that T.I. vs T.I.P. comes just a year after King's rule over last summer. Like Ghost's More Fish as compared to the superior Fishscales, it's a reprise, at best—at worst, it's like a collection of King table scraps (to be fair, even those scraps are mighty delicious).
The guest list is star-studded but essentially neutralizes itself—Nelly sucks as much as you remember, Eminem phones in a caricature of himself circa 2002, while Jay-Z and Busta display refreshing venom and dexterity for full-bellied dons.
In the end, the album's concept is immaterial. This is simply another collection of unabashed bangers and a few limp slow jams that will neither convert newbies nor alienate diehards. T.I. may be stuck in the same gear, but at least it's full-throttled fourth, and not reverse.
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