Even caged the king still reigns.
It all seems like yesterday when the 'Rubberband Man' Clifford 'Tip' Harris expanded his reach from the music hotbed ATL to the charts hot 100. Still seven albums and several prison bids later T.I. has risen beyond the ranks of the 'King of the South' to reign over the entire hip-hop industry. Even in prison T.I. still displays that Jay-Z/Drake esque swagger with the release of his latest album. Originally planned to be a release party in more ways than one 'King Uncaged' avoided irony by changing it's name to 'No Mercy' and with a more sombre, reflective black and white album cover the rapper delves deep into his bag of tricks and hits. For the imprisoned Tip the merciless are the bars he spits and the competition on the outside.
T.I.'s back against the wall, tunnel vision, take no prisoners approach begins with 'Welcome To The World'. A new classic for the rapper assisted by two special K's, Kanye West and his protegee Kid Cudi. Over one of Kanye's best beats and raps of the year (there's been a lot of good stuff from 'ye too) it's T.I. that steps it up with each stuttering, swaggering verse. His 'I'm Serious' rapping is perfectly complimented by a great, focused chorus and bridge by West and Cudi respectively. Again as this album starts you can clearly hear that T.I's personal problems haven't finished him off as he steps up his rap game rhyming, "It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the World of/fast money/flashy cars/big guns/undone/threw away for the love of the game/I don't need a chain or the fame/still shine/spend time with the girls of fake smiles/broken hearts trying hard in the club looking for her real love/you won’t find it here". His swaggers at a 100, thousand million now hey Kanye?
Kanye isn't the only super producer who offers up some of his best work for the ATL's finest. Pharrell and The Neptunes give their long time collaborator one of their best choices with the instantly addictive 'Amazing'. The beat and Pharrell's hook are ridiculously radical, while T.I.'s supreme swagger ensures that even when this song reaches the five minute mark it's still addictive, itching to be rapped along too.
Another standout is the flossy 'Poppin' Bottles' with Drake. From the first second the best is as cool as a cold Toronto night as these two city slickers head to heat up the club. A place where this song is guaranteed to be dropped for awhile. As the needle hits the record you can't tell which is better, this or the Tip assisted Drake track 'Fancy'. Both are exactly that. Oh they fancy huh?
T.I. also heads back to the studio for more time with Eminem. With the dark 'That's All She Wrote' the pair murder their verses like Angela Landsbury was on the case. They aim to take off even higher than their last impressive 'Touchdown' in 2007. Speaking of collabos T.I. crosses over to the pop mainstream yet again. After his 'Dead & Gone' hit with Justin Timberlake T.I. bridges his 'Castle Walls' with J.T's old flame Christina Aguilera. What results is an even deeper more introspective cut. A collaboration gamble that will pay off in yet even more record sales.
The rest of the albums guest spots are on point too. T.I. furthers his depth with the albums title track, awaking the senses with The-Dream. The trap star brings more quality 'muzik' with Chris Brown. The two troubled stars rebound with 'Get Back Up' and redemption has never sounded so cool. On 'How Life Changed' T.I. finally gets together with his mentor Scarface and the two kings play their best hands for a royal flush.
Even when T.I. goes it alone he sees the 'Big Picture' the next bid DJ Toomp collaboration (See 'Look What I Got', 'No Matter What' etc, etc). With big numbers like this and the roll call 'Salute' and on 'Everything On Me' the rapper goes all in, everything or nothing and he comes up big. Apart from some perhaps reaching references to Tupac and Princess Diana Tip's lyrics make a point. Even with six albums prior T.I.s seventh seal is a set of fresh, inventive bangers. 'Lay Me Down' with Rico Love is a real foot mover with kinetic, off beat Jim Jonsin production. The backing track and T.I.s flow are reminiscent of his early days.
Still in the present with his future uncertain T.I. raps like there is no tomorrow. This album is great but amongst T.I's best ('Trap Muzik', 'T.I vs. T.I.P' and 'King') it lies somewhere just underneath, filed alongside his 'Paper Trail'. Still this king sounds as regal as ever whilst his 'Urban Legend' is continued to be wrote. TIM DAVID HARVEY.