I and I Barely Survive

T.I. interrupts a dominant run for some muddled split-personality antics

Since when did T.I. need a shtick? Everything the Atlanta rapper has done thus far has worked superbly—his rugged sensibility and raw aggression appealing to the fellas, his street-yet-sweet style winning over the birds, and last year's King, the only platinum-selling rap record of 2006, charming everyone. But now he claims to have major identity issues, and thus comes the not-so-original concept for his fifth disc, T.I. vs. T.I.P., split into three acts: the first exploring the streetwise gutter kid "T.I.P.," the second fleshing out "T.I." (the flashy TRL guy), and the third conjuring a muddy combination of the two.

Regardless of which persona delivers them, his fans crave cuts heavy on thunderclaps and aggressive, braggadocios catchphrases, which worked wonders on "You Don't Know," "Bring 'Em Out," and "What You Know." Unfortunately, T.I. vs. T.I.P. never trumps those previous hits; the closest it gets is the bow-throwing anthem "Watch What You Say to Me," underscored by a thick, bluesy bassline and a solid verse by Jay-Z, who easily adapts to the album's overarching theme of chastising trash-talkers. Elsewhere, Danja laces a few sonic victories behind T.I.'s signature drawl, pulling the royal trumpets out for the Busta Rhymes collab "Hurt" and Nintendo synths under haunting, operatic vocals on "Tell 'Em I Said That."

The Wyclef-produced second single, "You Know What It Is," is a highlight as well, but mostly for the catchy guitar plucks, island feel, and unforced charisma that improves on bland lead single "Big Shit Poppin'." But another Wyclef joint, "My Swag," is a low point, wherein T.I. raps about jet-setting and rattles off a list of swank countries he's visited while Wyclef sings the hook: "Fly over seven seas/Poppin' bottles with celebrities . . . paparazzi they be follow me." "Rubberband Man," it ain't. On "Touchdown," even Eminem succumbs to bragging about candy-painted rides over jet sounds and his own droning, bouncy beat. T.I. vs. T.I.P. makes for a confusing listen, which is a shame—fans would probably never have questioned who T.I. is until he started questioning himself.

 
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