Ok, let’s try this again, shall we? From the department of redundancy, T.I. is (nearly) once again a free man and while Hip-Hop will celebrate the return of one of its more successful and controversial entities, a cloud of doubt remains present. In fact, one question in particular will follow Tip the second he steps from behind prison walls. Will he ever reclaim his prominence from yesteryear? First and foremost, let’s lay it all on the line. The Grand Hustle general has had a career reserved for a select few highlighted by mulit-platinum albums, a clothing line and ventures into acting.
Yet, the self-proclaimed “Kang’s” last dominate run was nearly three years ago, following the release of Paper Trail and his Road To Redemption TV show which, at the time, worked to near perfection. And even then, it was a brief moment of accomplishment through a series of setbacks that started nearly two years earlier with the über-documented death of Philant Johnson, his long time best friend whom he often referred to as a brother. Since then, a year behind bars, below average comeback run in 2010 which culminated in another year behind bars has seen consumer confidence plummet in a brand that once appeared unshakable.
This isn’t to say Tip’s career is toe-tagged, because it isn’t. Clifford and Michael Vick have been joined at the hip in recent years for personal mistakes causing for their respective unscrupulous falls from grace. An obsessive dedication to his craft and personal life has Vick $100M richer and the owner of an image that appears to be all but resuscitated. For T.I., returning to his craft’s Mount Olympus is one in the same. He made mention of it in his final letter from the pen, but treating himself as if he were a new artist is how Tip’ll have to approach his return to rap. There can’t be this unwillingness to get his hands dirty like there was last year when he released the largely uninspired and thrown together Fuck A Mixtape, a compilation which felt like more of an obligation for the rapper than gift to his fans.
Between making sure his small army of kids are ready to return to school and Tiny’s squared away, locking himself in the studio and somehow channeling a Down With The King 2, or some variation of it, has to be done. Also, working with up and coming talent in the “A” like Alley Boy, Trouble and the entire DTE camp would be a good look, as would jumping on the “I’ma Boss (Remix)” if Meek Mill does, indeed, reach out. In a perfect world, a dominant showing on that record would do for him what “Hustle Hard” did for Weezy when he was trying to get his rhyming legs back underneath him. And as for production needs, someone please lock him in the studio with DJ Toomp and Burn One, who had about two or three beats tailor made for T.I. on The Ashtray.
Another thing going for T.I. is his versatility. That being said, the last thing needed at this moment is another “I fucked up, but I’m human, y’all” type track. It was sincere and genuine in 2008, outdated in 2010 and has absolutely no country for recording studios in 2011 and beyond. The past is the past and if understanding that one more legal mishap could likely cost him everything, including his career, is not yet drilled in his head, then maybe we’re all just wasting our time. The fan in me who believes Trap Muzik is a sacred album and that T.I., at least at one point, was the best rapper in the game, wants to believe he’s aware of the importance and urgency that is this stage of his career. Still young with a story and troubled life unique to only his deep-fried Southern drawl, Clifford Harris still has something to provide Hip-Hop.
Everything Tip touches from this point forward though, he has to sound like his ribs are touching. Because, ultimately, how hungry he is will determine if the public’s appetite can match what he’s serving.