Music

On ‘The L.I.B.R.A.,’ T.I. Celebrates His Run While Passing The Torch

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It takes a lot of confidence to declare oneself a “legend.” It likely takes a lot more to say one is “running” any city, state, or other location with which one is affiliated. But it takes an abundance of talent, hard work, and longevity to stake a claim to both of those conditions at once and uphold a pretty reasonable argument. Fortunately for T.I., whose 11th studio album, The L.I.B.R.A. (The Legend Is Back Running Atlanta), he’s got not only the requisite confidence to employ such a lofty album, but he’s also got the track record to — mostly — justify it.

Before any T.I. stans take up arms on behalf of the 40-year-old Atlanta rap veteran/trap rap pioneer, here’s an explanation for that “mostly.” Far from intending any offense, that “mostly” is buttressed by a recent revolution in the musical style T.I. freely admits he had help in inventing. The current sound is far removed from the subgenre he, Gucci Mane, and (then-Young) Jeezy carved out of the Peach State’s rich red soil. It’s been reinvented, reinterpreted, remixed, and utterly upended by mad scientists like Future, Migos, and Young Thug, who’ve added melody, vocal experimentation, and a whole constellation of new star producers whose approaches are wildly different from those of DJ Toomp, Jazze Pha, and Lil Jon.

Yet, to his credit, T.I. has remarkably kept pace with the rapidly-changing landscape in a way he might sneer at New Yorkers and Los Angelenos for being (mostly) unable to. While up north city dwellers rail against the various metamorphoses of the Big Apple sound and West Coasters remain locked in a G-Funk haze, T.I. and his Dirty South compatriots have shepherded their newcomers, proving adaptable and generous in sharing their spotlight rather than desperately grasping onto their last vestiges of relevancy.

So yes, mostly. T.I. hasn’t had a No. 1 peak since 2008’s Paper Trail and while he’s been critically praised in recent years, his last handful of projects haven’t been as fervently received by younger fans who are more likely flock to his successors’ releases, as is so often the case in hip-hop. But he’s aged gracefully and more importantly, used his platform to bestow his blessing on future generations of potentially game-changing stars. While The L.I.B.R.A. seemingly boasts that it’s about T.I. coming back to reclaim his crown nearly a decade and a half after he declared himself King, it’s really about him choosing his successors and graciously passing them the torch.

As he did for then-relative newcomers Young Thug and Nipsey Hussle in 2014 with Paperwork, T.I. demonstrates his gift for recognizing talent here, vouching for budding stars like 42 Dugg and Mozzy with “On The Hood,” acknowledging the lyrical dexterity of the Griselda Clan by pairing Benny with Jadakiss on “Make Amends” and partnering with Conway on “1/2 Ticket,” and even doing his best to make up for giving the world Iggy Azalea by anointing Tokyo Jetz on “Hit Dogs Holla.” He also crowns current stars Lil Baby and 21 Savage, ensuring that their contributions over the past two years are recognized on “Pardon” and “Thank God,” respectively.

As for the “legend” part, T.I. utilizes the age-old adage about being known by your friends to his advantage here, bringing along marble-cast monuments like Jadakiss, Killer Mike, Rick Ross, and Snoop Dogg to accompany him on tracks that speak to his chameleonic ability to rap to damn near anything. He and Snoop are smooth old-school players on “Moon Juice,” while the luxury raps flow like silk on the Rick Ross-featuring “Respect The Code.” T.I. works to show off any many aspects of his personality as possible, including his outspoken — and occasionally misguided — political passions on “How I Feel” with Killer Mike, a song that harkens right back to the early-90s protest rap that had Republicans clutching their pearls.

But the most touching inclusions — and maybe the most significant, since every king needs an heir — are those of T.I.’s kids. On “Family Connect,” he and his son Domani finally collaborate on a song that explains the wait and makes it worth it. T.I. is fond of sharing wisdom with listeners, but with his son as a foil, his advice feels all the more urgent — and somehow, satisfying as well. “Learn to be the thermostat, not the thermometer,” he counsels. It’s not just solid guidance for a son, but for anyone listening — framing it as the former makes it more palatable and poignant.

Then, he cedes the final track to his daughter Deyjah, giving her the final say in their very public 2019 embarrassment over his ill-advised, ill-timed, and possibly misinterpreted joke about her doctor’s visits. “Deyjah’s Conclusion,” rather than rehashing the past or casting around for some pithy insight, instead reflects back the confidence 19 years of living with one of the biggest shit talkers on the planet must impart on someone: “I bet you were expecting to hear something different / Probably hoping I’d serve you some tea more specific to business of ours / But I’m just too gifted to be here on that bullshit you see / Evolution is key, and stagnation ain’t me.” Consider the future to be in excellent hands, indeed.

The L.I.B.R.A. is out now Grand Hustle. Get it here.

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