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Greatest Southern Artists of all Time


Words Wally Sparks / Photo Eric Johnson



5 ESSENTIAL T.I. TRACKS T.I. “Dope Boyz” I’m Serious 2001 T.I.’s core audience identifies with this hustler’s anthem the most. T.I. “Still Ain’t Forgave Myself” I’m Serious 2001 It’s rare for any 20 year old male to have the insight to pour his heart into a song like T.I. did here, painting a vivid picture of his life in rhyme. T.I. f/ Beenie Man “I’m Serious” I’m Serious 2001 At a time when the Neptunes were synonymous with Jay-Z, Nore, Busta Rhymes, and Ray J, a young, pompous, arrogant son of a hustler spit some of the most boastful rhymes ever on one of their rawest beats to date. T.I. “Rubberband Man” Trap Muzik 2003 This was the breakthrough song for both T.I. as a rapper and David Banner as a producer; the track that made everyone outside the South take notice. T.I. “Motivation” Urban Legend 2004 If this “fuck the haters” joint doesn’t motivate you, nothing will.


t’s been said that hustlers are of a different breed. It’s also been said that you can’t learn to be a hustler; you have to be born one. Enter Clifford Harris Jr., better known in today’s rap climate as the Southern lyrical sharpshooter T.I.

I clearly remember the first two times I ever heard T.I. on wax. One was on a song by an extremely important and underrated Atlanta rap group called P.A. (Parental Advisory). Their album My Life Yo Entertainment contained a song called “Down Flat,” and the second verse, by some kid named T.I. grabbed my attention. “Here go another fat, cut of that, G shit in another rap, now I done made me another track tighter than them other cats.” Now, what’s so special about that line? Nothing, really, when you read it on paper. But if you’d heard it delivered in a fluid manner with staccato cadence, you would’ve been rewinding like I was. The second time was while flipping through stations in Atlanta. I heard a remix of a popular R&B song at the time, Co-Ed’s “Roll With Me,” which featured T.I. Just like the P.A. song, I was immediately taken aback by how well T.I.’s nimble rhymes were bouncing all over this slow R&B groove. First and foremost, my impression of T.I. was as a dope MC. Regardless of his subject matter, the guy could flat-out spit. He was nice. Dumb nice, as they would say in New York. After hearing both of those songs I was ready to hear more, but I couldn’t find any more music featuring T.I. In 2001, I made one of the most important music purchases of my life. I’d become bored with hearing Cash Money, No Limit, Three 6 Mafia, and Lil Jon in the clubs. I was ready for something new; something fresh. From the first time I listened to T.I.’s debut I’m Serious, I felt as if I was listening to something important. It was a changing of the guard. My thoughts were solidified when I

reached the final track on that album, “Grand Royal.” All throughout the album I was smirking at the idea that this kid had the audacity to call himself the King of the South. But on this particular song, he said something that let me know that T.I. really believed what he was saying: “King of da South, labeled as one of the greatest when it comes to the flow / I can give a damn what you think cause if the legends of the South ain’t complainin’ / Why in the hell or the fuck would I care what you sayin’?” That’s when I was sure T.I. was going to be around for a long time.

ways, but his buzz was still growing at a blistering pace. His debut album continued to sell, and sell, and sell some more - without any label support, and virtually no promotion. Once the word got out that T.I. was a free agent, a super bidding war ensued.

Not everyone was so quick to embrace T.I., however. Many felt that he wasn’t qualified to claim the throne to the South on his first album, but regardless of their opinion, he still got everyone’s attention. A hustler by nature with a knack for creative marketing ideas, there’s two things T.I. does best: talk enough shit to grab everyone’s attention, and rap well enough to back up all the shit he talks.

Fully aware of his worth, T.I. was able to negotiate a deal which included four singles (with videos) for his next album. His sophomore release, Trap Muzik, was top priority at his new home, Atlantic Records. The commercial success of his breakthrough single, the David Banner-produced “Rubberband Man,” was matched by an album full of introspective lyrics and beats hard enough for any trap. Other notable Trap Muzik cuts like “Let’s Get Away” and “I Still Luv You” showed his versatility.

Four years later, T.I. has one platinum and two gold albums to his credit, so it seems as if my hunch was right. Now one of the biggest stars in hip-hop, T.I. has become a leader of the pack. The raw truth and emotion in his lyrics has helped him earn the respect of older fans and the attention of the younger fans. One of T.I.’s strongest qualities as a rapper is the fact that he never turns his back on his core audience. He’s dedicated to representing the code of the streets, informing hustlers how to get money legally. He never forgets where he came from, and that’s why his fans always come back for more. Although radio-friendly joints are a necessity, T.I.’s always got something for the hustlers. And even though he often brags about material possessions, he also voices the internal struggles of a hustler in a way that only a former dope boy could. Like most Southern artists, T.I. knows how to make money the independent way. He was initially signed to Arista, but the label’s president was abruptly relieved of his job shortly after he was signed. T.I. and Arista eventually parted

With a sharp hustler’s intuition, T.I. and his cohorts took to the street to capitalize on his rapidly growing buzz, releasing three volumes of his self-produced In The Streets mixtape series. The success of this mixtape series turned the heat up on the continuous bidding war for T.I.

Not feeling any effects of the sophomore jinx, Trap Muzik has sold over 700,000 copies to date and is still selling consistently. With his third album Urban Legend currently tearing up the charts, T.I. has been earning comparisons to some of the all-time greats in the rap game. Most notably, Pharrell referred to T.I. as the “Jay-Z of the South.” T.I.’s confidence is often interpreted as arrogance, and over the years he’s accumulated more than one enemy in the rap game. In 2004, T.I. settled a petty misunderstanding with Ludacris and the DTP camp and entered into a war of words with Lil Flip. T.I. emerged the victor in the battle, strengthening his claim as King of the South. He’s soothed over the tension with some of his former rivals and forged informal partnerships with other respected Southern lyricists like Scarface and Trick Daddy. And as T.I. pointed out years ago, if they don’t mind that he calls himself the King of the South, why should you? OZONE APR 2005


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