Available on: self-released mixtape
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does hip-hop. It’s a genre that needs totemic figures to rally around – and its fetishisation of success means that the appearance of popularity often appears to have something of a snowball effect, hype begetting hype until you end up with the kind of ludicrous situation wherein the likes of Drake and Rick Ross are treated as though they are greats of the game.
The rise of Ross, in particular, is arguably a case of a mid-tier rapper upping his work ethic at the right time to fill a void in the market. The past few years have found Jay-Z and Kanye West retreating into a gilded cage in which material luxury is fraught by introspection, Lil’ Wayne fall spectacularly off his mid-decade peak, Drake pursue a sonic and lyrical strategy that feels like being attacked by damp tissue, and emergent rappers such as Lil B and Odd Future trade heavily on outsider reputations. Amid all of this, there’s been little room for the more traditional rapper, one who revels in wealth, status and braggadocio – and Ross has been as well placed to take advantage of this as anyone else.
One name that’s been missing from the conversation has been the former King of the South, T.I. Since 2009, repeated run-ins with the law and spells in jail have given his career something of a stop-start feel; in the wake of his being busted for drugs in 2010, the planned triumphal post-prison album King Uncaged was hastily shelved in favour of the apologetic (and entirely awful) No Mercy.
Tip’s a man with a lot to prove, then – and thankfully, on his first mixtape since being released again last year, he sounds like it. On guest spots in recent months on 2 Chainz’ ‘Spend It’ and a remix of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘Niggas In Paris’, T.I. sounded leaner and hungrier than he had in years – and Fuck Da City Up builds on their promise. It’s a statement of intent: not necessarily staking a reclamation to the throne T.I. left vacant, but leaving hip-hop fans in no doubt that this will soon come.
It’s heavy on Southern fried bangers and unapologetic attitude. “We hurtin’ them folks on purpose… we immaculate on purpose,” Tip sneers, the suave menace of his Georgia accent as irresistible as it was during his peak untouchable years. On ‘I’ll Show You’, he boasts about being “fucked up, intoxicants” as though he had never been arrested with his wife in their car on drugs possession charges. ‘Loud Mouth’ and ‘In A Nutshell’ combine swaggering, ignorant lyrics with swaggering, ignorant hooks: “Sex on the beamer, arrogant demeanour / She say she ain’t freaky, but I turn her like Tina,” drawls Tip, one of the few current male rappers capable of using sexuality as a genuine weapon.
The production, too, is on point: chunky organ riffs (‘Hot Wheels’, “Piss’n On Your Ego’, ‘Pimp’) and trap rhythms dominate, with the overall aesthetic drawing as much on the smoothness of prime UGK as on frantic club bangers – though it’s the twinkling, druggy synths – all crystalline ice drops and bumping bass – of ‘Stunt’n Like A Fool’ that stand as the mixtape’s most ear-catching beat. A laconic funk riff enters midway through ‘On Purpose’ like sunglasses being lowered on one’s face.
In fact, Fuck Da City Up feels an awful lot like summer 2010 did for T.I., when the tracks doing the rounds in advance of the planned King Uncaged album – ‘Yeah Ya Know (Takers)’, ‘Ya Hear Me’, ‘Pledge Allegiance To The Swag’ – appeared to signal a new lease of life, one that combined the rawness of his early years with the commercial immediacy of 2008’s breakthrough album Paper Trail. This mixtape is intended to trail a coming album entitled Trouble Man: let’s hope T.I. manages to stay out of trouble to actually deliver on its promise this time.