CD Release - T.I.: Split personality

The king goes head-to-head with himself

On T.I. vs. T.I.P., T.I. battles himself — literally. Near the end of this schizophrenic album, he stands in front of the mirror and argues violently with the image he sees. “Why can’t you just talk about what’s wrong with you?” says T.I. to his alter-ego, Tip. “Why can’t you just let everything out?”

Why is T.I. angry with himself? The year 2006 was the best of his career. On “You Know What It Is,” T.I.’s new, Wyclef Jean-produced single, he boasts, “Had the album of the year, nigga, Grammy or not.” It’s true: King landed on several publications’ best-of lists and sold more than a million copies, while Ludacris’ Release Therapy drew mixed reviews from critics and fans. But, as Kanye West said during the Grammys this spring, it was Luda’s year, so T.I.’s former rival walked off with the award for Rap Album of the Year.

T.I.’s Bankhead orneriness sometimes bubbles to the surface. It’s visible in interviews, when he speaks in a rushed, clipped patter and rarely takes time to elaborate on his answers. All of his albums include a few brawling, Gangsta Grillz-certified bangers that get the mixtapes popping and polish his ghetto dope image. T.I. calls this seemingly anti-authoritarian persona Tip, his original street name before he began making records as T.I.

T.I. vs. T.I.P. is split into three parts: one section by T.I.P., one from T.I. and a finale where the two sides struggle with each other. It’s reminiscent of the Game’s acclaimed Doctor’s Advocate. Both albums feature thugs awkwardly trying to break out of their hardened shells and achieve introspection. T.I. vs. T.I.P. has its share of memorable songs, but nothing comparable to last year’s instant classic, “What You Know.” DJ Toomp, that track’s producer and T.I.’s longtime collaborator, is nowhere to be found here, and his presence is sorely missed.

Some of the best songs here include “Da Dopeman,” a Gothic homage to NWA’s “Dopeman” produced by Mannie Fresh; “Hurt,” where Timbaland protégé Dainja crafts a Rocky-like theme for T.I.’s and Busta Rhymes’ gun talk; and “Help Is Coming,” where churchy keyboards from Just Blaze help bring T.I. catharsis. He raps, “Got the game on lock/And it ain’t gon’ stop/Say hello to the man who saved hip-hop.”