The Battle of Clifford Harris
“Listen kid. Understand me here. This is Lyor Cohen. You better treat this company with some respect. You better not be playin’ with my motherfuckin’ money.”
As that sound bite drowns out in the middle of an aptly titled Act III, a chuckle begins to formulate and take precedence over the Just Blaze and Caviar beat. And while one may speculate who exactly it is making that nonchalant gurgle, it comes as no surprise that Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. is the one behind both the laughter and the anger seemingly created within the chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group’s U.S. branch, Cohen himself.
Harris—or as most people know him, T.I.—has a lot to giggle about lately. In addition to his recent successful ventures on the big screen, T.I.’s musical career is striving. While already having won everything from Grammy awards to Billboard awards, to countless ASCAP awards, the rubber band man himself may have just reached the peak of his musical efforts with his latest release T.I. vs. T.I.P.
Here, he overshadows any work he has previously done by keeping his Southern hip-hop roots intact while putting just enough attention on the hooks that one could easily find half of these songs that paint T.I. vs. T.I.P’s canvas on your favorite Hot 100 radio station. And he does it better than he has ever been able to do it before.
“Don’t You Wanna Be High” and “Show It to Me” (featuring an unlikely cameo from Nelly) are two songs that you will hear this summer regardless of if you actually go out and buy the album. While the former’s feel-good vibe is relaxing enough to appeal to even the oldest of old music fans, the latter’s aggressive, up-tempo drive backed by a live band (see Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got) promises that this jubilant track will hit the retirement home at TRL sometime soon. Besides, who would have thought someone could ever make Nelly sound interesting again?
The album’s first two singles “Big Shit Poppin’ (Doin’ It)” and the Wyclef Jean-accompanied “You Know What It Is” keep Harris’ credibility in tact. The first single’s repetitive nature is the epitome of what has made Southern hip-hop so successful. “You Know What It Is” follows that up with a forceful tone and a screeching former Fugee that refuses to shut up. The track’s violent feel only increases with the constant siren acting up in the backdrop.
But it’s songs like “Help Is Coming” and “Respect This Hustle” that remind the hardcore hip-hop fans why they like T.I. so much. On both tracks his constant boasting reflects a lot of what hip-hop’s pioneers KRS-One and Melle Mel perfected—letting you know that they are better than you. Lines like “I ain’t in it for the fame, I ain’t in it for the glory, I’m dyin’ to die for it” and “Say hello to the man who will save hip-hop” perfectly combine the new-wave of Down-South hip-hop and old-wave of respect for the art. Think Grandmaster Flash growing up in Atlanta.
Then, of course, there is the T.I. vs. T.I.P guest spots. This is where Harris outdoes himself. Considering he left collaborations with Justin Timberlake, Andre 3000, Ciara, Akon, R. Kelly, and Lil’ Wayne off of the record, the ones he left on had to be enormous right? Wrong. They were colossal. In addition to Wyclef’s two tracks and Nelly’s aforementioned cameo, T.I. splits time with the two greatest rappers alive: Eminem on “Touchdown” and Jay-Z on “Watch What You Say to Me”.
After spending some time out of the limelight, “Touchdown” proves to be the perfect way to re-introduce Mathers into mass pop culture. Here, Shady shocks everybody by producing a verse that bleeds Southern authenticity, filtered with lines that contain drawl and words that are presented with twang. Then, recently out of the retirement home, Carter reminds the world of his grown-man status by adding lines that criticize the dark side of what has become Urban America on “Watch What You Say to Me”. Without these two mega-stars, both tracks most definitely would have faded into hip-hop obscurity.
So again, T.I. has a lot to giggle about. While he will star in another movie set to be released this fall, and three more in 2008, Harris has come a long way from initially snapping back as the rubber band man. And now, with another hip-hop masterpiece under his belt, maybe Cohen can have a laugh himself as well.