If there’s one hip-hop artist has held the crown for 2006 so far, it’s Tip “T.I.” Harris. From starring in motion pictures to selling half a million copies of King in its first week, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” has been on the cover of countless magazines, putting his mark on mainstream America. First, though, T.I. has been a musician, so you’d think he’d put his best foot forward with his fourth full-length.


    In a brilliant move, T.I. decided not to release a soundtrack for his movie, ATL, instead making King the musical focus of the picture. With that, the album served as a solo joint for T.I. while receiving the same push of a movie soundtrack. That may have helped give T.I. the highest-selling debut of his career, but it doesn’t mean it’s his best.


    The record opens with the intro “King Back,” followed by the single “Front Back” featuring UGK, the latter getting points simply for T.I.’s Ric Flair-inspired dance in the video. In fact, some of the best material appears in the beginning of King, with at least five single-worthy songs coming early on, including the Just Blaze-laced “I’m Talkin’ to You,” “What You Know” and “Ride With Me.” Perhaps the biggest song of all, though, will be “Why You Wanna,” which takes a simple Crystal Waters beat and turns it into a surefire summer smash.


    The roster of guest spots features some big names and some strange ones too, at least in terms of what you’d expect from a T.I. album. B.G. and Young Jeezy help out on “I’m Straight,” which is a decent track that further shows how overrated the Snowman is as a rapper. Young Buck and Young Dro also stop by on “Undertaker,” but it’s the Neptunes-produced “Goodlife,” featuring Pharrell and Common, that will likely get your attention. The song features one of Mr. Williams’s profound choruses — “I keep telling myself, Man, I’m living the good life; I’m living the good life” — which does nothing but ruin a great sixteen by Common.


    King lacks an overall cohesiveness or direction. There are some good tracks splattered throughout the album, but eighteen songs is a bit too much here. Luckily for T.I., he has that certain swagger and charisma, almost like a New York artist, to appeal to the fans who once idolized Nas and Big Poppa.


    So is T.I. the reigning king of rap? It depends on how you look at it. As far as sales, marketability and hit singles, perhaps no one has it better than Clifford Harris Jr. But for those who still value concepts, metaphors and hip-hop quotable lyrics, T.I. still has a way to go to earn the crown that rappers such as Christopher Wallace and Nasir Jones have rightfully worn in the past.


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