T.I., Trap Muzik (2003)
Label: Grand Hustle, Atlantic
While King marked T.I.'s first major crossover, and Paper Trail his ultimate pop moment, his reputation was built upon the strength of his sophomore record, 2003's Trap Muzik. After a disappointing debut found him dropped from Arista, Tip returned to the mixtape circuit, building buzz in Atlanta before finally releasing his second LP on the back of major regional singles "24s" and "Rubberband Man."
Trap Muzik was the moment where T.I. was at his most complex; he was street but intellectual, he was tough and combative but reflective and thoughtful, an unapologetically Southern slur disguising dense, dexterous lyricism. He embodied a lot of contradictions, and it charged his best LP with an elusive power.
There was always the sense with Tip, more than with most rappers before or since, that although he was unafraid to do what was necessary to protect his family, he was also a genuinely moral person—or, at least, he was trying to be. Trap Muzik also marked his claim on the South's throne; "Kingofdasouth" seemed like a bold claim at the time, but within two years he'd be widely credited with ending Lil Flip's career and was well on his way to rap superstardom. - DD