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The 10 Best Rappers of the 2000s

6. T.I.

Albums Released Between 2000-2009: I'm Serious (2001), Trap Muzik (2003), Urban Legend (2004), King (2006), T.I. vs T.I.P. (2007), Paper Trail (2008)
Classic Mixtape: In Da Streets Pt. 1 (2002), Down With The King (2004)
Group Albums: Grand Hustle Presents: In Da Streetz Volume 4 (2006)
Biggest Billboard Hits Between 2000-2009: "Whatever You Like," "Live Your Life f/ Rihanna," "Dead and Gone f/ Justin Timberlake," "What You Know," "Bring 'Em Out"

On March 28, 2006, T.I.'s fourth album, King, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts. It was a rare moment when self-aggrandizing hip-hop hyperbole met unassailable fact: Tip crowned himself ruler, and by measures both objective (sales) and subjective ("relevance," critical acclaim), he was right. In the pre-leak era of album releases, T.I. reached for the throne with gusto, employing New York's producer of the moment (Just Blaze, on "King Back"), nodding to his Southern forebears (UGK on "Front Back"), and re-affirming his already classic single ("What You Know")—just in the album's first three tracks.

 

King was the culmination of a long-building moment: when the capital of hip-hop in the South became the capital of hip-hop period and the King of the South became simply the King.

 

King was the culmination of a long-building moment: when the capital of hip-hop in the South became the capital of hip-hop period and the King of the South became simply the King. It had been in the works for a Hotlanta minute. The A had been outshining New York for years, and T.I. had been gunning for the crown since his sophomore album Trap Muzik made a surprise debut at No. 4 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 2003. Still, it was a clear demarcation point: an MC who was both undeniably lyrical and undeniably Southern was the undeniable king of rap.

At his rappingest best, as on his seminal Lil Flip-ethering mixtape Down With the King, T.I. worked with a barely controlled sneer. The ferocity of his delivery threatened to derail his flow at any moment, only to be brought back from the precipice of battle rap chaos by his craftsmanship. Tip's ability to ride beats until the wheels fell off (and then charge on for another couple blocks with the axles kicking up sparks off the pavement) coupled with his distinctive Southern twang often overshadowed his studied approach to rhyming. Internal rhymes, syllabic dexterity, the wittiest wordplay—T.I. possessed every tool in the MCing 101 handbook. He also possessed (in spades) the one element essential for the greats, the one that you can't teach or study: pure, natural, imperial swagger. — Jack Erwin

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