T.I. is one of the greatest, most charismatic rappers of all time, with a flow that's equal parts dexterity and twang; he's the urban cowboy who's yet to lose a duel. He's one of my favorite rappers, full-stop.
Jeezy, with his ghastly growl and tomes of bite-sized wisdom, is a Grown-Ass-Man since birth, and a trap messiah. Alex Russell will be going to bat for him here, below.
As of their last respective albums, T.I. and Jeezy, two Atlanta trap pioneers, have matured into a twilight stage of their respective careers. Paperwork led with an amazingly quirky street single, “About the Money,” but faltered due to label micromanagement and scattershot production that even the project’s executive producer, Pharrell, admitted was desperate for radio play. Meanwhile Jeezy dropped one of the strongest rap projects of 2014, Seen It All, a late-career memoir that celebrates his place among rap's guiding elders.
Jeezy, 34, is still an ear to the streets. T.I., also 34, is meanwhile drifting away from rap to television, with him, his wife, and his kids having starred in family reality shows on MTV and VH1. They're dissimilar cuts of identical cloth. They're Atlanta's last two cowboys. Which of them did it better? Let's talk it out.
CHARITY: What was most captivating about most of the Southern hip-hop of my childhood was the bass, lingo, and various drawls. In 2003, T.I. came with all of that, plus he was the most dexterous rapper since Andre and the slickest personality since Big Boi. T.I. raps like a cowboy salesman of luxury sports cars, even when he's pitching to your heartstrings and appealing to the humanity of outsiders. Trap Muzik is the preservation of a time when Down South beatmakers were heaping dust upon the golden-era's legacy of squirrely soul samples and redundant "Funky Drummer" loops, all while Down South rappers were also upping their rhyming and songwriting to best the likes of New York contemporaries Ja Rule, 50 Cent, and Jay Z.
With "Rubber Band Man" and "Trap Musik," Tip was the beginning of New York's ending, and to this day, that spree has never really let up. Urban Legend, King, Paper Trail—Tip's albums got bigger and more extravagant throughout the '00s, without betraying the vicious simplicity at his core: I'm smarter than you and could end your life, but it's all love otherwise. His voice was unprecedented, and his record is unblemished. Iggy aside.
ALEX: OK, here's the thing, Justin. Most of what you just said about T.I. can also be said about Jeezy. Sure, Tip had his first moment a little earlier (read: "I'm 22 and a vet in the game."). But by 2005, the Atlanta trap wave was just hitting its crest, and that came in the form of Jeezy's debut album. That's when you started to see snowman shirts on middle schoolers, in, say, Tucson, Ariz. Where Tip had succeeded in a Jay Z-like subtlety, Jeezy was all about stating fact, simple and plain. He may not have been as "slick" as Tip, but his delivery seemed to make more sense with the production style of the era.
Every punchline of Jeezy's hit harder because it was so matter-of-fact, like: "This is the case." He was a minimalist. He was able to set the scene with such few words: "Red paint. Insides peanut butter. They seeing me. But I don't see them suckas." That shit sounds like haiku, dog.
CHARITY: Pitting T.I. against Jeezy is pitting a wordsmith against a minimalist, for sure. Your argument that Tip thrives by subtlety and a sort of antiquation, however, sells both men short. Jeezy is louder, and he is blunt; and that overall steez sold at a premium in '05-'08. T.I. is a superior vintage, is all. He's conquered soul samples, he's conquered trap, and as a bonus, he bounces. Over any style of production, no one raps as precisely as T.I., certainly not Jeezy, who has inferior versatility and fewer dimensions than even Rick Ross. Don't get me started on Tip's pop and R&B crossover stats, which are untouchable. Meanwhile Jeezy's best-ever rap feature is on Kanye's "Can't Tell Me Nothing," and all Jeezy does on that song is laugh out loud and shout about money. Take that as a metaphor, if you will.
ALEX: Jeezy elevated the ad-lib, if he didn't essentially invent it. I mean, he got away with saying "An ad-lib here, an ad-lib there. Fuck it, ad-libs everywhere." Meanwhile, T.I. was otherwise occupied beefing with leprechauns. Lucky charms aside, it's dangerous to try to be dismissive of the influence of his ad-libs. "Can't Tell Me Nothing" was straight up inspired by that energy, and the fact that Jeezy only had to "laugh out loud and shout about money" on the song is powerful. And I would argue that his best-ever rap feature was not that Kanye song but "Amazing," a year later. It was the pinnacle "rap event" on that album. All the spirit had built up into the cathartic release of him saying, "If I ain't on my grind, then what you call that."
Tip's later work largely rode the coattails of new creatives—look at "About the Money." That is quite clearly a Young Thug song. Though he may not have five sides you can engage, Jeezy has a track record of sticking to his guns aesthetically and bringing some of the best collaborative work out of others, rather than vice versa. Case in point: "Put On." Another case in point: "Seen It All."
CHARITY: Ad-lib champ. A minor title, no?
Listen, T.I. has four tremendously gratifying projects under his belt, which is two albums more than can be said for Jeezy, who, “R.I.P.” and Seen It All aside, had been coasting on tour money and unemployment checks since The Recession. Jeezy, who dropped like 19 mixtapes to stopper the delay of an album that ultimately wasted features from Jay Z and Andre 3000, together on the same track! Thug Motivation dropped 10 years ago, and it’s been mehhhhhhhh-hill ever since, withstanding the occasional mixtape flourish that keeps Jeezy's pilot lit between proper album releases. Make no mistake, Jeezy is a guru, and he is a trap legend. However, he’s also a person of limited dimensionality and sharply perishable returns, much like Bun B or, dare I say, your boy Future.
ALEX: As to your T.I. album count, I’ll give you the first three, but get Paper Trail way out of there. "Live Your Life" makes me want to stop living life. And if you’re trying to pull the “one hot album every 10-year average” mathematics out on Jeezy, be easy, as your boy T.I. would say. The Inspiration and Recession can hardly be touched. That leaves us three and three, album-wise.
Calling “I Do” anything but phenomenal makes no sense, even if we’re talking about its features. They channeled the energy of Andre’s “International Player’s Anthem” verse into a song about settling down as grown-ass men with children, and it was one of the least corny approaches to that subject rap has ever heard. I get the lack of dimensionality, but here’s what’s compelling about Jeezy: He may not be showing different sides of himself, but no one wants to see soft Jeezy. Every time he drops an album, it’s to elevate the dope boy mythology that surrounds him. Each time, it gets more epic. Eventually, he’s achieved a status where a collaboration like “Seen It All” works.
And as to your shots at Future, you only get half a bar: Just live your life.