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T.I.

Urban Legend (Atlantic)

Some time last year, a short war of words broke out between T.I. and Houston's rising star, Lil' Flip. As claims escalated and the disses piled up, the two rappers both began claiming King of the South status. Ludacris took this disregard for his two platinum albums personally and started clapping back. Meanwhile, G-Unit's Young Buck slated both Luda and T.I. for guest spots on a track on his upcoming album. Though another rapper replaced T.I. on the final version, the first cut of "Stomp" had the two Atlanta MCs firing at each other on the same track. Ludacris' disses were calculated and witty, four lines interpolating the hook from T.I.'s biggest hit. But T.I. saw the bigger picture; instead of phoning in some bars and ending with a big, obvious shot, he dropped an entire hot verse with a quick slap to his enemy buried in the middle.

Urban Legend works much the same way, forgoing gimmicks and relying on T.I.'s strengths. Though Lil Jon, Nelly and Pharrell all show up, the big names don't appear until well into the album. The first six songs are masterpieces, with T.I. flowing effortlessly about ascending from rags to riches and brushing off haters over some ill, anonymous bounce. "ASAP" and the sincere "Praying for Help" leave such an impression that they outshine the rest of the album. By the time Nelly shows up with the strippers for "Get Loose," it seems cheap. Nothing on Urban Legend is bad; "What They Do" (with ex-Cash Money rapper B.G.) and "My Life" (with Daz, of the Dogg Pound) are definite high points. But T.I. finds his comfort zone early, and no amount of commercial rap tricks can improve on his formula.

 
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