Rap Twitter wants you to believe T.I. fell off. In the Atlanta rap kingpin’s nearly 20-year career, he’s been acclaimed on both the streets and the charts — often simultaneously — but some fans have found fault with the latter. Despite serving 11 months in federal prison on weapons charges between 2010 and 2011, T.I. isn’t the same dope-slangin’ Rubber Band Man who enjoyed widespread adulation for 2003’s Trap Muzik. More than a decade since that breakthrough, he’s transitioned into a Hollywood name after joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe this summer with a comedic role in Ant-Man. And he’s strategically made his gangsta past an afterthought with pop collaborations like his 2008 Rihanna-featured hit, “Live Your Life,” and, more recently, the legally mired “Blurred Lines.” But it’s T.I.’s controversial affiliation with Iggy Azalea, whom he signed to his label, Grand Hustle Records, in 2012, that’s dealt the greatest blow to his credibility. (Songs like “No Mediocre” certainly did nothing to repair it.)
Perhaps as a way to regain his fans’ trust, today T.I. has surprise-released a new EP, Da’ Nic, which arguably represents his truest return to form since 2008’s Paper Trail.
The five-track EP serves as a precursor to his tenth album, The Dime Trap, reportedly out later this fall. In both a press release and a tweet to a fan, T.I. calls Da’ Nic a “Tip project,” referencing the stage name he abbreviated in the late ‘90s out of respect for Q-Tip, his labelmate at the time. Lyrically, T.I. never abandoned the moniker (“It’s T.I.P. from here on out, fuck that T.I. shit,” he promised on 2007’s “Act I: T.I.P.”), but he hasn’t evoked that early mixtape era of his career since he dropped the name professionally.
It might sound like tall talk, but one listen through Da’ Nic, and it’s more clear than ever that he’s hungry for vindication. On the brazen gangsta-lean (and the EP’s best song) “Ain’t Gonna See It Coming,” he fires the first warning shot: “No, I’m not that old nigga thinkin’ he runnin’ and talkin’ ‘bout what he did back in the day / I’m just as vicious as ever, more brilliant and clever and still ‘bout that action today.”
The rest of the EP’s mission isn’t to prove T.I.’s legacy but to extend it. Da’ Nic establishes that Tip’s dangerous wordplay never died, it was just hibernating while T.I. let his successors — like the polarizing Atlanta star Young Thug, featured on “Peanut Butter Jelly” — keep his seat on Atlanta’s rap throne warm.