T.I.’s new six song EP US Or Else, that includes those two tracks, is better than every album he’s dropped since KING. This is the first time in a long time that T.I. sounds like he is trying to say something more than he is trying to sell something.
On T.I.’s first four albums, and the mixtapes that came between, he rapped like man who felt like he had to represent a certain community. The dope boys, the fly blue collar workers, the hustlers with morals, the Southerner. Or as he he rapped on “Motivation” from 2004’s Urban Legend, anybody that was “5-foot-9 with the soul of a 6’4 n*gga” and “the real stand up guys of the A-town.” In essence, he rapped like a man who was out to prove that he could live up to the “King Of the South” title that he bestowed upon himself before he ever sold one record. By the time he released his magnum opus KING in 2006, there was no disputing him. Even Pimp C himself spoke on the album and gave T.I. his blessings. But after he earned the crown, he didn’t do much to advance his kingdom, lyrically. Instead, he sounded trapped in it, trying to convince the rest of us that it was still a cool place to be.
2007’s TI vs TIP, with its big budget rollout and producer roster, sounded like a king flaunting his riches. The audacity of releasing a double album with alter egos proved that. He bounced back the next year with Paper Trail, which wound up being his most successful album to date. But the pop singles and braggadocio had him sounding like he was rapping from a pedestal looking down on the people. A stark contrast from the image of him rapping on the corner in the “Rubberband Man” video. The first half of the apologetic No Mercy was strong, but not good enough to make up for the lackluster second half. 2012’s Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head saw him seeking to regain his footing after coming home from prison while 2014’s Paperwork as a whole was just flat out unentertaining.
But after an uninspired last few years, T.I. sounds urgent again on US Or Else and there are two reasons why. The music is inspired by civil unrest and turmoil that is currently tearing America apart. Two, T.I. is now an independent artist. Meaning that he is back in that space of having to fight his way to the top, again, and free to say what he actually feels rather than what he thinks will sell.
Unlike how he opened “New National Anthem,” T.I. offers no disclaimers, he just goes in. Clocking in at just six songs, US Or Else is the perfect package for the message T.I. is wanting to get across. The short listen forces him to be direct and doesn’t allow him to drift all over the place and muddle the message with any “for the ladies/fellas” songs or tracks where he’s trying to prove that he can still trap with the best of them.