Flame Thrower: T.I.

Why He’s Hot
Hold up. Just last year, T.I. was up for debate to be #1, and now he slips to #10? What happened? First of all, let’s be clear: Tip’s decline in ranking has nothing to do with his skills. We all know that he is still one of the best in the business. Unfortunately, since almost topping the last list, Tip had to take an unforeseen, unwelcome hiatus when he was arrested in November on a slew of gun charges, leading to more than six months of house arrest. Promotions for his platinum T.I. vs. T.I.P. came to an end. The kibosh was put on the single “Hurt” and its video. Any chance of dropping another LP at the top of ‘08 was thwarted quick. Movies, endorsements — everything shut down. He says his arrest probably cost him between $10 million and $12 million. Musically, he was inactive for months while many of his peers continued to put out sterling material.

In March, he pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to more than 1,500 hours of community service. He still faces a reported year in prison. But Tip didn’t fall completely off the map during his time on the bench. He brought several thousand fans to the Web site StreetCred.com simply by posting a video message telling folks he was OK. Tip’s swag was at Hugh Hefner level, talking to his fans via webcam in a robe and slippers. In March, he dominated headlines simply by taking his family to church and speaking on the serious issue of AIDS prevention.

While his popularity transcended music years ago, those rhymes are still the foundation of his ability to generate interest. We’ve had a few sprinklings of him on remixes here and there, but we just got his full-on return with the first offering from his upcoming Paper Trail, “No Matter What.” Although the song has a few indignant retorts for Shawty Lo and others who he feels questioned his street credibility, Tip’s commitment to sincere commentary on his life, no matter how painful, will always keep him at four-star-general ranking.

You can bet the house on Tip in 2008. He’s back to writing down his raps, which is only going to make him that much deadlier on the mic. Plus, Tip is a fiery beast when everything is all good. Imagine how strong he’s going to come now that he feels he has something to prove? The recording sessions for Paper Trail are almost at 100 songs deep, and he’s working with Kanye West and longtime collaborator DJ Toomp.

Co-Signer: Lupe Fiasco
“T.I.’s got raw energy. I’ve been a fan of T.I. since I’m Serious. To me, that was like his Illmatic. The next few albums was cool, but it wasn’t like the I’m Serious T.I.P. Then he came on the remix for ‘Superstar,’ and I was like, ‘Yo, dawg. Reeee-diculous!’ I think it’s the adversity, the time he had to sit down and think and write. Whenever I look at dude’s face, it’s like he’s got a point to prove. Not that he’s king of the world or nothing like that, but he always got something to work forward to. That right there is unstoppable.”

Blistering Ballistics
“Pain’s a small thing to a giant/ I was born without a dime, out the gutter I climbed/ Spoke my mind and didn’t stutter one time/ Ali said even the greatest gotta suffer sometimes/ So I huff and puff rhymes, lyrics so sick with it/ Set the standard in Atlanta of how to get, get, get it/ Whether I still live in the ‘hood or just visit/ Whatever you can do in the ‘hood, I done did it.” — From “No Matter What”

Hot Streak


Selected Mixtapes

“Hurt” from 2007’s T.I. vs. T.I.P., “No Matter What” from the upcoming Paper Trail

Street Bangers

Key Guest Appearances
Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar” remix, Usher’s “Love in This Club” unofficial remix, Rocko’s “Umma Do Me” remix

Business Ventures
CEO of Grand Hustle Records, Partner in StreetCred.com

Second leg of Screamfest ‘07

(While you’re waiting for the full 2008 “Hottest MCs in the Game,” check out everything “Hottest-MCs”-related!)

“The Hottest MCs in the Game” airs on MTV at 10 p.m. Friday, May 16. Vote on who you think is #1 at the Newsroom blog — and submit your own top-10 list below!