In Praise of T.I.

I’m going to assume that I don’t need to first convince you of the value and artistry of rap music. Not every example of it, obviously, but of the genre itself. It prizes verbal wordplay, which rewards a quick wit, an elastic mind that can transition between disparate things, and a large vocabulary.

I am by no means a connoisseur of rap. I like to contemplate the lyrics and appreciate the cleverness when it comes on the radio, though. For a while now I have been impressed with the maturity and wisdom demonstrated by several of the hits off of T.I.’s sixth studio album, Paper Trail.

This post is a stub. Short notes for a more complete, more detailed post I hope to one day write.

In “Live Your Life”, T.I. opens by talking about how the haters show him less respect that he feels that he deserves, saying:

Never mind what haters say, ignore them ’til they fade away.

I never been a hater still I love them, In a crazy way.

I brought back to the hood and all you ever did was take away.
I pray for patience but they make me wanna melt their face away.

How many rappers talk about praying for patience while admitting that the haters get to them? How many rappers admit to loving the haters, albeit in “a crazy way”?

T.I’s next, and final, verse is:

I got love for the game but -hey- I’m not in love with all of it.
I do without the fame and the rappers nowadays are comedy.
The hootin’ and the hollerin’, back and forth with the arguing.
Where you from, who you know, what you make and what kind of car you in.
Seems as though you lost sight of what’s important with the positive.
And checks into your bank account and you up out of poverty.
Your values are in disarray, prioritizing horribly.
Unhappy with the riches cause you’re piss poor morally.
Ignoring all prior advice and forewarning.
And we mighty full of ourselves all of a sudden aren’t we?

It’s one thing to reject the stereotypical rap life of arguing over whether you’re from or your friends, or bragging about how much money you have and what kind of car you drive — not enough rappers show that sort of self-examination, but several do. What is more unique is that T.I. chastises other rappers for forgetting about how good they have it to have escaped poverty, for concentrating on “beefs” rather than all of the positive things in their lives. And what is, as far as I know, entirely unique to T.I., is his pinpointing of the problem: that their values are in disarray and their unhappiness, despite their success, is not due to their failure to appreciate those positives so much as due to their poor morals. When he talks about “the positive” and “prioritizing”, he’s not calling them to have more appreciation for their money and their cars, but to prioritize the moral above the material.

What is peculiar is that the song features Rihanna, and that her chorus is completely at odds with T.I.’s versus. Rihanna opens the song, singing:

You’re gonna be a shining star, with fancy clothes, fancy car-ars.

You steady chasing that paper.
Just live your life (Oh!), ay ay ay.
Ain’t got no time for no haters.

Cause I’m a paper chaser.

So Rihanna sings about having fancy clothes and fancy cars and making money, while T.I. sings that those things are not important. T.I. sings about loving his haters and being affected by them, while Rihanna has “no time for no haters”.

Rihanna continues in this vein to close out the song:

I got my mind on my money and I not goin’ away, ay.
So keep on gettin’ your paper keep on climbin’.
Lookin in the mirror and keep on shinin’.
Til’ the game ends, til’ the clock stops.
We gonna post up on the top spot.

So live your life.

I don’t understand what this chorus is doing in T.I.’s song. Is it ironic? Is it an intentional contrast? Is T.I. trying to have it both way?

(T.I.’s last official single on that album, “Dead and Gone”, has a great message too, but IMHO requires less exploration.)

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