With so much aural greatness flooding the airwaves or running through various electronic devices, it sometimes proves to be difficult to branch out and explore other musicians through their works. Once a month, an album released during that month (from any potential year) is reviewed and given an answer of whether or not it’s worth listening to. For this month, I look at T.I.’s first full-length album, “I’m Serious”.
Released: October 9, 2001
Number of Tracks: 18
Born in 1980, Clifford Harris Jr. entered the world to a family struggling like many others to not thrive, but survive in the projects of Atlanta, GA (Bankhead!). Discovering his talents with rhyming words and imitating his favorite rappers, the boy everyone would nickname “Tip” would pursue his passion before letting the pressures of a “prosperous” street life overtaking his goals. After suffering personal and professional setbacks, the future “T.I.” refocused himself on something positive for not only himself, but also his family: rapping.
Twenty-one years following his birth, T.I. put together his first commercially released album, “I’m Serious”. I wouldn’t know about the rapper’s debut LP until years after a two-year break between his third and fourth albums got me curious about what T.I. had to say; and most importantly, if it could outdo his following work.
It only takes a few seconds into the album before the listener is introduced to not only the subjects covered throughout the record (money, jewelry, drug dealing, women and his life experiences with all the aforementioned subjects), but also the unbridled bravado of a young man proclaiming himself to be “The King of the South”. Simply put, T.I. introduces us the life he knew better than anything; a life that would create the man who had to change his ways in hopes of attaining his true potential as a musician.
The first few tracks are beautifully crafted cautionary tales from a little boy-turned-grown man thanks to his actions as a drug dealer. But nothing shines better in T.I.’s introduction to the man he once was than the second track, “Still Ain’t Forgave Myself”. The song’s story starts at the beginning of T.I.’s life, his being raised by various family members, turning into a drug dealer, run-ins with the law, seeing friends and family members die and/or enter the prison system, trying to rap his way out of his detrimental actions, and realizing how his lifestyle groomed him and almost destroyed him (and those around T.I.).
Taking almost a rewind of sorts is the thumping, definitive Southern sounding track “Dope Boyz”. What might seem like a glorification of the drug dealing culture is actually a showcase of what was going through T.I.’s mind before everything came crashing down and his lifestyle caught up with him. Taking a hypothetical next step in the story is “What Happened?”
It’s during the album’s fourth track does the listener hear just how much T.I. can spit with precision and vitriol. After being robbed and shot, T.I. has the chance to confront God with the request of avenging his death (and the deaths of other African-American political leaders and rappers) by killing Lucifer. It’s hard to not crack a smile during T.I.’s request for assistant in his talks with the almighty being while God tries to warn him about the folly of revenge (“…gimme a clique of angels with bulletproof wings/Lucifa gon get pistol whipped…” – T.I.).
As the listener continues on, the album switches gears. Gone are the tales of life and death. In their place is nothing but having fun. “Do It” is probably one of the most addictive sounding tracks on the album, but has the lyrical content of a low-end club track (which is what it’s going for, obviously). The album’s Neptune’s’-featured/produced track “What’s Yo’ Name” takes the intentions of “Do It” one step further as the action moves from the club to the bedroom. It seems like everything around T.I. is party central at this point as “Hands Up” celebrates the nightlife and “At the Bar” pretty much sounds as you’d expect.
With the album’s “party” portion lasting a lot longer than the “conscious” half, it can become hard to focus on some of the enlightenment T.I. is still putting out between the requests of watching booty-shaking ladies and getting wasted. “Chooz U” slows everything down and tells the tale of a woman being too good for our central character and his inability to live up to her expectations/standards. On the other the end of the lyrical spectrum is “I Can’t Be Your Man”. With the tempo upping slightly compared to the previous song, T.I. looks at a similar situation expressed in “Chooz U”, but from the perspective of a man who is dating a woman with no drive, motivation, or respect for herself. It’s a nice dichotomy rarely seen in music where it’s usually either one side or the other is focused upon.
T.I. wraps up everything a few tracks later with “Grand Royal”. Just like his “Intro” track, the “finale” is the rapper’s last true declaration on the album that beyond all the girls and gold, T.I. is a musician worthy of accolades and his imaginary crown. Arista didn’t feel the same way, as T.I. would be dropped from his contract after the album’s lack of financial success (mostly thanks to poor marketing and using the title track as a single rather than something more fitting with the times like “Do It”, “What’s Yo’ Name” or “Hands Up”).
Does that mean “I’m Serious” lacks the quality that warranted disappointing sales? Not at all. Is it a classic album rivaling Nas, A Tribe Called Quest or Tupac’s LP debuts? Unfortunately no. But between those two extremes sits “I’m Serious”; an album that avoids the time capsulation problem most rap records during that era suffer from today. It has a little bit of everything; and depending on the subjects you like in your rap music (be it the realities of life or the superficiality of a wealthy lifestyle) more than likely you’ll enjoy a significant portion of “I’m Serious”. It’s not a must-have record that you need to pick up right after you finish reading this review, but “I’m Serious” is most definitely worth a purchase and a listen down the line.
Standout Tracks: “Still Ain’t Forgave Myself”; “Dope Boyz”; “What Happened?”; “I’m Serious”; “Do It”; “What’s Yo’ Name”; “Chooz U”; “I Can’t Be Your Man”.