The lyrics made it sound like T.I.'s pen was actually a match.
The King of the South was igniting each track with a viciousness that could well have fans and critics calling his forthcoming Paper Trail LP (due August 12) his best since Urban Legend.
Clearly, Tip's half-year-plus under house arrest wasn't just spent building a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower out of Legos ("It took me two straight days," he said of his work). The MC — who recently said he's not angry that he only came in at #10 on MTV News' "Hottest MCs in the Game" — found escapism in his music and, as he played a handful of tracks from his forthcoming album, at times he sounded better than we've ever heard him.
There are boasts such as "Without the braids, I'm the closest thing to O-Dog" and admonishment of peers like, "What the game need with you? They got me."
Yes, Tip is "back on top like a toupee."
"Turn My Beat Down" feels like a 2008 version of LL Cool J's "Boomin' System." The bass is turned all the way up and the synths inject a futuristic feel to it. Meanwhile, Tip experiments with his voice, but his message is clear: His sounds shake up the city.
"People see me in the street now/ And they wave and tell me to turn my beat down," he raps on the chorus.
"You're a-- in trouble if you pull up next to me/ Beat so loud, you can't hear yourself think," he adds in a verse.
"On Top of the World" is one of the strongest contenders for the album's first single. It stars the newest member of the Grand Hustle fam, B.O.B., on the hook and Kanye West on a guest verse.
"It's just a track of reflection," Tip said of the song. "Looking back to my humble beginnings, just reveling on how far I've come. It's definitely a record that people like Kanye and I ... and even B.O.B. [can relate to]: when you're on the outside looking in and you know you're good. You know you're worthy of being in the game. You know you can compete on a professional level. And once you prove that, it's a level of self-assurance. I can't even describe that."
Tip dances with self-doubt on "My Life, Your Entertainment."
"Kids, you don't wanna be like me/ It's safer to watch me on TV," he says in one line. Later, he threatens to return to a darker space.
"Stayed in trouble just to show these suckers I ain't lost it/ I'll probably do it again/ That's the funny thing about it."
However, he said "not at all" when asked if he'd do some of the things that caused him to face serious trouble before — something he'll also address in his forthcoming reality series with MTV. "It's back there [in my mind]. It's a piece of my mind that I have to be honest with you and share with you. It's a thought. If that thought is not there, I'd never be able to check myself. I'd never be able to say, 'Be careful: You know what could happen.' If I totally discredited the idea, I could never check myself."
"My life, your entertainment," he chants on the hook. "My sorrow, your amusement/ Laugh at my pain and anguish/ So famous I could lose it."
"For a long time, people came home and got they TVs on, looked at the news, just to see how my situation developed and entertain themselves," he explained of the record. "In the meantime, it's my life. People on the computer saying, 'T.I. this, T.I. that. They just said T.I. couldn't do that.' They comment. They don't know nothing about T.I."
The message of "Collect Call" is clear: "Everybody loves you when you ballin'/ Don't nobody want you when you fallin'."
"That song is about when you're on top, everybody wants to ball with you, but when you're not, you probably wouldn't know who to call" explained Tip, who raps on the song, "Everybody talking about me like a n---a just died."
"I'm Illie" is an A-Town anthem that resonates with T.I.'s boasts about being the man in charge.
"Never been f---ed in the game, I'm celibate," he declares. The song's chorus goes, "N---as talk sh--, that's silly/ I run this city, clearly ... Tell that little n---a I'm busy: I'm illaaayy!"
"That's just cats saying they want that old Trap Muzik flow back," he said. "That nonstop, consistent punch-line-and-metaphor wordplay. I gave them that."
T.I. hasn't picked out a first single for the LP yet: He's still recording.