New Stuff: Love This Life

I’ve been hearing the same, baseless argument ever since I spent an inordinate amount of time in kindergarten listening to Power 106 spin Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin‘” a dozen times a day: mainstream rap sucks. It’s a garbage affirmation made by cynical hipsters and listeners frustrated that it took two decades for Common to crack the Hot 100. Even though rap faces greater hurdles than any other genre of music before to gain mainstream acceptance, it has set the flow of airwaves for the last fifteen years, a feat not even disco can claim.

As of right now, mainstream rap is in a pretty good place. Never before have I seen such a wide range of popular rappers with as much creativity and independence in their craft, and while boors and sell-outs still exist, the chart dominating core of the last couple of years (Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj) is of substantial quality. Rap is no longer at its popular zenith (when a song like “Candy Shop” can sit at #1 for nine weeks) but I’d be willing to argue that the stuff Clear Channel is spinning a dozen times a day is sonically and creatively better than anything spun before.

And speaking of rap’s popular zenith, T.I. has made his third (fourth?) proper comeback with “Love This Life,” a track that shows no rust on the rapper’s prison hardened bones. It’s hard to believe that he released “What You Know,” the most effortless banger ever recorded, six years ago. At that time it seemed he was primed to be king of the south and ready to challenge any competitor (and he did: “Swagga Like Us.” What a verse). This was all before his gun charges, and two county and one federal stint later, T.I. emerges in a game monopolized by Young Money/Cash Money Records and his reputation as flimsy as any other trying to make it.

Of course, when you’re as talented as T.I., this wouldn’t bother you. He’s always walked a solid tightrope between mainstream popularity and intellectual acceptance, and while no one is going to confuse him with Talib Kweli, he has a claim to many of rap’s inner circles. “Love This Life” only re-affirms his talents. Rapping over a beat reminiscent of The Game’s “Hate It or Love It,” T.I. is as slippery and deft as ever. You want to dance? Bob your head? Stew in his lyrics? Start the party? End the party? Sing like nobody’s watching? All of the above? T.I. can help you out…and he hardly breaks a sweat doing it.

 

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