Guilty admission time: I really didn’t like T.I. when he first appeared on the scene in 2001. Although at that moment I was heavy in my Rawkus Records, independent rap-or-die stage,
I still proudly played Dipset mixtapes and virtually everything that The Neptunes produced. So, when I found out that Chad and Pharrell had produced the title track to Clifford’s debut I’m Serious, naturally I jumped at giving Tip’s music a chance. Then…
I wasn’t impressed. Like, at all. Uninspired, “Superthug”-esque beat? A Beenie Man hook that pandered to the current dancehall resurgence – which would be led by light-skin impresario Sean Paul – at the time? Raps from a then-rookie artist talking about “To play me, bay-bee/Hey, he gon’ need a track from God featuring Jesus or Jay-Z?” Man, I passed on that quicker than Magic with the rock during a fast break.
While his verse on Bone Crusher’s”Never Scared” caught my ears briefly, the first couple offerings from his second album Trap Muzik – “24’s” and Be Easy” failed to keep my attention. That is, until the triumphant piano organs of “Rubber Band Man” – courtesy of producer/mad genius David Banner – escaped from my speakers for the very first time.
The song was Tip’s Manifest Destiny, his announcement that he was here to stay. The raps were arrogant, as if you can hear T.I. sneering into the microphone when he laid down the vocals. The video was his coming-out party, a celebration of the trap in Atlanta, and he invited everybody from Puffy to Michael Vick (who was arguably the most popular quarterback in the NFL at the time) to join in on the fun. “Rubber Band Man” is not only one of the best songs from T.I., in my opinion it’s one of the best Southern rap songs of all time. And I’ve been rooting for Clifford ever since. Be around me whenever this song comes on at a party: pray you don’t get hit by a wayward elbow when it does.
Ethering Lil Flip’s career so bad that I’ve not heard from him in a decade made me Stan for him more, but that’s a story for a different time.