Welcome to The South Week at The Ringer. For the next several days, we’re celebrating — and reporting on — the richness of the region. You’ll find stories from all over the map, exploring topics such as the enduring legacy of Confederate monuments in Richmond and Montgomery, the evolution of Charleston barbecue, and the intersection of faith and football in Lubbock. We’re also ranking the best Southern rap albums, imagining the André 3000 mixtape we all deserve, and arguing about what even constitutes the South anymore. In the words of two great Southerners, nothin’ is for sure, nothin’ is for certain, nothin’ lasts forever.
Between 1972 and 1976, Stevie Wonder released five albums—Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life—the first and fourth phenomenal, the second perfect, and the third and fifth God. This period of production, exceptionally described by Slate’s Jack Hamilton as “ferociously dunking on the entire history of popular music,” is commonly known as Stevie’s “classic period.” Even though Steveland put out classic songs and projects both before and after this powerful run, few artistic stretches can hold a candle to what he did between March 1972 and September 1976.
Four years after this run ended, in 1980, Clifford Harris was born.
As a child in Atlanta, Clifford found himself with a nickname, “Tip,” a callback to his great-grandfather. Over time, Tip became a rapper, eventually signing a deal with Arista Records in 1999. There was another artist on the label, A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip, which led Harris to shorten his already short nickname turned stage name from “Tip” to “T.I.” out of respect.
In 2001, T.I. released his first album, I’m Serious. That’s where this story begins.
While good music can be thought of as subjective—in the ear of the beholder, so to speak—Stevie Wonder’s classic period cannot. It’s great, the end. But using another example, if you love Kanye West’s music, you most likely have a strong opinion about the order of his albums with regard to greatness, and may even deem him worthy of a specific classic period run. And that’s fine. If you don’t like Kanye West’s music, however, you do not think he had a classic period. And that’s fine, too.
I say this because, to some, saying “T.I.” and “classic” in the same sentence may seem far-fetched. Chances are those people did not spend their formative adolescence in Atlanta from 2001 to 2006, the same years that produced four consecutive albums—I’m Serious, Trap Muzik, Urban Legend, and King.
These four albums represent T.I.’s classic period.
There were plenty of musicians making great music during this time, just within Atlanta. But there was something Tip was doing for these six years that has never been seen before, and has yet to be matched since: the art of the anthem.
Did I say a hit? No. A banger? Nope. I said anthem. There’s no single way to define an anthem, which is part of its beauty—you just know one when it smacks you in the face. But during this period, T.I. and the producers in his wheelhouse employed a collection of organs, horns, children’s choirs, chants, whistles, synthesizers, and marching bands to create a sound that made you want to declare war, rob a bank, colonize Mars, and pass out turkeys to the entire hood during Thanksgiving.
These actions that the anthems elicit remind the listener that a core tenant of an anthem is inspiration, both for the good and the nefarious—either way, you’re ready.
I’m Serious, while not commercially celebrated, is where T.I. learned how to pull off an anthem. Next was Trap Muzik, which solidified him as the pre-Jeezy man in these streets, in large part because of anthems that dominated many a car radio and high school basketball lay-up line that year. By Urban Legend, T.I. was firmly the King of the South, with a collection of songs to support his claims, both hymns of hope and psalms of goonery. And then there was King, T.I.’s Zadok the Priest moment—filled with anthems from beginning to end, a true celebration of a rarely seen moment in entertainment, featuring an album and a film in that same final week of March 2006. It was the coronation of Clifford Harris, a man whose excellence in the arena of anthem-making is so unparalleled it deserves its own bracket. So let’s evaluate our contenders.
T.I. released anthems after King—most notably, “What Up, What Haapnin’,” a song so bold, so brazen, so comet, so blitzen, that I almost included 2008’s Paper Trail in this bracket, just so it could make a run to the Final Four.
But this era specifically was a sweet spot of production and focus that you rarely see from an artist. And a great deal of the credit belongs to T.I.’s closest ally during this period, producer DJ Toomp. Of the 20 songs in this bracket (which begins with a Round of 16 and four extras for a play-in round), Toomp produced eight.
Toomp and Tip during this period were like Scorsese and De Niro. But T.I. had other favorites, too, producers with a penchant for the grandiose, who knew how to take the rapper from a boastful shit-talker to a nation-builder.
Narrowing it down to 20 tracks was no easy task, but one I thought I nailed on the first attempt. Tickled that I was taking on this project, I took a photo of my skeleton bracket and sent it to six friends, all of whom I was tight with 15 years ago, when this music was initially rocking our world as we all got our learner’s permits.
Things texted during this hour-long group text:
“This is beautiful but there is not enough from I’m Serious.”
“No one has anything on our high school years.”
A GIF of Usher and Mike Vick dancing in front of a flaming T.I. from the “Rubberband Man” video.
“You got a alligator mouth and a hummingbird ass.”
“What Yo Name is a hot track.”
“Get Loose is the anthem.”
“So many disgusting acts of lust have been performed to that song [‘Get Loose’]. Impossible to remove.”
“Get Loose hands down #1 TI anthem. I stake my life on it.”
“U Don’t Know Me if you’re going the more violent route.”
“25 to life is a hot album.”
“I been on Wall Street, Beat Street, GREG STREET.”
“By the way I’ve left work I’m so distracted by this.”
“Adding features and non solo albums kinda fucks this whole thing up, it’s gonna turn into a book.”
“Man I feed her Oreos, you take your freak to Pappadeaux’s.”
“He ended Lil Flip’s career with one diss track.”
A GIF of Beyoncé saying “God is real.”
Three main takeaways: (1) my boys are perfect, (2) my boys are maniacs, and (3) I was going to lose all my boys if “Get Loose” didn’t make the bracket.
Before getting into the bracket, one important piece of housekeeping: The choices were made through a highly scientific process of subjective objectivity. The selection of songs was based on what I consider anthems (subjective). The seedings, however, are based on number of Spotify streams, which is objective.
Let’s go … but not quite yet. First: THE PLAY-IN GAMES, the race for the coveted four seeds.
“Trap Muzik” vs. “Dope Boyz”: This is a perfect place to begin, the first matchup being Toomp-on-Toomp crime. The drawl of the titular first track on Trap Muzik sets the tone for the album (and the next few years), with, “Aye this a TRAP—this ain’t no album, this ain’t no game, this a trap.” The hook is quintessential Tip—you can see the confident smile on his face as he raps about a life you can’t imagine. Also, the song has a great lyric by Mac Boney that will outlive humanity: “Keep the coke stretched out like Carl Lewis hamstring.” Unfortunately for the song, it’s going against “Dope Boyz.” “Dope Boyz” is one of the most ATL songs of all time, meaning I’m still not convinced anyone outside of the city can understand a single word Tip is saying; it’s our own musical dog whistle. Hearing a song like “Dope Boyz” in Atlanta is like hearing Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful” in Washington, D.C., on July Fourth—a thing of wonder. But hearing “Dope Boyz” in New York is like watching Kerri Strug land that vault if the Olympics were in North Korea. “Dope Boyz” wasn’t even a single, but it’s the first great T.I. anthem, and it holds up to this day. “Dope Boyz” advances into the bracket.
“King Back” vs. “Front Back”: This bracket is already impossible, and it hasn’t even really started. The man has so many anthems from this era that one of these two songs won’t even make it into the top 16. This is an interesting matchup for three reasons: (1) it’s theatrical Just Blaze vs. syrupy Mannie Fresh; (2) they both contain peak T.I., monologue artist; and (3) they’re the first two tracks of King. This is terribly hard, mainly because I’ve long treated them like one track, just a giant build-up to Track 3 of King, “What You Know.” On “King Back” it’s a delight to hear Tip outline his career up to that point, including “then you need to go to Trap Muzik, I got locked up for a second …” But it’s even more glorious to hear Tip go full ringmaster, with “it’s an absolute honor and a pleasure … to bring you some gangsta shit of catastrophic proportions.” As scholars continuously say, few things are better than Clifford “Tip” Harris saying a four-syllable word followed by a three-syllable word. The other main thing is that one of these songs has both Bun B and Pimp C on it, and that song is “Front Back.” So even with the Gladiator meets DC Comics production that Just creates, it still is no “Front Back,” which moves onto the bracket.
“I’m Talkin’ to You” vs. “Grand Royal”: One of the great things about Tip is that he’s a petty man with principles who will go to great lengths to end someone’s career. “I’m Talkin’ to You” is the rap version of Jamie Foxx ruining that comedian Doug Williams’s career before it even started. This song's focus is allegedly Lil’ Flip and T.I. goes about his disses by way of his rolodex, complimenting numerous rappers just to make sure you know who he’s not talking about and you fully understand who he is talking about. Like the aforementioned “What Up, What's Haapnin’,” a Drumma Boy–assisted tour de force against Shawty Lo (RIP), “I’m Talkin’ to You” is a merciless one-sided war. Pitted against this track is another song with great shit-talking, “Grand Royal.” One classic aspect of this song: Tip’s pronunciation of Scotland—Scotlayne (so it rhymes with “mayne”). But few things are better than his boasts at the end of the clean version, about how no one wants to see him in the streets: “I ain’t even big, I ain’t but 145.” What a hero (welterweight division). “Grand Royal,” is not, however, anthemic enough to take down “I’m Talkin’ to You,” which absolutely advances to the bracket.
“Heavy Chevys” vs. “Countdown”: I love “Heavy Chevys.” I love that the song features P$C, one of the most underrated collectives in rap music history. But here's why I'm keeping this short: “Countdown” is a top-three forgotten Tip classic. David Banner gave T.I. the perfect uptempo beat to be a goon over, which he did with lyrics like “that little nigga swearin’ he bad—eat him for lunch, too” and “can’t relate to what you rap on stage, nigga, ’cause I been sellin’ yay since I was Bow Wow’s age, nigga.” I mean, for heaven’s sake, the hook is Tip counting down from five, letting someone know how much time they have to run, before they become done. I’m wasting words on this pre-bracket matchup; it obviously advances.
OK … finally, we’re here. THE BRACKET (complete with regions named after characters from ATL.)
New New Region
(1) “What You Know” vs. (4) “Front Back”: Now that we’re in the bracket, some hard lines must be drawn. Even among anthems, there’s a spectrum. On opposite sides: “Front Back,” a slow and steady banger with anthemic tendencies, and “What You Know,” the musical equivalent of Randy Quaid flying his plane into the mothership. The first note of “What You Know”—it’s like how Steve Harvey described hearing the beginning of “I Want to Be Free” by the Ohio Players: When you first heard it, “your ass damn near blew up.” The song drips with the soul of Hosea Williams in a wrinkled pair of overalls, a 4:34 bail bond, and anyone with ears knows this must advance. The bigger question: Can anything beat it?
(2) “24’s” vs. (3) “Ride Wit Me”: There was a time in 2006 when “Ride Wit Me” was supposed to be the “What You Know” of T.I.’s career. But then “What You Know” came out, reminding everyone the difference between a Chrysler 300 and a Bentley. With that said, “Ride With Me” is still an anthem, a song directly tied to ATL, the best Drumline-ish film since Drumline. Going against it is “24’s,” yet more proof that Toomp is a monster. It’s a unique Tip song (although it did set the stage for a few of its cousins on Urban Legend)—many of his anthems have menacing lyrics over upbeat production. This, however, is T.I. doubling down on his King Kong and the result is the classic dope-boy anthem, as calls it only seven seconds in. It’s a true time capsule for 2003—cars, clothes, excess, friendship. “24’s” advances.
(1) “Bring Em Out” vs. (4) “Dope Boyz”: In the spirit of transparency, let me say upfront that this matchup will be used to make a point based on an unpopular opinion that I know to be factual. “Bring Em Out” is easily a top-five T.I. single and one of the true bangers of the ’00s. But is it an anthem? Barely. Just listen to it—this is a Swizz Beatz carnival that sounds like “What Up With That?” looks, and it’s one of the most fun pop songs that involves a gun winding up in your mouth. “Bring Em Out” is America’s song, but “Dope Boyz”—that shit is as Atlanta as it gets. In addition to being the first great Tip anthem, “Dope Boyz” is the first great three-verse Tip track. And those songs are always a doozy, a massive crescendo to a braggadocious third verse, which leads to an even wilder hood soliloquy. The way T.I. floats over this Toomp beat by speeding up his flow, rapping “Nann nigga barred we the trillest niggas living / If this ain’t your trap then what the fuck you doing in it? / What the motherfucking business, do you think you’re putting down?” And after this, Tip does his Tip thing, shouting out every part of the city (and the South) that he’s good in. “Dope Boyz” laid the groundwork for this entire era and genuinely holds up better than “Bring Em Out,” especially in the city it was made for. UPSET, BABY—BOTH THE THUG NIGGAS AND DRUG DEALERS ADVANCE.
(2) “Motivation” vs. (3) “Bankhead”: “Motivation” is Tip’s Tony Robbins self-help moment, and a heckuva of a moment it is. Who needs organized religion when you have Clifford filling a single verse with mantras like “Anything don’t kill me make me better” and “5’9’’ with the soul of a 6’4’’ nigga” in one verse. More importantly, there’s nothing funnier than Tip calling himself 5’9”. Because he’s not 5’9’’. Not yet, at least. This song, slower than most of Tip’s great anthems, packs such a punch in each line that it somehow makes you want to pay your taxes on time, go on morning hikes, and spend every afternoon stealing from the rich and giving 40 percent of it to the poor, spending 59 percent to stunt on your haters, and with whatever’s left, purchasing a flute. It’s hard to find a T.I. song that makes you want to tackle the day quite like “Motivation,” but then you remember “Bankhead” exists. And then you remember that no one’s life is the same after hearing “Bankhead” for the first time. If you’ve listened to “Bankhead,” you understand that there’s nothing more that needs to be said for this matchup. And if you haven’t, close this tab immediately.
(1) “Top Back” vs. (4) “Countdown”: Mannie Fresh and Tip made a song in “Top Back” that sounds like Zamunda joining forces with Wakanda to storm Mar-a-Lago. The horns, lordamercy. What “Countdown” had going for it in the play-in round was that it went against a slower song, and that it’s “Countdown,” in all its brash glory. But it can’t compete with “Top Back,” and Tip announcing, even before his verse starts, “Here comes trouble, homie.” Say what you will about Tip, but he’s not about the sneak attack. He literally will give you a warning and a head start (see the “five, FOH, three, two, one (run)” on “Countdown” before he exerts his will.) “Top Back” is one of those great moments, the warning in the form of a royal fanfare. It’s a no-brainer that “Top Back” advances. All other songs should be worried, but still be thankful I didn’t include the remix.
(2) “U Don’t Know Me” vs. (3) “Be Easy”: For starters, the phrase “Be Easy” says so much in just two words—it’s so important. As for this song, this may be Tip’s most chill anthem, the type of song that makes you want to sit on a sofa in the backyard and ponder how to take over the world—but not today, next week maybe, or maybe not, who really knows? His drawl is perfect for the subject matter; his dialect is phylum (easy), class (Bankhead). It also has the single greatest brag in T.I. history—so good, perhaps, it overshadows the rest of the song that follows.
Shot: “Aye, where the piano at, shawty?”
[Someone gets T.I. a piano]
Chaser: “Y’all ain’t never seen a dope boy play the piano and rap at the same time, have you?”
THE OPPOSITE OF THIS SONG IS “U DON’T KNOW ME.” This is a song about the snakes in the tall grass, a track that gave us one of the best Tip lanes: telling people where they belong in relation to where he is. He was in such a rush to remind people of his beliefs that he couldn’t even waste time saying “U don’t,” instead picking “youont.” This song is the original “No New Friends.” And he did it all, with that little Yarmulke of a beanie sitting Northeast on his head, without any fear of it falling off. Youont advances, but not by much. Tip did rap and play piano at the same time and that should never be taken lightly.
Big Booty Judy Region
(1) “Rubber Band Man” vs. (4) “I’m Talkin’ to You”: “I’m Talkin’ to You” is great. Here’s the thing, though:
This is a top-three moment in the history of Atlanta, Georgia. Every time I look at it—Michael Vick and Usher dancing in front of a burning T.I. letters—I get another tattoo of Martin Luther King Jr. on my face. Things are still great for Atlanta, but it’s unclear if anything will ever be as good as this moment. A song that is responsible for this automatically makes it to the Elite 8, even if the opponent were “Amazing Grace.” So it advances.
(2) “ASAP” vs. (3) “Get Loose”: “Get Loose,” as I said earlier, is in this bracket simply to appease my friends. Luckily for my own conscience, I didn’t even have to rig the first-round knockout of this “Tip Drill”–esque, early tuck-a-boner-away-under-the-sweatpants-drawstring jam, because it wound up against “ASAP.” While “What You Know” may have the superior first note, the sense of urgency that you get from the first 10 seconds of “ASAP” is unparalleled. “ASAP” makes me want to fight; it’s Atlanta’s Battle Hymn of the Trapublic. “ASAP” forever. Or at least, until the Elite 8—we shall see.
New New Region
(1) “What You Know” vs. (2) “24’s”: Like most popular rap songs, “What You Know” has a radio edit. Like no other rap song, in the history of ever, the radio edit is better than the original. It is a fact, from the Bible, that you haven’t lived until you’ve learned every censored ad lib of the edited version. Actually, calling them censored ad libs is rude—they’re lyrics in the form of exaltations, ones that take the already incredible song from a time capsule to a creation story, from a grandiose anthem to a Gregorian chant. “24’s” is incredible, complete with some nice T.I. half-sung Torah portion–esque melodies in both the hook and the verses. But not even the dope boy anthem can fight off the Tipper Gore version of “What You Know.” So it advances to the Final Four.
(4) “Dope Boyz” vs. (3) “Bankhead”: There are few songs that feel like an actual police pursuit, without the use of a single siren, like “Dope Boyz.” Similar to another Southern classic, “Armed Robbery” by 8Ball and MJG, it makes you want to look over your shoulder every few seconds, just to make sure the coast is clear. And one of the reasons it’s such an anthem is that, by the end, you feel like you’ve gotten away, that you’re in the clear. So if “Dope Boyz” is an episode of Cops, “Bankhead” is The Magic Flute performed on Season 12 of Great Performances on PBS (January 9, 1984). The way Tip says “Westside, nigga” over those strings and those simple piano strokes, you’d think you were at the opera in Vienna, were Vienna a housing project only steps away from Centennial Olympic Park. I don’t know what pep talk Toomp gave, but he got career verses from each member of the Pimp $quad Click, something you rarely see from posse tracks. Seriously, for each person’s verse, they were the best rapper in Atlanta. And then, with the final at-bat, the trailblazer of the tongue-twist himself, Young Dro.
I can’t talk about Young Dro yet. I’m not ready. Luckily for me, I have at least one more round to get there, because the Cinderella story of “Bankhead” continues to the Final Four.
(1) “Top Back” vs. (2) “U Don’t Know Me”: “U Don’t Know Me” is the obvious winner in this matchup but not because it’s necessarily a better song or even anthem. It’s just that “Top Back” is complicated, for a variety of reasons. To start, Mannie Fresh is an asshole for this production—it’s just not of this earth. It’s so bombastic; it’s damn near impossible for a single rapper to match the energy. Tip tries his hardest, which is one of the many reasons “Top Back” is a classic. But once the remix with Jeezy, Young Dro, Big Kuntry King, and B.G. was released, there was no reason to ever listen to the original. If the remix was an actual track on KING, it most likely wins the bracket; unlike what you’d find on many of the posse-cut star-power remixes of the time, the original rapper still outshines the bunch. Which brings us to the final reason “Top Back” can’t advance: The remix has arguably the best Tip verse, ever.
To quote YouTube commenter Jesse Monor, “The way my nigga tip spazzed at the end that nigga went Archie Bonkers on this bitch lawd have all types of mercy on all our souls even my lol.” It’s so true. When you watch the video, Tip is losing his mind. His face is scrunched up, his arms are flailing, and one eyeball is about to pop out of his head in disgust. He wraps up this verse emphatically with “I’M LOOKING FOR THE NIGGA, WHERE THEY AT, STOP HIDING,” followed by those final Mannie Fresh horns, and then the perfect ending: T.I. calmly saying, “Now that’s a motherfucking remix, nigga.”
So yeah, “Top Back” somehow beat itself. I could go into “U Don’t Know Me” and how Tip said he’s been trapping and shooting pistols since he was four feet tall, but I’m already at 4,000 words, so I’ll hold off until the next round.
Big Booty Judy Region
(1) “Rubber Band Man” vs. (2) “ASAP”: The video for “ASAP” is a welcome addition to the pantheon of rap videos based off a rapper and his boys being a part of a syndicate that the authorities are looking for. In some ways, based on the time this song came out, it may just be a documentary, who really knows. Regardless, this moment happened in the video, and I will never get over it:
This isn’t one of those times where I point out a flaw in a song to explain why it didn’t advance. There isn’t a single thing wrong with “ASAP.” I think about the way he delivers “I ’on’t need no security / reaching for my jewelry” bimonthly. This would be a Rushmore-level anthem, had it not just run into “Rubber Band Man.”
David Banner put his country-ass Mississippi backwoods foot in the “Rubber Band Man” beat. This shit is ghetto gospel, with a youth choir on the hook and an organ that’s so big you can see it from the front. Again, it’s impossible to discuss this song without the context—Mike Vick was back from injury and was winning games for the Atlanta Falcons toward the end of 2003. And then right before the year’s final bell, “Rubber Band Man” dropped, exploded, and stayed hot until the temperature got hot, giving it another life. Yes, Banner laced this song with aural potlicker, and yes, Tip verses are good enough to support the beat, but there’s one phrase that puts this song into the Final Four:
“Now who I’m is?”
I know you see four words, but when Tip says it, it’s just one—N’whooimiz. That one word put an entire city on its back when this song reared its beautiful head; the Eastside stomping out “Who am I”—no disrespect to Jean Valjean. I don’t even know really what I’m talking about anymore, but just know that there is no Tip Classic Period Anthems Final Four without the song that made it fun to scream “Taliban.”
(1) “What You Know” vs. (2) “U Don’t Know Me”: The superior video of the two is most certainly “U Don’t Know Me.” The shot of Tip standing in front of his own Urban Legend billboard is what we all dreamed about as little ATLiens. The video is also a reminder that Urban Legend T.I. is the coolest T.I. Trap Muzik Tip is a little too rough around the edges and eager to be famous, while King Tip is so established, his fame and status is second nature. Urban Legend Clifford is perfectly comfortable in his own skin, straddling any two worlds you throw his way. And the pinnacle of that confidence is “U Don’t Know Me,” which is why he spends an entire song actively declining friend requests. The song’s message, to steal a phrase from a future album, is “I’m straaaaaaight.” The video for “What You Know,” however, is frustratingly not as good as it should be. It’s supposed to be his “Roc Boys” moment, the moment it became clear just how much T.I. had made it (the album, the film, the ability to wear a suit comfortably). The one issue with the video underscores the one thing I always forget about “What You Know”: It’s a hair slower than I always want it to be.
But this isn’t about videos. Again, it’s about anthems. And goddammit, Clifford Harris can come up with a phrase to have everyone saying for an entire calendar year, most notably, “What you know about that?” Also, “When I chirp, shawty chirp back”—I HAD A NEXTEL CHIRP, AND THIS ALBUM CAME OUT ON MY BIRTHDAY. DO YOU KNOW HOW INVINCIBLE I FELT AS A FRESHMAN IN COLLEGE? “What You Know” makes you want to throw your arms in the air, because you just won a gold medal in … something. Each verse building to “Don’t you know I got a …”—pure joy. And just the way the song begins with Tip saying, “Aye, aye, aye, aye,” or in the ear of every person in Atlanta, “A, A, A, A”—shout-outs to our beloved city. And then, the cherry on top, the hunched-over Young Dro side-step dance that goes perfectly with the beat, alongside pointing to your people in the room during, “What you know about that / what you know about that / what you know about that / Hey, I know all about that.”
“What You Know” just has too much firepower for “U Don’t Know Me.” Which is why it goes to the championship round, exactly where it deserves to be.
(3) “Bankhead” vs. (1) “Rubber Band Man”: One of these two songs has to face “What You Know.” To be honest, they’re both slightly screwed, because “What You Know”—at-bat music for Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer—has no interest in losing. Picking a winner in this matchup is like saying which one of your two kids you like, when you like one “Bankhead” slightly more than the other “Rubber Band Man” but still love them both, even though you’re convinced one “Bankhead” won’t put you in a nice home when you get really old.
“What You Know” vs. “Rubber Band Man” seems like the obvious matchup, two monster songs facing off for classic period domination. I mean, I visited a handful of “Top T.I. songs” lists on the internet, and “Bankhead” was frequently missing. But when you listen to “What You Know” and then you listen to these two, something super unexpected demands to be considered: Is “Rubber Band Man” an anthem or an anthem with banger tendencies?
“Rubber Band Man” was, without question, the most fun moment of the T.I. classic era. Everyone’s happy, Diddy’s in Atlanta wearing fur coats, Mike Vick is running for 600 years a down. If this were a bracket about snapshots in time, “Rubber Band Man” probably even bests “What You Know,” even with the movie happening in conjunction. But as a song—an anthem—it doesn’t send that chill down the spine that the great anthems do, like “What You Know” does, and what “Bankhead” also has, all up and down its DNA.
(1) “What You Know” vs. (3) “Bankhead”
I didn’t think this would be the final matchup. I had assumed I would knock out “What You Know” at some point for some minor, possibly unjust infraction (“It’s too good”), or that “Bankhead” would have to go because it simply wasn’t popular enough to be a great anthem. I also didn’t know if two songs from King would (or should) make it to the finals, but it makes sense—the final album of this period isn’t necessarily the best, but it most certainly is the moment T.I. truly figured out anthems of all shapes and sizes, characters and creeds. So we’re finally here, the end. Which one’s it going to be? I’ve talked about the ins and outs of each song, so it’s time to make a decision.
One thing to note, something true of these two songs and no others in the bracket—the following image is live footage of me in bed whenever I hear either of these songs:
They’re transportive songs, anthems that take you out of your body and look down on your smiling, giddy, stupid, occasionally teary-eyed face as you accept the blessings that Tip and Toomp have given you. But there’s one major difference between the two, which determined the winner of this bracket.
“What You Know” transports you anywhere you want to go, places you didn’t even know were possible—the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Club LIV, etc.—which is why it’s the greatest T.I. track of all time.
“Bankhead,” however, transports you home. If you’re from Bankhead, or if you’re from Atlanta, this song obviously hits even harder—like Paper Boi and Darius going to J.R. Crickets if you grew up with lemon pepper wings. But ultimately, “Bankhead” is a liturgical reminder that when it comes down to it, with all the options in the world, all you want to do is go back home.
T.I. closed out this album, and again this classic period, with the charge of “now where’m I s’posed to go?” And each time, while he and his boys sat atop the world, they came up with the same answer.
You match that sentiment with that hook and those verses and composition that’s half hip-hopera/half trap lullaby and the result is triumph.