The King of the South, better known as T.I., has had one of the best album runs in hip-hop history after defying the odds. When his debut album I’m Serious flopped, T.I. was dropped from Arista. After releasing a chain of mixtapes and building his fan base by hand, T.I. dropped Trap Muzik, Urban Legend, and King. Those three albums helped define the entire sound of Atlanta in the early 2000s, and opened up a lane for trap music to prosper. While there were always tastemakers and influencers coming out of Atlanta, T.I. sat atop the throne during the three album run that solidified him as a legend.
After a minor misstep with T.I. vs T.I.P., The King of the South returned with Paper Trail, his most successful project to date. Once a trap king, T.I. evolved into a commercial powerhouse, smashing Billboard charts and extending his fan base to feverish levels. If legal battles didn’t slow down T.I.’s run in the mid 00s, he may have held onto the ATL throne for a little while longer. Still, T.I. is a legend, a prophet, a hustler, and an innovator. Let’s not forget, he’s also a dedicated family man. For this ranking, we’ve veered away from the countless classic mixtapes and brief EPs that are incorporated into T.I.’s expansive catalog. Instead, this is our ranking of T.I.’s ten studio albums.
What you know about that?
Us or Else: Letter to the System (2016)
T.I. admitted that he was not a conscious rapper, but he felt that he needed to send a message. The King of the South did not want to be viewed as one of those artists who felt that they couldn’t speak on controversial topics because of their commercialized fan based. With that in mind, T.I. crafted a revolutionary piece to address the growing racial tension and political turmoil in the country. The timing of the album made sense, and T.I.’s message was sincere. This was his evolution from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X. It may not have been a commercial success, but songs like “Black Man,” “Letter to the System,” and “40 Acres” helped T.I. achieve something more important than plaques. Still, Us or Else sits last in T.I.’s catalog, but not because of a lack of good music. Instead, it just doesn’t stand up to the rest of his music.
No Mercy (2010)
No Mercy is widely regarded as T.I.’s worst album, but we like to call it underrated. While it isn’t a classic, it unquestionably sounds better now than it did years ago. The timing was off, and T.I.P. was engulfed in legal battles after violating probation and heading back to prison. You can tell that mentally, T.I. was preoccupied with his situation, and the music suffered slightly because of it. “Poppin Bottles” featuring Drake and the Eminem-assisted “That’s All She Wrote” were stand out singles that delivered exactly what you would expect out of those collaborations. Other than that, No Mercy is just a fleeting moment in T.I.’s history.
After completing his obligations with Atlantic, T.I. took his talents to Colombia. Paperwork drew influence from Paper Trail, T.I.’s most commercially successful album. Although the production is on point, Paperwork is stacked with features, making the narrative feel convoluted. There is only one song that T.I. performs solo on the original edition of the album. While some of those collaborations yielded absolute bangers, such as “About the Money” with Young Thug (it still sounds so good), many others fell short.
I’m Serious (2001)
T.I.’s debut album featured some of the hottest rappers and producers in the industry when it dropped, but that didn’t help I’m Serious to make a lasting mark. The lead single, “I’m Serious” was a dud, especially when Pharrell and Beenie Man crafted other hits around the same time (“Girls Dem Sugar” and “Feel It Boy”). Still, when going back and listening to I’m Serious, you can hear the hunger in T.I.’s bars. His palpable ambition on I’m Serious is strong enough to place this album in the middle of the rankings. You can feel his energy and his passion, it just hadn’t been fully refined yet. Another notch in his belt that is not altogether bad, just underrated.
T.I. vs. T.I.P. (2007)
While the separation of personalities was a tactic used by many performers before him, T.I. opted to use the dual-persona narrative to steer T.I. vs. T.I.P. Overall, this is probably T.I.’s most middling album, with just enough good material to make it stand out in his lengthy catalog. “Big Shit Poppin’ (Do It)” is the most memorable single from the album, but “You Know What It Is,” the Eminem-featuring “Touchdown,” and “Hurt” all hold high replay value.
Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head (2012)
Anytime a rapper mentions using Marvin Gaye as a creative inspiration for their project, fans should expect big things. Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head may be T.I.’s most conceptually sound and cohesive studio album. Trouble Man is the sleeper album that doesn’t get the love it deserves though. The Andre 3000-assisted “Sorry,” and the Lil Wayne-featured “Ball” may get all the shine, but “G Season” with Meek Mill, “Trap Back Jumpin,’’’ and “Hello” with CeeLo Green are not to be slept on.
Paper Trail (2008)
After a slight stumble with T.I. vs T.I.P., the King of the South struck back with the highly successful Paper Trail. T.I.’s sixth studio album holds the record for the best first-week sales from the rapper, garnering over 560,000 sales in the first seven days. Commercially, T.I. was at his finest. Singles such as “Live Your Life,” “Whatever You Like,” “Swagga Like Us,” “Swing Ya Rag,” “Dead and Gone,” and “Whats Up, What’s Haapnin” were all in heavy rotation.
Urban Legend (2004)
You may see him in the streets, but really, you don’t know T.I.P. The three album run from Trap Muzik, to Urban Legend, to King may be the most epic album conquest a rapper has ever delivered. After being dropped from Arista, T.I. evolved into a monster who refused to let his failure become his legacy. Urban Legend holds some of T.I.P.’s most essential tracks, such as “You Don’t Know Me” and “Bring Em Out.” Plus, the “ASAP/Motivation” combination was the most relevant hustler’s anthem of the year.
2006 was a good year for T.I., as he also starred in the hood classic ATL. It’s hard to argue against King. The album went Gold in its first week off the strength of singles like “What You Know” and “Why You Wanna.” This was also around the same time that T.I.’s “King of the South” statement rang the loudest in the ears of his peers. He was unstoppable. Heavy hitting anthems like “Bankhead,” insane club bangers like “Stand Up Guy,” and vintage cuts like “Top Back” completed King, and solidified it as a classic.
Trap Muzik (2003)
This is the album that’s been receiving the most attention in T.I.’s catalog as of late, because of the debate over the “trap music” term. As it clearly states in its title, Trap Muzik told stories from the perspective of the trap. Even the most energetic and popular singles such as “Rubber Band Man” and “24s” were tales from the hood that T.I. turned into anthemic bangers. Trap Muzik was the first album T.I. released on Hustle Gang, after Arista dropped him due to poor sales of his debut album. Not one to take an L without recouping, T.I. negotiated the terms for his own label via Atlantic, and launched the best album of his career. Not to mention all the DJ Drama-assisted mixtapes that T.I. released around the same time. The King was on his throne.