T.I. — “Bring ‘Em Out” b/w “U Don’t Know Me”

Released: 10.19.04

Peak: # 9

Like the nifty little funhouse mirror of cutthroat capitalism it no longer even denies it is, big money hip-hop likes its heroes dead and out of the way. And often enough, reference indicates not reverence so much as borrowed shine. So when Jay-Z lifts Biggie’s “The rings and things you sing about, bring ’em out/ It’s hard to yell when the bar-rel’s in your mouth” on “What More Can I Say,” he’s defending his habit (tic?) of quoting his slain comrade by suggesting that, like one of Eliot’s sticky fingered mature poets, he’s earned the right to swipe.

Intertextuality, we called this sort of referential game back in the ’90s, and hip-hop’s always been rife with it. With “Bring ‘Em Out,” though, T.I. proves you don’t have to one-up the greats when you can just loop them into doing your bidding. That nagging sample of Jigga repeating the title, augmented by the bells and whistles of Swizz Beatz at his most dazzlingly generic, consistently cheers on the younger MC. (According to the credits, it retains the MFSB snippet on the Jay-Z track, though who can hear it amidst the hubbub?) If none of T.I.’s individual lines approximate Biggie’s original wit, the elasticity of his flow nonetheless carries him past his residual snideness.

The other side of the single also offers the other side of T.I.: “U Don’t Know Me,” essentially an uptight take on a subject addressed more playfully on Soulja Boy’s “Yahhh!” If the challenges of success energize “Bring ‘Em Out,” “U Don’t Know Me” is a top dog’s gripe, with T.I. handily equaling the menace of DJ Toomp’s almost reggaefied lope. King of the South? Aw, like my man Chris Martin says, who would ever want to be king?

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