As unlikely as it seems now, there was a time, back in 2006, when for a minute it looked as though Atlanta rapper T.I. might just become the world’s biggest hip hop superstar. A string of massive radio hits and a universally acclaimed fourth album – King – had set him up nicely to fill the void left by the (temporarily) retired Jay-Z, but an underwhelming follow-up (the semi-conceptual T.I. Vs Tip) and a prison sentence for firearms charges meant the crown slipped through his fingers and into the waiting hands of Kanye West, Rick Ross and Lil’ Wayne. The artist born Clifford Harris JR. has always maintained he would claw his way back to the top, but whilst we will have to wait and see whether forthcoming eighth long-player Trouble Man will get him there, one promise Tip has managed to keep is the New Year’s Day release of pre-album mixtape Fuck Da City Up, a blistering set of exclusive productions from big names like DJ Toomp, Just Blaze and Manny Fresh as well as up-and-comers such as T-Minus, Hit Boy and Lil’ C. The guest list is endless, with Young Jeezy, Travis Porter, Young Dro, 2 Chainz, Trouble, Pimp C, Too Short, Meek Mill, Future, Pusha T and more contributing killer verses, and although the sprawling ensemble cast means it’s often easy to forget who’s hosting the show, it makes for an unpredictable, thrilling listen. As mixtapes go, FDCU is a top-of-the-range deluxe model, boasting the kind of production values usually reserved for big-budget studio albums, no annoying DJ drops and – with club bangers like “Who, What, When” and “On Purpose” sitting comfortably alongside potential radio hits like the Nelly-assisted “This Time Of Night” – virtually no filler. To top it all off, there’s a massive surprise in the form of new Dr. Dre production “Popped Off” , a no-nonsense slice of gangster funk that will doubtless get pulses racing once more in anticapation of the long-awaited Dretox. I won’t hold my breath, but if T.I.’s next album proper is as good as this, he might prove a force to be reckoned with after all; as it is, this mixtape is a pretty damn satisfying start to 2012.
Listen/ Download: Fuck Da City Up