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Why is hip-hop awaiting T.I.’s return?

T.I. has been slowly but surely returning to his former position on hip-hop’s A list over the past several months. But the reality shows and guest appearance on political dramas aren’t exactly the same as dropping a hot album. And Tip’s forthcoming Trouble Man carries as much weight with it as any “comeback” album in hip-hop history.

T.I. spent almost two years in limbo following two prison stints, and it has done little to hurt his cachet in the hip-hop community. Fans and the press seem to have even brushed off his lackluster 2010 effort No Mercy, which was pretty much considered a pasted together work designed to just toss something into the marketplace before the “King of the South” went off to jail.

But Trouble Man carries with it the expectations of returning Clifford Harris to a place of prominence in hip-hop and among Atlanta’s rap royalty. There aren’t a lot of superstars left from Tip’s early 2000s heyday — Nelly, 50 Cent and fellow Atlanta rap stars like Ludacris and Jeezy are no longer sitting atop the mountain.

T.I. returns to a hip-hop landscape that has shifted focus slightly, to the more quirky sounds of Kendrick Lamar and the more pop-friendly stylings of Nicki Minaj.

Tip has to hit it out of the park this time around. He’s rehabilitated his image, and he’s revitalized his brand surprisingly quickly for someone with as many blots on his record as he has. But it will all be for nothing if this album doesn’t re-establish him as the undisputed “King of the South.” There are no A’s for effort in hip-hop, and fans can be fickle. Tip has to know what’s riding on Trouble Man. His fan base definitely does. –stereo williams