It was 40 degrees on Friday night, positively freezing by Atlanta standards, but there was a line around the block at the Tabernacle. The self-proclaimed, but universally affirmed King was back in town.
In a city where cold weather routinely shuts down any and all social plans, the mood on the streets was anything but dour.
The cover of rapper TI's latest album, "Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head," has painted the downtown Atlanta skyline, the inside (and outside) of Philips Arena and has made appearances on numerous highway billboards since recent memory can serve.
For weeks leading up to the release of his latest album, the first since serving 11 months in prison for violating the terms of his probation by possessing ecstasy, testing positive for opiates and associating with a convicted felon, TI has been ubiquitous in the A.
The album was released on Tuesday, with free copies abound to just about anyone who cared to get their hands on one – he gave out free downloads to all who attended Friday's Tabernacle show, the first 7,000 fans who came to Philips Arena for his Saturday halftime performance during the Hawks game against the Chicago Bulls and the full album was available online for free.
TI also performed on Saturday at the South DeKalb Mall. There was no charge to attend.
"Why aren't they letting people inside?" asked V-103 DJ Greg Street, who stood on the inside steps of the venue, to no one in particular.
That was a little after 8:00 p.m. when fans were told doors would open. Tickets had already sold out and the anticipation for the all-ages show was peaking. By 9:00 p.m. everyone was inside and awaiting the start of the show.
"I want to hear 'I'm Serious,'" said Preston Waller, a man in his 30s who was celebrating his birthday. "I want to hear the whole album. I want to hear that old stuff."
As early as his Nov. 9 appearance on Fox Sports providing color commentary for the Hawks game against the Miami Heat, TI had been hyping this show. Now it was here.
"I want to hear a little bit of everything," said Camille Colson. It was her first TI concert.
At around 9:30 Street hit the stage and welcomed the crowd. To thunderous applause he announced, "Get ready for the king!" as the Tabernacle's interior went black with no illumination remaining except for a screen in front of the stage sporting the "Trouble Man" album cover. Then there was nothing for almost half an hour as the crowd chanted, "We want Tip!" to no response.
Eventually, at around 9:55 there were lights, but no sign of the man everyone had come to see. Then there were 10 more minutes of nothing, followed by various crew members taping, testing and adjusting.
Finally at 10:08 the screen rose and the man of the hour hit the stage. He opened the show with early hits like "24s," "Rubber Band Man" and "Bring Em Out," and transitioned adroitly through a set list that included up-tempo bangers, slow jams and a flurry of guest appearances.
First out were TI's Grand Hustle Entertainment artists Young Dro, who gained acclaim for his 2006 hit "Shoulder Lean," and Big Kuntry King, whose "Yeah I'm On It" scored him a minor hit in 2007. Each performed their signature singles with help from TI.
The guests kept coming all night. Young Jeezy, Future, Trae tha Truth and Big Boi each made their way to the stage. Big Boi even teased a possible Outkast reunion that never came when he remained onstage for "Sorry," TI's single featuring the other half of the legendary Atlanta duo, Andre 3000.
It's not hard to see what has made TI such a renowned stage presence and what made his early Atlanta shows so legendary. He ran through the evening's songs with impressive pace, touching on most of the songs from "Trouble Man" including singles like "Hello," and "Go Get It" as well as performing verses he recorded for his "Trouble Man" mixtape on popular songs like Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Ni**as in Paris," 2 Chainz's "Spend It," and Future's "Magic."
The stage decoration was minimal and the special effects were essentially nonexistent save for a couple of TI's old videos being displayed on a big screen as corresponding songs played.
TI rattled through hits like "What You Know," "Top Back," and "Swing Ya Rag," but at no point was there a nod to the songs that hadn't been hits, the songs that took him from selling mixtapes out of his trunk to having the number one record in the country. His only venture into "Trap Muzik," his breakthrough 20003 release, were the two hit singles it produced and his first studio album, "I'm Serious" was left completely off the set list.
He played most of the songs from his new album, many to little fanfare. The very noticeable exceptions were "Trap Back Jumpin," which was the highlight of the night and "Ball," his latest single, which closed the show.
Rather than a celebration of the rough Bankhead past he has lived through, Saturday night's show seemed to represent a coronation of who TI is now – a reality show star and platinum selling artist with a stable of new artists (on his Grand Hustle label) and an adoring public now ready and willing to pay $40 to come see him.
His 2007 album "TI vs. TIP" detailed the struggle between TI the businessman and TIP the unreformed street hustler whose internal battle for control was too much for Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. to manage. Saturday night was a clear indication that for better or worse, TI has won.
It was an engaging and compelling performance and despite being 32 years old and 11 years into his major label career, there are few entertainers who bring the energy and passion that TI does. Still, for longtime fans and devoted ATLiens it left something to be desired.
"It was cool," said Al from Alpharetta of the show, his second time seeing TI perform. "I just wish he would've had an opener instead of making us stand around for an hour."