By Chris Yuscavage
As T.I. prepares to release his seventh solo album, No Mercy, on December 7, he finds himself in an all-too-familiar place: Prison.
The Atlanta-born and bred MC is currently serving an 11-month bid at a federal prison in Arkansas after he violated the terms of his probation in September when he was pulled over in Hollywood with his wife Tameka “Tiny” Cottle and police found drugs in the car. Over the course of his storied career, Tip has landed behind bars on a number of other occasions as well — most notably in late 2009/early 2010 when he served a year in jail of federal weapons charges — but this is the first time he’s releasing a full-length album during one of his prison sentences.
He’s not the first rapper to use this approach to releasing music, though. In fact, plenty of other MCs have also released new music while serving time behind bars — to mixed results. While some have benefited from their bids and received additional publicity for their albums as a result, a number of them have dropped forgettable releases that were lost in the mix because the artists wasn’t out to promote them properly.
With that in mind, RapFix decided to take a look back at some of the most notable rap albums released by rappers behind bars. If you want to see how Tip’s album might fare, look no further than these prime examples of what happened to artists’ albums when they got locked up.
The Artist: Lil Wayne
The Album: 2010’s I Am Not A Human Being
The Result: Oddly enough, Tip’s not the only rapper to release an album from prison this year. Just a little over two months ago, Weezy did the same thing when he dropped an album on his birthday (September 27, if you’re keeping track at home) that eventually went gold. Not bad for a batch of songs that were nearly a year old by the time they dropped.
The Artist: Gucci Mane
The Album: 2009’s The State vs. Radric Davis
The Result: Want to know how to completely kill all the buzz you’ve worked years to build? Go to jail just before dropping your much-anticipated album. That’s exactly what Gooch did last year when he got locked up — for probation violations that, like T.I.’s, that could have been avoided — and missed the album release party he worked so hard to get. It held back an otherwise solid album from doing better than it could have.
The Artist: Lil Boosie
The Album: 2010’s Incarcerated
The Result: While Boosie’s third solo album was a solid project, it felt like he was this close to breaking out in a big way before he got busted in 2008 on drug and gun charges and sentenced to two years in prison — a sentence that was subsequently doubled by a judge when he found out Bad Ass was on probation. So while Incarcerated was enough to hold over his loyal fans, it didn’t earn him many new ones since he couldn’t promote it.
The Artist: Shyne
The Album: 2004’s Godfather Buried Alive
The Result: Talk about trying to capitalize off a jail sentence. Shyne released GBA from jail after inking a million-dollar deal with Def Jam four years into a ten-year prison sentence stemming from the infamous 1999 Club New York shooting. So, how exactly did four-year-old Shyne songs sound? In a word: Old. Rap fans probably would’ve been better off without them.
The Artist: 2Pac
The Album: 1995’s Me Against The World
The Result: Recorded in the weeks leading up to a prison sentence on charges of sexual assault, ‘Pac’s third solo album was remarkably honest, making this one of the few albums on this list that probably wouldn’t have been as good without the threat of jail. Oh, and it also featured the classic, “Dear Mama,” (ever heard of it?) and became the first album by an imprisoned artist to go No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Not bad at all.
The Artist: Capone (of Capone-N-Noreaga)
The Album: 1997’s The War Report
The Result: Shout out to N.O.R.E. Because without all the work he put in on The War Report after ‘Pone was sent upstate midway through the recording process, this album wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful.
The Artist: C-Murder
The Album: 2005’s The Truest S— I Ever Said
The Result: The only thing you really need to know is that C-Murder (still the worst possible rap moniker for someone trying to beat murder charges in prison, right?) recorded this entire album on a handheld recorder that his lawyer brought to the clink for him. If that doesn’t lower your expectations, we don’t know what will.
The Artist: Cassidy
The Album: 2005’s I’m A Hustla
The Result: Cass was riding high on the success of his Jay-Z-sampling hit, “I’m A Hustla” back in ’05 when he got locked up on murder charges just a couple of weeks before he was set to release his sophomore album. He was eventually cleared of all charges, but not before it helped ruin his moment and sent the Philly MC’s superstar potential packing.
The Artist: Pimp C
The Album: 2005’s Sweet James Jones Stories
The Result: It’s one thing to release an album from prison. It’s an entirely other thing to release your debut — your solo introduction to the world — from prison. That’s exactly what the late, great Pimp C did when he dropped SJJS in the middle of an eight-year prison sentence for (what else!?!) a probation violation. Unfortunately, this was basically a collection of freestyles with production efforts done by someone other than Pimp C, which didn’t make these Stories as good as they could have been.
The Artist: Slick Rick
The Album: 1991’s The Ruler’s Back
The Result: Just two years after releasing his 1988 debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Rick the Ruler was brought up on attempted murder charges and slated to serve jail time. Before he did, he recorded The Ruler’s Back and Behind Bars, giving him the distinction of becoming the first MC to drop an album from prison. Unfortunately, he probably had no idea he’d start such a timeless trend.
Are you planning on purchasing T.I.’s new album, No Mercy? Should he have waited until he was a free man to release it? Tweet us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below!